Friday was a glorious day to be out on bicycle. I'd decided to try out the "nearly completed" section of National Cycle Route 11 between Waterbeach and Ely, also taking in two of my favourite birdwatching sites, Wicken Fen and Kingfisher Bridge. We're talking crossing The Fens here so the land was dead flat and, just to make things easier still, there was a pleasant breeze at my back. The National Cycle Network is a rapidly developing system of routes designed to take the cyclist away from the busy roads and onto minor tracks and lanes which have been made cycle-friendly. The section I tried out crosses the National Trust's ambitious plan to make a huge area to the north and east of Cambridge into one huge nature reserve.
The River Cam at Waterbeach
I started off following the River Cam where the smell of frying bacon wafted up from one of the boats moored on the far bank. This stretch of water was once a busy commercial transport route with all kinds of goods transported upriver to Cambridge. The villages near to the river were connected by artificial waterways, called locally "lodes", allowing them to act as minor inland ports. I pedalled along Bottisham Lode and a more perfect, peaceful scene could hardly be imagined. Cows grazed in the fields, bees buzzed among the wildflowers, chiffchaffs chiffchaffed and cuckoos cuckooed.
Following the lode
From there I crossed White Fen and Tubney Fen, mostly on new cycle paths, all beautifully signposted, which crossed other lodes on newly constructed bridges.In the fields were the piebald ponies of travelling people who dwell in caravans in these parts. Gypsies and travellers have always favoured these "painted horses", because they could easily recognise individuals and pick out any unsound animals which they had traded in the past.
The track suddenly became rough and a sign told me that up ahead was a bridge where I'd have to carry my bike up (and then down) some steep steps. Once that obstacle was surmounted I was at Wicken Fen, England's oldest nature reserve and one of the few bits of Fenland never to have been drained for agriculture. I spent a couple of hours walking around in perfect spring weather. Birds seen included Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Garden Warbler and innumerable Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. There will probably be a post about Wicken Fen at some future date - it's a place I visit quite often - but until then here are a few photos to whet your appetite.
The old windpump Marsh Orchid (?)
Yellow Iris Honey bee hive
From Wicken "I digressed a little" from the official route because Kingfisher Bridge is too good to miss when you're so close. If Wicken Fen is the oldest nature reserve then Kingfisher Bridge is one of the newest. Started in 1995 as a result of one man's vision it is rapidly becoming a superb site with some splendid little hides which give a panoramic view all over the reserve.
There's also another less obvious hide made entirely from willow which has taken root and has produced perhaps the only "living hide" in the world.
From Kingfisher Bridge I improvised a route back to join the National Cycle Route. This involved me having to lift my bike over various obstacles and avoiding a bull in a field before joining the proper route. From there on it was "plain sailing" all the way into Ely.