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Bike city

August 15, 2015

Cambridge is almost as well known for its bikes as for its colleges. Having lived in both university cities, I’d say it was more bike-friendly even than Oxford.

The run-up to the annual cycle trip means sticking my bike in for a service. Back in London, it used to go to a bike shop near Holborn where I worked that was fairly perfunctory, and resulted in a walk to and from work with my pannier slung over my shoulder. In Cambridge, much like sticking a car in for a service, my go-to bike shop gives you a courtesy bike so having your normal ride seen to doesn’t get in the way of your day.

A ladies' shopper bike, complete with left-hand bell

My bike for the afternoon

Weird as it might feel switching from my normal ride to a ladies’ single-speed shopping bike, especially when it gives you an incredibly wide turning circle, it’s entirely on par with what you see in Cambridge. This is a city where da yoot can regularly be seen menacing the mean riverside paths on BMXs with wicker baskets lined with faded plastic flowers.

For the past few years, we’ve taken the bank holiday weekend at the end of August and the ride has been a three-day affair. This year, we’ve just taking a weekend with an overnight stop on the Saturday. Except overall distance-wise we’re probably not doing far off the same as we would have done on previous years…

Which prompted me to get out into the countryside and do some actual training. And so, I set out to ride the Route 11 out of Cambridge up to King’s Lynn – which Google Maps thought would be a little over 50 miles.

Actually getting on to the Route 11 was a bit tricky because I’d come from Waterbeach, and there was a mile-long stretch of footpath where (signs warned) you needed written permission to ride a bike. And, just to demonstrate that cycling wasn’t welcome, there were stiles. Slightly overgrown with nettles. Tricky.

Once on the Route 11, the first sight was what I thought from a distance (having not really looked properly) was a golf course, until I got closer and realised that the golfers were on horseback. The Cambridge Polo Club, it turns out.

After a few quiet country roads, the path heads into the fens – which were looking stunning in the summer sun.

The view from a bridge

The view from a bridge

Another fenland view

Another fenland view

I should perhaps mention that this year’s ride starts in Bath, a beautiful city in the rolling hills of the south-west. The fens, rather notably, have no hills. None. See that photo above? Anything that looks vaguely hill-like is just because I can’t hold a camera phone straight.

There was a teensy bit of a headwind. That counts, right?

Once through Ely (also pretty), and along a really straight (super-flat) road that would be ideal for cycling if it didn’t have bone-shaking grooves every three metres or so, I came to a quiet crossroads. It’s worth noting that I’d passed into Norfolk at this stage. As you can perhaps tell by the geese, you know, just hanging out in the middle of the crossroads.

Geese. In the road. As you do.

Geese. In the road. As you do.

The road started to follow the waterways leading to the King’s favourite Lynn, and some of the roads started to look suspiciously familiar. In fact, I was starting to join some of the roads that we had cycled on a previous trip, which eventually followed the Route 1 through to Great Yarmouth.

The final stretch into King’s Lynn is along the banks of the Great Ouse, affording the rider some pretty impressive views of the ride’s end.

King's Lynn. Better from a distance.

King’s Lynn. Better from a distance.

As the town grew closer, a solitary pensioner stood proud on the river bank clad only in boater shorts, mahoganied beach-ball belly proud to the wind. I whipped past, but then passed several more topless men of different generations. it was warm, but not that warm, so I generously assumed that the harsh economic environment had quite literally taken the shirt off these men’s backs.

Anyway, I’d been toying with the idea of rolling into town, having a bag of chips overlooking the river and then catching the train back to Cambridge. Sadly, on getting into town the first thing I saw was a very shut-looking Wimpy. (Shut as in closed for now, but open tomorrow. Wimpy, eh? Who knew they were still going?!) In fact, everything in town except the Costa was open.

Sod it, I thought, I’ll catch a train. And sat waiting for the next 40 minutes while the one-train-an-hour rolled into town.

King’s Lynn turns out to be 63 miles away, and it’s probably all the better for those extra 10 miles.

Anyway, the other thing I should mention is that while we normally rely on Dave’s capable day-planning skills for the cycle trip, this year it’s my turn to plan the route. We’ve got train tickets to Bath booked, and our half-way hotel is booked at Abingdon, and we’re going to be ending up in Cambridge. So I started planning the route (with shot glasses and wool, like you do).

Four maps. Three shot glasses. One ball of wool. Cycle holiday 2015

Four maps. Three shot glasses. One ball of wool. Cycle holiday 2015

Sooo, that second day looks long. Our longest day on the ride to date has been 75 miles – this may be 100 miles. (And, judging by this weekend’s ride, that’s maybe a distance underestimated by 20%.) And day 1 ain’t so much shorter, but with a whole load of hills.

There’s going to be a whole lot of cycling this month!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. cheerfulken permalink
    August 15, 2015 3:30 pm

    For distance measuring of a route, I recommend gmap-pedometer – it’s probably more accurate than a woolly line… even one strung out with shotglasses.

    • August 18, 2015 8:10 pm

      Ah, accuracy. Probably useful when it comes to long-distance cycling. I ended up plugging the route into Strava’s mapping tool – it’s in Beta, so it’s still a bit buggy – but it means we can use Strava to help guide the route. Of course, until the phone batteries die, then we’re just back to paper maps and yarn…

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