My Way

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 30.

My Way map

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[1] Right turn out of Meadowlands Road onto Newmarket Rd

My journey to work contrasts starkly with David Green’s ‘traffic jamming’ route across Cambridge described in Newsletter 29. He gets to wrestle with the traffic at 15 junctions, (and 4 pedestrian crossings), most of them busy. I get 5 junctions in 5 miles, usually with light traffic. His route is probably more entertaining, but I get a much better view.

The route is from Meadowlands Road off Newmarket Road by the airport, to Bottisham High Street. Being a habitual laggard I rarely get to see the morning rush, but in fact this makes the right turn out of Meadowlands Road junction [1] a bit tedious as Newmarket Road has constant brisk traffic all day, except during rush hour. If I get up early enough I can just set off between any two traffic-jammed cars, and then get to laugh at them all in their queue.

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[2] When you get a lorry and a car at the same time there’s not much room left for a bike. [3] Look, a nice little space. [4] Pointless left turn lane into P&R site.
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[5] Nice smooth shared-use path
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[6] More typical shared-use path – narrow and bumpy

Newmarket Road is generally uneventful although pinch-points are provided by the quite recent bollard outside Marshall’s and the more recent end of the westbound bus lane from the Park and Ride site [2]. The latter is significant if a lorry or bus is behind me and a car coming the other way. Cowering in the gutter almost anywhere on this route will get you a rather unpleasant experience but cycling about 0.8 m from the kerb gets you more space and less aggro. [3]

There is a shared-use path all along this bit of road but it’s the usual lumpy liability here, past four Marshall’s entrances and a garage, and at the new Park and Ride entrance you have to stop and wait at a pedestrian crossing. The Park and Ride entrance nominally requires you to move into the right lane to go ahead, but very few vehicles turn left here so you can just move out a bit and ignore it. [4]

Beyond the lights I join the nice, smooth shared-use path – a rare example of its type [5]. There are a few driveways, but only the Ida Darwin farm shop ever has any traffic, and I get back on the road there as the surface is now back to the usual laughable standards [6].

The A1303 here is busy and fast but there are no difficulties, though car crashes are quite regular along this stretch. I’ve seen one car go straight over the verge (and cycle-path) then through the hedge, and the remains of numerous other prangs near the lay-by. It is nice to cycle past the ‘police – road closed’ signs in the sure knowledge that there will be plenty of space for a cyclist.

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[7] Approach to the tunnel under the A14 [9] Pleasant countryside on the tunnel route

Now I get a choice. I can carry on to the Quy roundabout over the A14, or turn left using the official, but little-known, cycle route through a tunnel under the A14.

The tunnel is annoyingly offset from the badly-surfaced approach [7], so you have to do a double 90-degree jog. Beyond, you cycle pleasantly uphill and it widens onto the old main road with fields, horses and birds [9].

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[10] The cycle-route road crossing at Quy, with more top-quality cycleway on the other side. [11] Sensibly-placed dropped kerb so you can get back on the road.

The main disincentive of this route is its join with the Burwell road. You have to cross this road [10] which is straight and fast – the Quy junction design means that even the cars coming from that side are doing 50 mph or more.

Beyond is more terrible quality, narrow, dissolving footpath past the church which does at least have a dropped kerb at the end so you can immediately rejoin the road. [11]

The alternative Quy roundabout route also has a bit of wildlife interest as a kestrel can often be seen hovering here. This route is slightly longer on the map, but many experiments have shown that it is always quicker. The entertaining bit starts on the roundabout approach as you are supposed to be in the right-hand lane to go straight on. This is good advice – you do have to behave exactly like any other vehicle here to avoid being ignored, stuck in the wrong lane, beeped at or worse. However, merging on an uphill 50 mph ‘A’ road requires a watchful eye [12]. Now you get to cycle round the roundabout in the right-hand lane, and then pull off into the Newmarket lane [13]. This section feels somewhat exposed, but contrary to expectation I am invariably treated very well, often to the point of deference, by drivers. There is plenty of room to go past, but about 40% will simply wait behind for the entire 150 m section.

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[12] Approach to Quy roundabout eastbound. Going to Bottisham you should be in the right-hand lane. [13] The Quy roundabout exit eastbound (A14 slip off left). Not a cycle-friendly junction. [14] The joys of the open road. (OK, it’s a bit dull mostly).
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[15] Bell Road shared-use path under construction

From here I just get a pleasant-but-dull ride down the relatively quiet A1303 [14] with a slight curve after ¾ mile to keep me awake. The road is paralleled by another crappy shared-use path. This was resurfaced two years ago but still manages to be far too lumpy for me to consider.

The main problem with cycling out of town is particularly acute here – the wind! It can be perfectly pleasant in town and be ‘bloody windy’ out here. Many a time I have cycled all the way to or from work barely getting out of bottom gear!

Bell Road into Bottisham is narrow, but generally pleasant. It is currently having a new cycle track built alongside – we’ll see if they can manage a decent one this time [15]. At the T-junction at the end I am suddenly back with urban considerations – cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians going in all directions. And, finally, a ride down the High Street. [16]

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[16] Bottisham High Street [17] Going home, accompanied by plenty of sky and countryside

On the return journey there are a few things that change. The first is that even if the shared-use path had an acceptable surface, as it is on the right-hand side of the road, using it at night simply results in you being blinded by the headlights of the stream of oncoming vehicles. Bell Road can be entertaining on dark nights as there is no white line in the centre or at the edge, and no kerb, so even with a decent light it can be difficult not to be off in the grass or cycling down the wrong side of the road. The current upgrade will probably fix that.

The bit that really makes cycling out here worthwhile, is returning along the A1303 at sunset. I get a huge dose of that ‘massive Cambridgeshire sky’ effect, sometimes with glorious sunsets, clouds, and lighting [17]. If there are rain clouds about then it can be even better – I’ve seen triple rainbows and last year a huge storm cloud receding over the church spire with crepuscular rays beaming out towards Fulbourn and an indescribable sky. You can also see the rain coming from miles away – a mixed blessing.

I never use the tunnel under the A14 for the return – you’d have to cross the road twice or suffer the shared-use-and-headlights for two miles to end up on the right side. The roundabout is much easier in this direction as you don’t have to be in the right-hand lane, although ‘improvements’ a couple of years ago mean that you can end up stuck between two lanes of traffic at the exit. [18]

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[18] Quy roundabout exit Westbound. You can still see the old markings faintly – these represent the most sensible route if there are no cars coming [19] Airport way roundabout with left turn lane. [20] The connection to the shared-use path is almost perpendicular to the road.

In this direction I get to do the Airport Way roundabout, which has another unhandy left-turn lane [19] requiring careful reading of the traffic. I haven’t been cut up yet, but you can tell some of them would like to. Just beyond the roundabout a bit of poor design makes the nice flat shared-use path useless. It joins the road at 90 degrees [20], so you almost have to stop to get on to it. I never do, and I’ve never seen anyone else get on here either. I go down the road, which is sufficiently narrow and busy that lorries often have to wait behind you – road positioning is still all-important if you don’t want to be scraped past.

The traffic lights at the Park and Ride are entertaining as the approach lanes (one straight on and one right) are narrow so that overtaking cars will invariably encroach into the right-turn lane. The sensors are commendably sensitive so maybe 25% of the time I pass the lights will change and stop the traffic coming out of town.

Beyond the lights is the new bus lane. It’s so lumpily built that I follow the old line of the road edge. The permanent cycle filter here is nice – not that anyone would stop if it didn’t have one!

The shared-use paralleling this section is again narrow and lumpy; it is also winding and obstructed by the occasional tree, and has four or five Marshall’s exits to cross.

So, a longish trip to Bottisham and back (10 miles), which seems to have come out as something of a tirade against the inadequacies of shared-use paths. I hope this little tour has given you a flavour of the countryside commute, which is so different from the cut and thrust of urban cycling. This is a route where it is always quicker for me to drive, but then who wants to be a lardbutt? You don’t get such a good view from inside a car, either.