Cambridge to Norwich safe cycle route

Bad bad cyclists! why can’t they get off the road? It is a fact of modern life that any local news thread about cycling will attract comment along the lines of that

  • cyclists are always:
    • riding through red lights,
    • riding without lights,
    • getting in the way of traffic,
    • riding on the pavement,
    • bullying pedestrians,
    • not wearing helmets,
    • selfishly smug,
    • behave as if entitled,
    • not paying road tax,
    • un-licenced and uninsured,
    • wearing strange lycra clothing,
    • ruining the city with bike lanes,
    • car haters,
    • to blame for thier own casualties.

Few subjects get the parish pump soap box busy like a cycling story. Although they are strangely quiet when it comes to casualty reports, commenters will often state they don’t mean all cyclists but these are the ones that must be pointed out. They highlight the bad as a way to lay the blame on cyclists who are seen as somehow not as people like themseleves, not part of society as a whole but a group of bad people who must be censured. Of late there has been a great deal of cyclist bashing as the new Highway Code contains explicit ‘right of way’ rules for cyclists (and pedestrians, who don’t seem to get the same levels of abuse) for the first time. In Cambridge resentment and ‘bad cyclist’ blaming is always the first response in the local media:

Which cyclists does these rules refer too. The ones without their hands on the handlebars or the ones reading and texting whilst cycling. Maybe it’s the ones riding on the pavements Or the ones that decide not to use lights at night whilst dressing as a ninja in total black costume. At 10pm in Lincoln last night I encountered two cyclists dressed as Tour de France wannabe’s complete with dark glasses. It’s about time we started observing rules “for all”. Never mind fining the cyclists who persistently ignore traffic lights as the fine is cheaper than paying road tax.

Cyclists need to be more aware that they are not only causing inconvenience to motorists by slavishly following the new advice (they are not laws just advice) as I have seen several doing this week they are putting themselves in danger and (a) creating more road rage (yes, I know motorists shouldn’t get angry but they are human with human feelings and flaws) and (b) creating long queues of polluting vehicles.

These sentiments may represent a minority view: most local news feeds collect comment from a mere handful of readers but the sentiment is clear: bikes are bad news for them.

The casualty rates for cyclists make grim reading and the vulnerabilty of the cycilst to injury or sudden death from motorists is something I have to live with daily.

Of the 106,370 cyclist casualties reported between 2015 and 2020 83,300 involved a single car.

The new Highway Code has recognised this but translating the principles of a road user hierarchy into practice do not fill this rider with confidence. I seek the safest route, avoiding motor traffic whereever possible. The price I pay in time and effort to follow a safe route is the price of a transport policy that ignores the vulnerable and supports the powerful.

So just how hard is it to ride a bike from one town to the next and avoid all his hate?

I consider myself an ‘ordinary’ cyclist in that I’m not part of a group seeking competitive athletic achievement but simlpy a traveller with the time and energy to explore my district by bike. Over the last 2 years I have found the safe connections to my neighbouring towns to be largely lacking and those that exist are a mix of poor surfaces, sudden ‘end of route’ signs and narrow, shared footways forcing conflict with pedestrians, dogs and parked cars.

The majority of UK cycle provision is ‘shared use’ footway. Diagrams 956 (left) and 957 litter pavements across the land. Most of these are cut by side roads and driveway crossings. Many of them are of little use in getting from one place to another over any reasonable distance.
At their worst, these routes put cyclists and pedestrians in conflict.
Very few routes get far before this sign. Diagram 965.

Finding direct, comfortable and safe routes linking towns in the UK is not easy. Making a 70 mile ride along a major transport corridor in the UK is a risky undertaking and, despite recent policy commitments to active travel, I have no illusions of how easy this will be. Experience tells me connections between places for the non motorised user (NMU) are largely lacking. The 2014 A11 improvement scheme, (opened at a cost of £105m) provided a single NMU asset: an underpass at the Elveden war memorial which does not link to anywhere other than the Thetford Loop mud tracks. One would have hoped the new work would provide a cycle track for the full 9.5 mile legnth of the scheme, but this is not so.

I began with CycleStreets journey planner and headed out East.

The CycleStreets route ignores the A11 and involves a number of trackways which are almost impassable except by the determined enthusiast, in particular the ‘Thetford Cycle Loop‘ sections which are more suited to motocross than town to town cycling. A saving of 21.37kg of CO2 is an impressive reminder of how casual use of the car adds to the climate crisis. The time estimate of 10 hours is generous for the distance and I completed the route (including a puncture repair and walking a fair bit of it) in 7 hours 10 min.

Leaving Cambridge on NCR51 along the Newmarket road the route crosses under the A14 to Stow- cum-Quy where the new track to Anglesey Abbey gets a leg up toward Burwell.

From Burwell the CycleStreets ‘quiet’ route recommends a Soham waypoint but the ‘off road’ section north of Burwell has proved impassable other than by a walk though ankle deep mud:

Limiting the exposure to fast traffic by taking NCR 51 from Burwell toward Exning, despite the distance penalty, makes for a safer ride:

Avoiding Newmarket I pick a line to cross the A11 over the footbridge at Red Lodge:

Eastward out of Red Lodge CycleStreets sent me onto a farm track which ended up as a mud slide. A muddy but rideable footpath on the South side of the village makes the link toward Heringswell.

The Icknield way out of Tuddenham is designated a Quiet Lane. The highway code states: Minor rural roads may be designated as Quiet Lanes. These are appropriate for shared use by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and motor vehicles. You should drive slowly and carefully and be prepared to stop to allow people extra time to make room for you to pass them in safety.

The legal status of Quiet Lanes was esatblished in 2006 with the ‘objectives for improving and maintaining the quality of life for local residents take precedence over general objectives to ease traffic movements’. Many were introduced as part of active travel promotion in spring 2021. In practice they operate in much the same way as a shared footway but with car acess permitted under speed control. The Tuddenham Quiet Lane is a popular attraction and has car parking at both ends for dogs to be driven in from miles around for daily ‘exercise’.

Leaving Tuddenham the Icknield Way trail starts as a quiet road which turns into a broad sandy track. In the dry this is rideable, the surface is well compacted by visiting cars which, in good weather, disgourge dogs and birdwatchers by the dozen. The River Lark is crossed on an awkward zig zag at the weir just short of Icklingham.

From Icklingham the way is bocked by two barriers. First is the very rough track surfaces through Thetford Forest and the second the limited access through the Eleveden Estate. The Seven Tree Road is hard work with sections cut up by 4x4s, deeply rutted with loose sand.

An off road mud bath forms the CycleStreets ‘quietest route’ (in red below) along the Icknield way and the Barnham Slip (both sections of the Thetford ‘Cycle Loop’) to get to Thetford. This is a challenge involving spine jarring pot holes, deep mud and occasional motorcycles. As a practical method of making headway to Norwich these tracks fail, they are best left to the MTB and motocross brigade. As a test of practicality I cannot imagine using this at night.

No way through. If the Elveden Estate road paralell to the A11 from the Elveden monument was useable there would be a direct link through to Thetford. Sadly, due to some bizarre logic from Highways England THIS IS NOT THE CASE. The trackway and a section of the old A11, built at public expense, has been handed over for the exclusive private use of the Earl of Inveagh. What should be a straightforward bash towards Thetford is impossible. Despite a purpose built route from Elveden to Thetford it is inaccessable from the West.

The old A11 at Elveden. Is this ok for bikes?

Thetford straddles the river Little Ouse just West of its confluence with the river Thet from which the town gets its name. The route follows the old London Road through the centre of town. This, at 37 miles or so out is pretty much the halfway point.

Leaving Thetford toward Croxton on NCR13 involves a climb across the watershed into eastward drainage: the Tas, Yare and Wensum system. It’s a fast stretch of road taking traffic out of Thetford to the A11, sadly the blue NCR sign is no gaurentee of safety.

NCR 13 from Croxton begins a line threading through the network of villages North of Attleborough toward Wymondham.

Leaving Wymondham on the Norwich Road the stop-start shared use footway through the town gives way to a good run of segregated trackway past Ketts Oak for the last mile to Thickthorn junction which is negotiated by a series of light controlled crossings.

Can’t get there from here. The Cyclestreets quietest route is not a practical all weather option and the lack of access at Elveden renders it useless.

Having had corespondence on the failure at Elveden I have no option but to find another route.

Unfortunately, the nice tarmaced service road running along the south side of the A11 from the memorial in to Elveden is private. You might get away with using it, but the Elveden Estate have a reputation for not liking people straying off public rights of way. Elveden to Thetford is fine — you follow the old A11, which is now pretty quiet, and then there’s a purpose built cycle path into Thetford. If you’re looking to cycle from Cambridge to Norwich, then your best bet might be to follow NCN 51 to Bury St Edmunds, and then NCN 13 as far as East Harling. There’s lots of quiet lanes south of the A11 between there and Norwich, and a way over the A47 near Intwood. Or you could cross the A11 at Wymondham, and follow the new cycleway through Hethersett into Norwich from there.

A revised route: working from the Cylestreets ‘fastest’ path and re-routing around the ‘hostile traffic’ sections adds another 5 miles to accomodate the Earl of Inveagh’s need for privacy (and I won’t be calling at his posh cafe at Elveden either).

In yellow the A11 line through Thetford blocked by Elveden Estate.

This route takes me away from Thetford and through Attleborough instead. Avoiding the trecherous mud tracks of Thetford forest, picking up NCR 13 between Livermore Park and East Harling and then along the lanes to Attleborough and Wymondam where the B1172 has a good track into Hetherset.

This, a southern route via Tuddenham, Cavenham and Lackford is rideable but there are exposed sections where large lorries and high speed traffic make things unpleasant. I had not expected so much traffic but the Breedon Cavenham gravel and aggregate quarry generates a lot of fast HGVs on the narrow roads. With a following wind in assistance I was able to reach Norwich in 5 and a half hours. Past Lackford it’s a pleasant ride.

Tudenham to Cavenham is a rat run for gravel lorries.

I rode the B1085 between Chippenham and Kennet and I would’nt reccomend it, the distance saved is at the cost of severe exposure to high speed traffic. Crossing the A11 at Red Lodge by the pedestrian bridge is a far happier way to go, even with the mud track out of Red Lodge toward Herringswell. Finding a deviation to avoid the trucks, limiting the distance on the A1101 at Lackford and missing Cavenham Road out of Tudenham extends the distance further: a cost I lay at the door of the Earl of Inveagh.

Some use of the A1101 cannot be avoided. Short of making a big diversion via Bury St Edmunds getting westward from Red Lodge is going to involve either a mile and a half od A road between Icklingham and Lackford or a half mile beetween Lackford and the West Stow road.

Ther are 2 options to avoid Breedon Quarry traffic. In red: the shortest distance on the A1101 and in green the more direct but more exposed via the quiet lane north of Tuddenham.
Ketts Oak just short of Norwich.

I’m opting for the shorter overall distance offered by the northern route out of Tuddenham next time simply because it uses the Tuddenham Quiet Lane. It is my hope a realistic safe route will be possible in the future but so far this is the best I can find. I would not recommend the A1101 section of the route as a safe cycle route at night but its the best I can do without diversion through Bury St Edmunds, a detour adding some 7 miles including a couple of stiff climbs.


About billboyheritagesurvey

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

1 Response to Cambridge to Norwich safe cycle route

  1. Stephen says:

    Very in depth Bill.

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