This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 86.
My way runs from Stockwell Street in Cambridge to The Irwin Centre, Dry Drayton, and I have been cycling it since 2003. For the last 16 months it has involved a stop in Hardwick to drop off or collect my son at his childminder’s.
Leaving Stockwell Street, we cycle over the Carter Bridge, and wiggle through to Hills Road via Devonshire Road, Tenison Road and Glisson Road. We are glad of the resurfacing of Devonshire Road as you come off the Carter Bridge, although cycle facilities suddenly seem a lot narrower when you have two front panniers and a passenger; they are certainly not built with trikes or trailers in mind.
Having crossed Hills Road we cut down Coronation Street, then do battle with the school traffic on Pemberton Terrace before spotting ducks and pressing buttons to cross Trumpington Road and proceed down Fen Causeway. I prefer to cycle on the road here, as in my experience it is quicker and safer. The corner by the Leys School has an adverse camber, poor visibility and surface, and the entrance and exit to the School I have always found to be a bit of a gamble. The occasional motorist questions my judgement but my response is that the cycle path is optional – not that they are interested in a reasoned reply.
Down Newnham Road, up Sidgwick Avenue (record numbers of unlit cyclists here in winter), then during school term-time battle with the unreasonable numbers of 4x4s along Grange Road. Phew – onto Adams Road, then the scenic cycle path to Coton – a chance for more conversation and spotting cows, rabbits, birds etc. And hardly any litter, a welcome change from roadside cycle paths. Although repairs have been made to this section, there are still cracks and lumps, one of which caused us a spillage in the autumn when it was covered with wet leaves. And I don’t know whose idea it was to put the longitudinal ridges at the junctions behind the Cavendish labs but they are a distinct hazard when it’s frosty, and are a bit slippery for a heavily laden bike when wet.
We cross the M11 and begin the climb. It’s a shame that when the Coton section of road was resurfaced, the lumps and bumps weren’t ironed out. Now they are just harder to see. The cycle path turning from Cambridge Road, Coton to the cycle path alongside Madingley Road/St Neots Road leaves a lot to be desired, having poor visibility and narrowing just where you need more room to manoeuvre without losing too much impetus before the steepest part of the hill. If you don’t think it’s much of a hill, try doing it with a toddler on the back, or nearly 20 kg luggage. Then consider being pregnant as well. I haven’t walked yet but it will happen! This path has benefited from a clean this spring which has restored it to its original width.
We follow this path all the way to Hardwick, enjoying the view, but not the occasional vehicle that seems to regard the path as a hard shoulder. The corner by Madingley Mulch is a notorious frost pocket and needs to be approached with care in the winter. The junction where the cycle path joins the road at the Hardwick 40 mph limit is rather narrow and unforgiving. From thereon we cycle on the road to Hardwick, drop off (I get a breather), and continue by road over the roundabouts to the Irwin Centre (before the village of Dry Drayton).
In the winter I tend to continue on the Madingley Road cycle path, which is not up to scratch. The vegetation is rarely managed, the path is far too narrow, and the surface is poor. This is when I’m even more aware of feeling wider than a standard bike, especially on the unlit sections, and am lit accordingly. The litter at the Madingley Road lay-by/bus stop is shocking. We turn down Clerk Maxwell Road to rejoin the Coton cycle path rather than continue past Churchill College and the rather unnerving, even narrower section beside a large ditch!
In the BC days (before child) it would take 40 minutes door to door (8.5 miles); quicker on the way home, downhill with a following wind. Now, with the extra weight, it’s more like 45 minutes to Hardwick plus five to the Irwin Centre, but still preferable to driving. Not only do I enjoy having a decent amount of exercise built into the day, but there is also the camaraderie of regular cyclists and walkers, particularly once you get beyond the city limits. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to do it with two children, especially as we have nowhere to store a trailer.