Sunday, 8 September 2013

8 Sep: All-day windmill ride to Wicken, Ely and Willingham

Nigel writes: Today was windmill open weekend in East Anglia, and so today's all-day ride consisted of a gentle ride into the fens north of Cambridge to visit three of these windmills. Rather surprisingly there were only four of us at Brookside for today's ride, but our leader Rupert need not have been worried because many more members would be joining us along the way.

Rupert led us east out of Cambridge along the river across the commons and meadows to Fen Ditton. It was bright and sunny but feeling quite cool and autumnal.

Ditton Meadows

At Fen Ditton we turned east to Quy and followed NCN 11 through Bottisham to Lode. Here we turned onto the Lodes Way. This is a series of off-road paths and quiet farm roads which gave us five miles of delightful fenland cycling all the way to Wicken Fen.

White Fen

With the sun shining brightly the temperature increased and the early morning cold was quickly forgotten.

Bridge over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode

Bridge over Burwell Lode

We arrived at the cafe at Wicken Fen just after 10.30am to find several members already there, and we were soon joined by several more.

Coffee at Wicken Fen

After coffee we retraced our route south and east around the edge of Wicken Fen and then north along a path I had not used before to the main road at the eastern end of the village. Here was our first windmill of the day.

Around Wicken Fen to the Windmill

I've visited quite a few windmills over the years but this is probably the best windmill visit I can remember. It was in full working order and looked absolutely splendid in the sunshine.

Wicken Windmill

We went inside and climbed up four levels and then outside onto an external platform which offered superb views across the fens.

Wicken Windmill (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Whilst we were there the operators removed the brakes and the sails slowly began to turn in the breeze. It wasn't particularly windy but before long the windmill was turning at an impressive speed. This was a very grand sight and a fine thing to witness.

Wicken Windmill in action (10 secs)

After we had finished visiting the windmill we continued north along NCN 11 to Barway and Ely.

Climbing the floodbank north of Barway

On top of the floodbank with Ely Cathedral in the distance

River Great Ouse at Ely from the A142 bridge (Photo: Gareth Rees)

River Great Ouse at Ely and the Cutter Inn (Photo: Gareth Rees)

When we reached Ely we stopped for lunch at The Cutter Inn which is located right by the river. We bought drinks and ordered food and sat down at tables outside. The kitchen couldn't have been very busy today as our food arrived almost immediately.

Lunch in Ely

The weather was beginning to turn and as we ate lunch the sky clouded over, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. We didn't have very far to go this afternoon so Rupert suggested a leisurely lunch. Gareth, however, was keen to get back on the bike and invited me to join him for an extra loop before rejoining the others.

We rode back south to the A142, crossed the river and then turned north to Queen Adelaide and Littleport along the east bank of the river. Despite the proximity of the Ouse all we could see was a high floodbank. With a strong tailwind our speed didn't drop below 20mph until we reached the turn for Littleport. We crossed the river and rode through the town before turning back south-west to Little Downham and Coveney. We were now riding into the wind but by taking turns in the front we managed to keep up a reasonable speed. A few miles later we arrived in Haddenham where we stopped at the windmill. Rupert and the others were already there having arrived just a few minutes before us.

Haddenham Windmill

Haddenham Windmill

After an interesting tour around the windmill we continued south to Aldreth and across Aldreth Causeway to Willingham. This involved riding along this ancient off-road track for a mile to a bridge over the Ouse and then for a further mile on the other side.

Aldreth Causeway

Nowadays Aldreth Causeway isn't a causeway and, except at the bridge over the river, isn't noticeably higher than the adjacent farmland. It's really just a rough track. For most of the year this is quite muddy but fortunately a dry summer meant that today the surface was perfectly dry.

Information plaque on Aldreth Causeway (click for large version)

Hereward's men fight the Norman invaders on Aldreth Causeway

Aldreth Causeway

We turned off the causeway towards Willingham where we stopped at Cattell's Windmill. This was our third  and final windmill of the day, selected by Rupert because refreshments were available in the building alongside. We went in and ordered tea and cake.

Willingham Windmill with cafe alongside

After we'd finished our tea we walked across to the windmill for a guided tour. The others seemed quite engrossed, but I quickly decided I had seen enough windmills for one day so I slipped out, left a donation, and headed home ahead of the others. I followed the main road for a mile or so to the edge of Longstanton where I turned onto the busway. I followed this as far as Histon before turning south into Cambridge. I arrived home just before 5pm, having cycled 61 miles.

View this GPS track on a larger map

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