Sunday, 15 May 2011

On The Level - National Cycle Route 11

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.

Take care.


  1. This sounds idyllic - I've never learned to ride a bike so it's not a pleasure I'm likely to know unfortunately. I'm so glad to hear that there are still gypsies who live in the traditional way and hopefully without harrasment too.
    Wicken Fen is a place I'd love to visit one day, my younger son lives on the Suffolk/Norfolk border so it would be quite feasible to go when I'm down there. My grandsons would love it too I think.

  2. What a lovely cycle ride - I enjoyed that! How good it must be to have relatively flat routes - not many of those here in Yorkshire, though the canal towpath is a cycleway these days too.

  3. The fens are a bit of an acquired taste, though I've always loved those huge skies. However when there's a headwind on a cold November day you're better off on your canal towpath (or perhaps not being able to ride a bike at all!)

  4. John, I may never see England with my own eyes, so I appreciate you showing it to me through yours! I love the pictures and the stories behind each one. Thank you!

  5. OK, Lizzie, I'll have to try to find some more things to tempt you over here

  6. I sure love the looks of these places, and I love that willow hide.


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