Saturday, 17 July 2010

• Newmarket - the 'hard' way - 33 miles

Waterbeach-Reach-Bottisham, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.
(I can claim no credit for this post - other than the fact that I can vouch for every word that Steve has written!)

"So. This cycle route. It's a joke, right? Or maybe this 'Happy' that submitted it never rode it but just drew it up by looking at a map? If it's a joke, the joke's on me - because I fell for it!

"I've often looked at the Explorer map for the area and wished there was a way to continue north from Waterbeach, without riding on the A10, and join up with rides to the east of the river. From my reading of the map it looked impossible. So up pops this route on that maintains there is a cyclable way from the north end of Long Drove to the A1123 bridge over the river west of Wicken. Great! I thought, certainly there is a path shown on the map but I'd discounted it. Perhaps I'd been too conservative in my evaluation of the possibilities.

"Always on the lookout for something new to ride in the area we decided to couple this route from Cambridge to Newmarket with a return journey via the Wilbrahams to make a nice 40-mile-plus loop. We even included a stop off in Newmarket to take a look at the National Horseracing Museum. Plans made, maps prepared and a picnic lunch put together we took an early night to ensure we could make a day of it.

"The next day we loaded up the bikes and set off. No alarm bells rang at the route's suggestion of riding along the river Cam all the way to the bridge at Waterbeach. Knowing full well that it's unreasonable to attempt to keep to the river beyond Fen Ditton, I merely took us up the parallel road through the delightful village of Hornsea and on into Waterbeach. There we negotiated what seemed from the map to be an entirely gratuitous off-road section of the route and set off with high hopes down the long straight road of Long Drove.

"As Long Drove petered out we were advised to turn right down a track to the river. This was a bit tricky. In between the deep ruts, the fine, dry black fenland soil was like riding through sand. I managed to ride it with some difficulty but Lisa had to walk several sections for fear of falling. At the river we turned north and the track became an overgrown path. From here on things descended into farce.

"Shod in stout walking shoes or boots and clad in long corduroy trousers the ensuing 2.5 miles would be an entirely reasonable hike. In cycling shoes and shorts and pushing a loaded bike, the narrow, undulating path, almost completely overgrown with thistles and nettles, was all but impassable, took almost an hour to cover and left us almost hysterical at the insane absurdity of the situation.

"If 'Happy'
has cycled this section he or she must either be a young, fit, very keen mountain biker with a fully suspended machine and terrific bike handling skills or some kind of demented hard-nut old-school 'rough stuff' rider with a strong Yorkshire accent and a three-speed Sturmey-Archer. Not fitting into either of those categories you won't find Lisa or me attempting this path on wheeled transport again in a million years!

"Once we emerged at the A1123, scratched, stung, and all but worn out from the combined effort of keeping our feet and forcing our mounts through the undergrowth, we were at least back on known roads. We'd ridden through Wicken and down through Upland to Reach some years before and so knew that this section at least would be a pleasure to ride. At Reach we stopped and ate but having lost an hour and a great deal of energy following this insane route we turned south for home rather than continue east to Newmarket.

"Now rather better informed, if not wiser, we shall try a revised route to Newmarket next weekend. We'll be keeping resolutely to the east of the river and, in future, I shall certainly be rather slower to doubt my own assessment of what a map is telling me about viable routes to cycle!"

--Steve Fagg

(Amen, to that last bit, Steve! ;) )

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