Cambridgeshire. Exciting Travel by Bicycle
Those who don’t know it well tend to equate Cambridgeshire with its university city, which is an easy mistake. The university is highly regarded throughout the world, and we should all be very proud of that. But Cambridgeshire is not just Cambridge. It’s a beautiful county, one as welcoming to cyclists as the city is, and it has two distinct faces. This ride looks at both of them. Of course the university is a big influence. It’s at the cutting edge of science and technology, and it’s the reason for a phenomenon known as Silicon Fen. This is the area between Cambridge, Huntingdon, Ely and Newmarket, which also stretches south to Saffron Walden, and it’s full of high-tech businesses.
You visit the Cambridge Fens on the first leg of this ride, as the route heads north through flat countryside from Cambridge to a holy island standing in a sea of dark soil. The island is made of Kimmeridge clay, which would have been relatively dry compared with the undrained marshes around it, so way back in the Bronze Age it provided a space for settlement. But Ely’s glory is the cathedral. There was an abbey here in AD 673, and work began on the present building in the 11th century. Its star feature is a huge lantern at the top of the biggest tower. Getting it there must have been an immense feat back in 1340.
The route goes further into the Fens, crossing one of the key waterways in the original drainage project, the Hundred Foot Drain. Then the Fenland section ends; from Chatteris you head southwards to St Neots via Huntingdon, the birthplace of Oliver Cromwell. You’re running against the flow of the Great Ouse, and through a section dominated by water. The river has flooded old gravel pits either side of it, and Grafham Water, the eighth largest reservoir in Britain, lies just the other side of the A1 between Huntingdon and St Neots.
The terrain changes now, too. Rolling roads replace the flat ones of the Fens as the route slips past the south side of Cambridge. Grantchester on the banks of the River Cam is home to the greatest density of Nobel Prize winners anywhere in the world. The poet Rupert Brooke also once lived here, next to the Old Vicarage, where Jeffrey and Mary Archer live today. On the other side of the Cam the route crosses the Gog Magog Hills. Gog and Magog are biblical names, which first appeared in the locality during the 16th century. There’s nothing too steep in these round, chalky hills, and the highest point is around 75 metres.
The ride ends with a flatter loop east of the city and enters it past the airport, aiming for the city centre and the colleges. Cycling in Cambridge is a joy, which is why so many do it, and why I started and finished this ride in the heart of the city. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s cheap transport for students, or because the city is flat, but cycling has flourished here and drivers tend to match their pace to it. But cycling is the right pace to enjoy this fine old city, and of course cycling gives you time to think, something that’s very important here.
Start in the town centre and head north on the B1049. At Wilburton turn right onto the A1123 and take the first left, then the second right to Ely. Ride through the town centre and join the B1411 north. In Little Downham, where the B1411 goes sharp right, carry straight on and follow the road through Coveney to turn right onto the A142 to Chatteris. Ride into the town centre and turn left onto the B1050, then take the B1086 and B1040 to St Ives. Turn right onto the A1123. Turn left at the roundabout on the edge of Huntingdon onto the B1514. Then turn left onto the B1043 and follow this south-west through St Neots. There, go left at the roundabout outside the recreation centre and follow the B1046 east over the A428, then the A1198 (Ermine Street), to the A603 at Barton.
Turn left onto the A603, go over the M11 and turn right at the roundabout, to go through Grantchester to Trumpington. Turn left onto the A1309, right onto the A1134, then right onto the A1307 and turn left to go over the hill to Fulbourn. Ride through Fulbourn, Great Wilbraham and Little Wilbraham to turn left onto the A1303. At the second roundabout head straight on into the centre of Cambridge.
Start and Finish. Cambridgeshire: Cambridge.
Getting There. Cambridgeshire: Cambridge is at the end of the M11, 43 miles north-east of London. It has direct rail links with London, the North and the Midlands.
Bike Shop. Cambridgeshire: Ben Hayward Cycles on Trumpington Street.
Cafe. Cambridgeshire: Black Cat Cafe on Mill Road.
Local Delicacy. Cambridgeshire: College pudding.
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