Busway to broccoli

The A428 goes straight from St Neots to Cambridge in about 23 miles, but we took the scenic route to the north, via Godmanchester and St Ives. Sustrans Route 51 does an even bigger loop, to take in Grafham Water, but as it was raining when we set off I decided to save that for another day.
The scenery was flat and muted under a grey, cloudy sky. There was more sky than anything here – low and vast. St Ives was bustling and seemed to appear suddenly, like an oasis in that dreary landscape. At Market Hill we saw Oliver Cromwell, for the second time in a few days; this time in bronze. He was man of St Ives, said the statue’s inscription.
We had joined Route 51 by this point, which took us 9 miles towards Cambridge from St Ives on the ‘busway’. This peculiar thing is two parallel concrete channels in which buses run, guided by small wheels sticking out at the front. A smooth, wide cycle path goes alongside, the whole thing traffic free apart from buses hurtling along piloted by drivers texting their mates.
The channels and the infrastructure look new and in good condition despite the wildflowers that grow on the embankments and on the tracks themselves, almost as if deliberately planted. It looks attractive, especially passing as it does the great expanse of flooded gravel pits that now form Fen Drayton nature reserve.
 
We stopped at the reserve so I could eat lunch, and Raisin could play with Mouse. Raisin had insisted on running the first few miles of the busway but I was tired and keen to get on, so she and Mouse travelled in the trailer after that. But the wind had swung round and the beautiful lakes replaced by boring fields and building sites and my bum ached and it was hard work. I caught myself thinking a couple of hills might be nice, to give some variety to the pain and the view.
 
In Cambridge the busway ended near the Regional College but the Route 51 continued as a cycle path, past Cambridge North station looking modern and ready for hundreds of cyclists, judging by all the bike storage. We might have continued into town for the Camping and Caravanning Club site, but after another bad experience last night, I had booked a quiet site in Horningsea, just outside the city, and we left 51 to head north along the Cam towpath.
Last night I had filed my report and closed my eyes for much needed sleep when it became clear that the man in the tent next to ours was not going to stop talking on his phone until he had called everyone he knew to tell them all about his unremarkable day, and anything else that occurred to him. I wondered if he paid some of these people to take his calls, since he did nearly all the talking and it was hard to see what benefit there would otherwise be in receiving them. He wasn’t talking particularly loudly but every word was audible and after a couple of hours of trying to distract myself with podcasts, audio books, mindfulness etc, I just wanted to kill him.
 
So by the time we reached the Cam I was looking forward to finishing the ride. We had done 30 miles, much of it at Raisin’s trotting pace of 5 or 6 miles an hour. Unfortunately our river crossing point was a bridge with steps up one side and down the other – impossible with loaded trailer and bike on my own. We had to carry on to a road crossing at Waterbeach, adding another 3 miles to the ride. There was consolation though, as a kingfisher darted from an unseen perch over my head, its orange underside clearly visible and a change from the usual blue dart we see. Then a fish – a small dolphin I thought – leapt from the water in a graceful arc. Then a roe deer appeared on the opposite bank, prancing, before bounding off. All as if to say we are glad you came this way.
 
The camp site is small a quiet. There is a lovely big spotless shower, with full lighting and no mildew. I used it; plenty of room for Raisin in the cubicle and no one about to object to her presence there. It was lovely and much needed, although I was disappointed some of the tan came off my legs, especially round the ankles.
 
Raisin and I went to a pub in the village,  whose houses looked pretty in the evening sun. Again there were no county boundary signs today but we must be in Cambridgeshire, and those bricks must be Cambridgeshire whites. I had veg lasagne for dinner, with chips and broccoli. Heaven. Tomorrow is the last day; Bury just 34 miles away. A friend is coming to find us and take Raisin and the trailer home by car so I can ride the last bit solo.
 

Good hill procedure

Just a short ride today, 12 miles, because of suitable campsite locations (and hills). We did a fair bit of climbing but the scenery was green and treeful, and the roads quiet, so I didn’t mind.
There was no phone signal at last night’s campsite with which to book ahead, and none for the first few miles. Eventually I was able to make the call, and stopped at a junction in a tiny village, whereupon three cyclists on flash bikes approached at speed from the direction we were heading. Slowing for the junction and eyeing the trailer and all our gear, the last man said “You’re brave, going up the hill with that lot. It’s a big hill”. Seeing my expression, he added “But it’s a good hill, you’ll be fine, you’ll get up there”. The hill was not visible at this point, being round a bend, but in my imagination it was now alpine, possibly with a little snow near the top, and goats above the treeline. What does he mean by ‘good hill’ I wondered. It’s almost a contradiction in terms.
We rounded the bend and started to climb and soon it was too difficult ride any further. I adoped what shall now be known as the ‘good hill procedure’, because it sounds positive. It goes like this: remove helmet, get dog out of trailer to walk, proceed bit by bit on foot, try to remain cheerful. We were at the top in no time and didn’t see a single goat – just a nice view towards the Cotswolds and a good place to play sticks.
The last section of the ride was via a two mile long gated road from Catesby, where we passed a large ventilation shaft that served the Great Central Railway’s Catesby Tunnel.
The gated road went through the middle of a farm and had no traffic, so Raisin ran alongside the bike.
The campsite is at the edge of a pretty village called Badby, full of ironstone cottages but famous for its bluebells. Here though, it’s a bit ramshackle, being a field within an animal shelter where the owner rescues horses primarily, but also goats, rabbits, cats, dogs and a tortoise. There were a handful of caravans on site when we arrived, that all looked lived in, judging from the long grass round the wheels, and saggy awnings. I feel like an intruder here, although everyone is friendly enough. It’s my choice to cavort round the country with just a tiny tent to sleep in; I sense these people might not choose to be here if they could help it. Anyway, some of them are having a barbecue and a few beers and the music is quite loud but what can I do? My mate Patrick from Ironbridge would no doubt produce a bottle or two from somewhere and join them. I just want to sleep, curmudgeonly old goat that I am.
Postscript. It’s 9.30pm and the music seems to have stopped. Patrick would have expected that; he knows most people are OK. Here’s another picture of a nice ironstone building in Badby.
 

Route 41

Today’s ride took us through the middle of Warwick, then Leamington Spa and towards Northampton, all on Sustrans Route 41 and nearly all off road – on the Grand Union and the Oxford (? not sure) canal towpaths, and the Lias Cycleway connecting the two. I don’t relish towpath riding, for reasons previously mentioned, but Raisin enjoyed trotting alongside the bike, and must have done 7 or 8 miles like that. There’s no speedometer on board but I think we plod along at 5 or 6 miles an hour.
We passed many cruising narrowboats today, mostly hire boats on the Oxford, but privately owned boats on the Grand Union, and nearly all of those were heading upstream towards the big flight of locks at Budbrook, by last night’s campsite. The only one going our way was painted black and called ‘Creeping Death’, which I was glad to overtake.
One good thing about towpaths is that the navigation is simple and I don’t have to listen to the Google Maps app on my phone giving me directions from my back pocket. The voice on the app sounds like the expensively educated chummy young women who present the equally annoying Spectator podcast. At every mile ridden, the other app I use whilst riding  (and walking) – Map My Walk – pipes up from my back pocket to say “Total distance x miles; total time y hour and z minutes” etc. The Map My Walk voice sounds like Charlotte Green, the Radio 4 newsreader.  It would be nice if she could say, at the end of the ride, “Libby Ranzetta with her dog, Raisin, cycled 27 miles today over difficult terrain on their tour from Wales to Suffolk. A spokeswoman said both are tired but uninjured after their ordeal, and are recovering overnight in a field somewhere.”
The Grand Union had some impressive engineering, with bridges under and over roads, rivers and railways. We approached one railway bridge at the exact moment the Britannia class steam locomotive 70013 Oliver Cromwell chugged over with a teak service coach, the driver, in blue overalls and denim cap, leaning out to take a look at the line behind.
Route 41 was pleasant, and included sections of disused railway line that afforded lovely views of the landscape.
However, it is not very trailer-friendly: three gates along the way meant I had to uncouple the trailer, and a flight of steps onto the Oxford canal towpath was tricky. Raisin even got Mouse out to help at one point.
 
When I rang ahead to book tonight’s campsite, the woman I spoke to managed to call me ‘duck’ 7 times in call lasting just 56 seconds. This got me thinking that the Google Maps app would be better with regional accents. It would give an authentic flavour of the area, and in this way, all the place name pronounciation would be correct too. So here, for example, the voice could say (with a Midlands accent) “In 200 yards turn left duck”.
We are about 8 miles south of Rugby now.  Raisin and I have been made to feel very welcome at this campsite, another small field essentially, but with homely facilities and a bargain at £5 a night. For once, Raisin is more tired than me but it was good to see her running so well on all four feet today. We might push on to Daventry tomorrow, and will then be about 100 from Bury St Edmunds I think. At this rate we might even be home by Christmas.