Today, we’re going to start in the quaint village of Fowlmere; rather nice ol’ place with a couple of churches and a B-road running through it; my commute to college heads roughly north east from here for a good number of miles into the heart of Cambridge city and out the other side.
Taking the only route out of my estate (no-one thought to provide for cyclists in 1970s rural Cambs) along twisty residential roads without centre lines – the bends do enough to calm the traffic – then it’s right onto the B1368 and I encounter my first hill of the morning; there are only a couple en route. I remember cycling to primary school up this hill – Year 6, I think it was – in (at least) 10th gear, if not higher. Passing the village war memorial, the road swings round to the right and forms the High Street. Not sure about your High Street, but Fowlmere’s is only about six to seven metres wide; it doesn’t help when a couple of families (not going to mention their names) park in the road rather than their driveways: this means we get a lane and a quarter to deal with B-road levels of traffic in the morning peak. However, even if traffic’s flowing in the opposite direction, the quarter of a lane is enough to cycle down; probably not the safest thing to do – a high risk of dooring. We’re soon out of the village; the speed limit rises to 60 mph with the road getting no wider. The houses peter out, leaving a horizon of field and hedge. This visual combination lasts for a couple of miles; until Newton the only indications of distance are my cycle computer and the interspersed Trinity College milestones.
After some tight bends (where other vehicles insist on passing within inches; ‘you’ll only get stuck in Trumpington’, I yell), I ride through the village of Newton; passing farmyards on the left, a pub on the right, and then an incline begins that seems to creep under the tarmac when you’re not paying attention. This incline – more correctly a hill – isn’t that steep and usually takes three or four minutes to conquer. The County has put in provision for lesser vehicles; it’s much more geared towards equestrians than cyclists, and is not an alternative to the road. You can then take comfort as the hill glides you towards the railway; unfortunately, a bridge forms the crossing – and a hump-backed bridge at that. After you’ve tackled this brow too, the B-road bends into the outskirts of Harston; the road surface on the nearside is quite rough and cracked here. Aside from bad surfacing, Harston gives us the first traffic signals along the way; I never go to the front of the queue as there’s no point turning 90º onto an old trunk road with motorists swearing at you from behind, as Harston’s pathetic traffic calming measures make it impracticable for them to overtake. Doesn’t mean they don’t try.
For about a mile, ‘edge of carriageway’ markings provide make-shift cycle lanes; the alternative at this point – a shared-use path – is about 60 cm wide, in desperate need of weed removal and not up to the task of handling high-speed cycle commuters. The road widens to two full-width lanes for about 300 m as you approach the M11 roundabout; true Cambridge traffic should use the offside lane, as the nearside either goes onto the motorway or directs you into the Park & Ride. Following the roundabout (and sometimes across the roundabout), a queue of congestion snakes up Hauxton Road; this is no problem on a bike however, as you can speed past frustrated individuals with ease and also toss a brief wave to that guy who overtook you outside Newton.
Turning left into the Park & Ride, one can take a back-alley route bypassing some of the queue: a service road for buses and non-motor vehicles parallel to the main road. It’s not a huge advantage from a route-planning perspective: you’ve got to go out of your way then rejoin the same road a couple hundred metres later, but it does make for a pleasant section of almost traffic-free running; plus, if you feel the need for a bite to eat, it empties out into Waitrose. Rejoining the old route, as happens every morning, I head up Trumpington High Street: a land of advisory cycle lanes. I don’t actually think I’ve had a single day where there’s been a car in one though; there’s the occasional bus setting down passengers, but the motorists are extremely good at keeping a thoroughfare open. After the (ex-) Coach & Horses, begins the Trumpington cycleway: pretty much a mile of traffic-free no-nonsense speed, although there’s no priority at side roads, but luckily there aren’t that many on the western side.
It all comes to an end at the junction with Chaucer Road and Brooklands Avenue, where I actually have to make a decision about routing for the first time since I left the house (and that was a pretty simple decision: college or go back to bed). For the sake of this exercise, let’s say I follow the old route to Histon: up Trumpington Road, through town, Castle Street, Histon Road. The first problem we encounter: a distinct risk of dooring opposite the Botanic Garden; I usually cycle on the outside of the cycle lane here (much to the annoyance of some). Whizz past the Leys on the left and over that double mini-roundabout thingy, onto Trumpington Street and past the Fitzwilliam and numerous University buildings. Now when you get to the junction with Pembroke St, it’s best to turn; you don’t want to deal with the cobbles of Market Street now, do you? All the way along Pembroke and Downing Streets; left at the lights and onto St. Andrew’s Street. Make yourself a fun morning task of dodging bus and (over-ranking) taxi; sluice through the gate by Lloyds Bank and you’re onto Sidney Street. Tarmac turns to concrete turns to brick: who thought bricks would be a good idea for surfacing a cycle artery?
After crossing the Cam for the second time – we crossed part of it on the A10 a few miles ago – we are faced with a miserable haul up Castle Street; many a taxi-driver has sworn at me for cycling ‘almost in the middle’. Too true: it’s a narrow street; it’s also a hill and I need to overtake slower folk. At the top of the final (major) incline of the commute, two sets of traffic lights exist. These are timed so badly, you can actually have a proper conversation with said taxi driver lasting at least a minute and a half. That’s enough time to whip out a pocket-sized Highway Code and find the bookmarked rule in question. Anyhow: he speeds off and you follow down Histon Road. This is a pretty standard affair of a long straight road with a couple of signals; cycle lanes exist north of Gilbert Road, but they’re too narrow for anyone.
Turning right onto Kings Hedges Road some 2 km later, I’m on the final leg. The guided busway has a very nicely surfaced cycleway running all the way to college here, so you don’t have to worry about squeezing through traffic. If you match the signal phase (they’re all phased together down the busway), you can pretty much do 20 mph for the next mile or so. Briefly braking to cross the guided busway at the northeastern corner of Orchard Park and then I’m onto a very bumpy Mere Way: a short stretch of unsurfaced twiggy byway, but I’m almost there so it’s not a big deal. Right onto King’s Hedges Drive by the A14 bridge; dismount for the barrier into car park 4, and it’s a short stroll to the sheds. No real problem – normally about 14 miles in 45-50 minutes.