Cambridge to King's Lynn - August 2019
The View From The Back
First time all-upper Claire Geary sends this report of the inaugural Cambridge to King’s Lynn FNRttC.
About 50 riders on a variety of bikes - road, MTB, shoppers with front basket, steel, tandem and two recumbents - made their way to Cambridge Railway Station on a balmy August evening, lured in by the promise of no hills, big black starry skies, and a ferry ride to finish. And a little light gravel section was promised to liven things up on the approach to Ely.
Gathered round a long low concrete bench on the station square, the riders arrived in ones and twos, newcomers searching for that secret signal, meaning they could approach people without looking really quite odd.
“Are you going to King’s Lynn?”
Rob assisted the tandem pair with a pre-ride mechanical - it appeared to involve metres of cable disappearing into and out of the bicycle innards like a sword swallower’s carnival act. There were further complications later in the ride that were sorted with an Allen bolt and cable connector, but otherwise the TECs were left free to train this novice All Upper in her duties.
Meanwhile, veterans gathered to compare ride wounds, bike fettling, where to obtain coffee, sneak into the pub loos, and then retrieve riders from said pub ready for the "We're on our way!"
Ride leader Nick, brought the peloton to attention and gave the traditional briefing ably assisted by Rob, and yours truly doing her first nervous stint as the All Upper.
Would I lose people? Would the waymarkers hear me shouting “All Up”? Would the TECs be able to sort the mechanicals as my technical expertise is of the ‘kick it, cable tie it and hope’ type? I was otherwise looking forward to ride as most of it was on home territory and I felt comfortable riding it in the dark.
At midnight, we set off in a chain of tail lights, hiz-viz and reflective stripes. By the end of Station Road, the first rider was nearly lost, but gathered back in time on the junction.
Avoiding the medieval drain on Trumpington Street, riders snaked their way across the river, then over to Fen Ditton to join NCN11. We encountered strange unworldly lights on the very freshly laid tarmac on the A1303 - diving back onto the cyclepath out of the way of the resurfacing crew!
After a regroup at Stow-cum-Quay, the peloton headed back onto the twinkling cyclepath taking us to Lode. The sight of the bikes glowing and path lights was marvellous. We passed through the village, turning onto the first of many Fen Droves and out into the countryside.
No more street lights, just open fields and skies. A welcome contrast to the London rides where it can take a couple of hours to leave the city illuminations behind. Here we were plunged into darkness. The way-markers did an excellent job, being left alone in the spooky night, waiting for the strung out riders to emerge from the Fens.
After Lode, the droves become more single track, with undulations, ruts and fault lines in the tarmac and concrete that manifest when the ground is below sea level and trying to get back there!
Upware came about 2am, collecting everyone together, past the “Caution - Ducks” sign, next to the apt Five Miles from Anywhere No Hurry Inn sign. Off we went again, towards Padney.
Short stretch of A road followed, which I thought was full of cars (my initial observation), until someone nudged me towards the realisation it was the peloton ahead of us.
The Padney stretch passed uneventfully, with the Slow Down Celery Tractors! and Ampfel man for company, we soon hit the stadium lit vegetable packing plant at Barway. No sleep for agricultural workers either.
Next, the much anticipated gravel section - part of my usual commute. Our All Up/TEC group found the waymarker in near darkness due to the dynamo light having faded out whilst patiently waiting for us.
Squeeze round down past the weird NCN gate - the tandem and recumbents passed uneventfully, then bounce, bounce, crunch along the track. Keep right - mind the bushes.
Cattle grid one rattled over and then up to the tarmac path on the river bank. No cows thankfully.
Cattle grids two and three were comedically a U-bend going under a railway bridge - requiring some momentum to cross grid three. Not easy when you’re in a group or on a tandem.
Under the new bypass and then onto the ‘quality’ path - ridged and potholed, a prime example of NCN’s finest. This was to soften riders up for the concrete road to come later.
The peloton had gathered in front of Ely’s Really Big Old Church, near the cannons for the next regroup. We set off Little Downham bound with an “All Aboard Riders”, followed by a pitstop at McDs.
Hitting the outskirts of Little Downham, “all up” at the hiz viz waymarker on the way in. No response. “All UP!”. Still no response. It was a scarecrow. For the annual scarecrow competition. Whoops!
Past more scarecrows in the village. Wheee! Down Mill Hill and now into the serious Fen Roads proper. These were best described as “Kerthunk kerthunk kerthunk. Kerthunk kerthunk. '' These roads are concrete slabs with an ungenerous coating of tarmac waved in the general direction of the surface. Long straight stretches with nothing but sky, stars and the whirr of wheels.
The halfway - Welney Wetland Trust - was open just for us. Sarnies savoured, tea and coffee slurped, fabulous raspberry muffins devoured. Plans hatched with the manager, Leigh, for LEL, hugs exchanged and after many grateful thank yous, it was out into the early morning light. Layering up to fend off the chill which the fen winds bring even on a summer night.
Then out into the wild Fens, over the New Bedford River (stopping for a photo competition of best dawn from the bridge), the unflooded Washes, past the triangular waterway junction at Three Holes, with a beautiful misty sunrise over the hay bales.
Then we were Friday Bridge...with a photo opportunity not to be missed. FNRttC jerseys assembled and jostled beside the village sign. WIth a fisherman on it, rather than a chainsaw wielding madman as someone (cough) claimed.
Somewhere along in village further north of the cafe, now in daylight, I spotted another hiz-viz humanoid. I declared to the TECs that wasn't going to get caught out All Upping a dummy again - which then moved!! Poor chap was waiting for a bus!
Pitstop at McDs in Wisbech and off for the final road stage to the ferry landing. By this point, the lack of sleep is telling a bit, junctions and road signs are peered at. The few cars seem noisier. Terrington St Clements where the funny bike brigade gathered for the alternative route into Lynn.
Through Clenchwarton and then - there’s Nick to show us the way down to the ferry. The riders snake up the path, brilliant sunshine turning them into silhouettes. Each trip took about 8 riders, so load up, chug across the river, unload, repeat. We edge forward, down to the water’s edge. Till it’s our turn, careful down the steps, bikes lined up carefully in the centre. Lauren’s upright next to Bertie. We grin as the ferry swooshes around, breeze ruffling us. We’ve nearly made it.
Ropes thrown, ferry moored, hefting bikes onto shoulders, up the steps. Legs complaining at pedalling again after the pause. Along an alleyway, then the sight of the Tuesday Market Square, the Globe Hotel beckoning for breakfast.
Bike locking tetris completed on the racks outside, we head in and settle down to discuss the night’s adventures over coffee, cooked breakfast and porridge. Four brave souls were guided back to Ely, into the headwind, blown along the riverside, lumpy, bumpy roads skirting the fields.
This was my third Fridays ride and an interesting perspective from the All Up at the back. It made me appreciate the patience of the Waymarkers, the joking TECs and the companionship of those at the rear whether for a short while or the whole ride.
[photo credits: Claire Geary]