Old & new cycle routes around Cambridge

I am grateful for any route that keeps me away from motor traffic, my days of plugging along with rolling tonnage roaring past my right shoulder are, after one brush with death too many, over. They say Cambridge is a ‘cycle city’ and getting around town by bike works pretty well. Could be better mind but, given UK transport policy has been dominated by the motor lobby for decades it’s probably as good as it can be. We have a National Cycle network and recent initiatives would seem to show some recognition of the bike as a valid transport mode, albeit a secondary one to the mighty motor.

Joined up it aint and, although we now have have government policy that requires better provision such as segregated space, direct routes and safe cycle priority at junctions, cycle routes don’t seem to do the basic A to B thing our highways do. The DoT Cycle Infrastructure Design Guide: LTN 1/20 is well worth a look: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/951074/cycle-infrastructure-design-ltn-1-20.pdf )

NCR11: Incomplete and underfunded. One of the joys of living on the edge of the fen is the distances you can cover without having to slog up a hill. Sadly the routes available owe more to the drainage pattern than the need to get from A to B. In their wisdom Sustrans have laced together a confluence of routes around Cambridge but I’m surprised at how muddled they seem to be. The Cambridge-Newmarket-Ely triangle comes out as a mix of off road tracks, indifferently tarmaced roads, gappy routing and some odd stubs:

What baffles me is the indirect and arbitrary nature of these routes. I know I’m expecting a lot of the underfunded charity responsible but it’s confusing by anyones reckoning. NCR 11 to Ely requires the bike to be lugged over the steps of the Cockup bridge at Wicken and fails to connect with its southern end where it is missing a bridge at Waterbeach. The link along the Newnham Drove (aka ‘the broken road’) between Burwell and Wicken is almost unrideable. Bridges are key to direct routes as the drainage cuts accross any direct line; just 2 have been built, with support from the National Trust, so far. So many of the existing bridges seem to be in the wrong place to carry a direct route to Ely:

Getting to Soham by a safe off road route has defeated me, the few links there are between Burwell and Soham just don’t work for this cyclist. As winter bites most of the gravel ways have turned to mud. Keeping to the NCR options at least provides a dry path, despite some grim patches, they are mostly ok.

Hey big spender! New infrastructure, new cycleway? Does the new A14 from Cambridge to Huntingdon provide a cycle route? The answer is no. It starts well but travelling Westwards the new route (built as part of the £1.5bn project) gets about half way there. Signposted to Huntingdon the route can be completed by detour to Swavesey and the Busway and thence by the thicket path from St Ives.

The Cambridge end of this epic scale cycle super highway is marked by the modest sign for the footpath to Girton on the Huntingdon Rd as you hurtle down hill toward the M11 on the wrong side of the road:

From the Girton bridge it is now possible to pick up a world class, excellently surfaced track as far as the magnificent new bridge at the Swavesey -Boxworth junction, a distance of almost 5 miles (7.7km). It runs roughly parallel to the Cambridgeshire Busway (NCR 51) :

The track ends abruptly a short distance after the bridge. Turning back from the end Scotland Drove via Swavesey (in the dry) connects to the Busway. It’s a bit of a shock to find the smooth track come to a sudden stop.

There’s nowhere to go after that. Did somebody plan this?

It is possible to continue West by tuning back and crossing the beautiful new bridge,

and on the south side of the A14 a short sprint from the Cambridge Services roundabout up the ramp gets to the A1307 Swavesey -Boxworth roundabout where relief from the traffic returns at the sign for ‘Farm access’:

This runs along the A14 corridor for a further 1.6 miles (2.5Km):

Is this an unfinished section of the A14 cycleway? As a right of way the section beyond Friesland Farm is ambiguous, and once past the obstacles plonked across the track…

…it’s a mix of carefully levelled and mostly well drained loose and compacted gravel:

to a new bridge at New Barns Farm. The layout is similar to the Girton section with a 2.5 to 3m track width throughout. It looks like a bike track without the tarmac to me. From New Barns Farm a steep climb up the bridge abutment…

…crosses the A14

and a rocket down the other side dumps you onto the westbound lane of the A1307.

The instruction ‘cyclists rejoin carrigeway’ is laughable. It’s a 70mph dual carrigeway. Traffic here is fast, it’s the old A14 without the congestion, local traffic hammers along it. It’s possible to cross with caution by a gap in the Armaco and find the route toward Fen Drayton Northward. Once accross the A1307…

…a left turn follows through to Fen Drayton to pick up Holywell Ferry Road and join the ever popular Cambridge -St Ives NCR51 busway route. Komoot has the busway listed as the top bike ride in Cambridgeshire, and on a dry day, it’s a joy to spin along the smooth track with wide views to the horizon and only the gentlest of climbs to get up the hill at Over. Unfortunately the track has proved prone to flooding and has been impassable for weeks since Christmas this year.

After all the car is still king. If you are looking for a direct cycle safe route from Cambridge to Huntingdon you will not find it, despite the huge investment in road provision and the high standard of the short section from Girton to Swavesey bridge threading your way via Fen Drayton and St Ives is hardly direct.

The fractured nature of cycle provision is disappointing, particularly when bridges have been built to such a high standard and the opening 5 miles are so well engineered. Finding the track ending suddenly in a hedgerow seems emblematic of a token gesture towards cycling that is so characteristic of the UK response to active travel needs. In 21st century Britain the priority is road space for motor traffic and don’t you forget it!


About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
This entry was posted in Bike life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Old & new cycle routes around Cambridge

  1. tim burford says:

    Brurwell ? a few typos, but great otherwise, thanks.

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