Tuesday, 25 July 2017

25 Jul: A ride around Maidwell, Northamptonshire (car-assisted)

Rupert writes: I arrived at the Maidwell parking space a mere five minutes late to find four people waiting, making strange gestures and pointing at their watches. But I was travelling with Adrian - who was our leader today - and so I was able to remain guilt-free having arrived at exactly the same time as the leader. We were now eight in total: Adrian, Rupert, Clive, Mike C, John S, Tom, Jill and George S.

We unloaded the bikes and set off north along the NCN 6 cycle path which follows an old railway line from Northampton to Market Harborough. The route is unsurfaced, but generally good riding, with the exception of the two short tunnels. Both tunnels are quite straight which means there is a clear light at the end of both tunnels (insert obvious comparison with Brexit here) making them seem a bit shorter than they are. But the tunnel floor is rather potholed and wet so that good lights are needed to ride through safely.

Emerging from the first tunnel (Photo: Adrian Lee)

Same photo with Adrian (Photo: John Seton)

Once through the second tunnel it was time to divert for our morning coffee at a nice cafe just off the trail. Cake or bacon butties were ordered according to preference, with the exception of a certain unnamed party who decided to order a combined sausage and bacon sandwich. I wonder if he realized what lay ahead.

Setting out along NCN6 (Photo: Adrian Lee)

After coffee we carried on north into Market Harborough where the route leaves the railway line and follows pedestrian paths past supermarkets and shops. We had to weave slowly though teeming hordes of pedestrians who seemed mildly surprised at our presence. Then a gently climb out of town and up a residential street to join the canal towpath.

Riding along the towpath (Photo: Tom Ambrose)

The canal is a short stub off the Grand Union Canal that terminates at Market Harborough. It felt a bit strange to ride a long way uphill and then emerge beside a canal - this canal is at a surprisingly high elevation relative to the town. The canal follows the contour of the higher land giving a series of delightful curves - it almost loops back on itself at the end. The towpath is excellent riding, apart from the regular over-bridges which are quite low and only have a narrow ledge under the bridge to carry the path. So some caution was needed to cycle under the bridges. I was following one of the taller riders who was having to duck and squeeze under all the bridges, probably not helped by that fateful decision to have BOTH sausage and bacon in his morning sandwich.

Foxton Locks (Photo: John Seton)

Lunch at Foxton (Photo: John Seton)

All too soon we arrived at Foxton locks which were full of tourists watching a steady procession of narrow boats making their way up and down the staircase of locks. We stopped here for lunch while Rupert went to investigate the ruins of the inclined plane. The inclined plane is a wonderful Victorian relic - a canal boat lift that enabled the boats to bypass the locks and be lifted up or down in a fraction of the time it would take to traverse the locks. It also used much less water than the locks (almost none according to Wikipedia). Sadly, it had a short working life of just over 10 years and only the foundations remain.

Top section of Inclined Plane at Foxton Locks - geograph.org.uk - 507458
The top section of the Inclined Plane at Foxton Locks (Photo: Keith Rose [CC BY-SA 2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

I was fascinated by the inclined plane boat lift - Victorian engineering at its best - and would like to share a few of the interesting facts with you. There were two parallel lifts to keep it balanced just like a funicular railway. But unlike a funicular railway, it is always perfectly balanced thanks to Archimedes principle. For me, the clever bit is the way they get the boats out of the lifts at the top. There are two subtle details - it's even cleverer than I thought at the time. The ramps are horizontally offset to separate the loading docks and the slope of the ramps is reduced at the top to compensate for the change as the lower lift enters the water (a buoyancy adjustment feature). Absolutely wonderful. I recommend a bit of googling if you are interested: you could start here.

Between Foxton and Naseby (Photo: John Seton)

Consulting on the route (Photo: John Seton)

After lunch we headed south on small roads until our next stop at the memorial site of the battle of Naseby. Over ten thousand troops on each side fought one of the decisive battles of the civil war here. Despite the best efforts of Prince Rupert (no relation) the Royalists were defeated.

Naseby - Cyclists in battle formation (Photo: John Seton)

We continued south via Naseby Village, continuing to enjoy the delights of quiet roads and increasingly warm sunshine. We were passing a lot of unharvested wheat fields here - and not much sign of any combines at work. It seems the weather has been too unsettled for the harvest to get going here.

We eventually arrived at Church Brampton where Adrian's off-road instincts kicked in again. He lead us off down a pleasant lane past a golf course. This gentle introduction was followed by a short section of narrow and muddy bridleway which was rather overgrown with a lot of nettles. Rupert pushed ahead, braving the nettles and leading the way, but true to form he then took a wrong turn and disappeared, so the poor leader had to chase him down and get him back on track. Eventually we emerged from the nettles onto a better and wider track.

Adrian was clearly not satisfied with such a short section of "rough-stuff" and suddenly turned off the sandy track to lead us down a rough field edge path on beside a cornfield in search of a secret river crossing. The sight of cyclists pushing their bikes through the cornfield caused a big surprise to a local dog-walker. And with good reason: we were heading for the wrong bridge! So we retreated all the way back to rejoin the main track, and carried on a bit further to discover that the next river bridge crossing had a fully signed and surfaced cycle track that was a lot easier to follow than the edge of a cornfield.

Heading back along NCN6 (Photo: Adrian Lee)

At this point our route rejoined the southern end of NCN6 just outside Northampton - the start of the old railway line. The old tracks and a few bits of old rolling stock are still in place on this first section, but tragically the hoped for tea shop at the old station was closed. So we settled down for a tea-starved last few miles of delightful riding to find the cars where just we had left them.

Apart from the minor disaster of failing to find a tea shop for our afternoon tea, a wonderful day was had by all. Those who completed the full circuit, including the unscripted cornfield excursion, would have covered 48 miles. Our thanks to Adrian for both organizing and leading the ride. Rupert Goodings

Download GPS track (GPX).

As it was: Map of Northampton to Market Harborough Railway (Photo: Tom Ambrose)

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