It was a cold, black ice morning in the Trumpington Park and Ride car park as seven Windmillers – Maurice, Andrew, Sandra, John T, Ken, Lawrence and Martin – set off promptly at 8.45am to catch the 9.35am train from Cambridge to Downham Market. At the station we met up with Chris and Brian and after a warming coffee we boarded the train, spreading ourselves around the carriages to avoid the attention of station staff, particularly the dreaded fat controller at Ely station.
The sun shone brightly as we sped smoothly through the fens and we were soon disembarking at Downham Market to start the 40+ mile journey southwards downwind with lunch awaiting us at The Queen’s Head in Newton. What a lovely thought! But best laid plans, and all that, soon took hold!
The problem with the fens is that there’s a lot of water and we soon found out how easy it is to get on the wrong side of it by heading towards Wisbech in a headwind on a main road, intending to take a left towards Denver but finding there was no way across. So back we went and after navigating the busy Downham Market bypass we were soon heading down the right lane towards Denver Sluice, except that a Road Closed ahead sign came into view. However, adopting their new guise of fen tigers for the day, the Windmillers dismissed the sign, as is usual with such signs, and carried on regardless and were soon whizzing over the largest drainage system in the Fens, operating in one form or another for over 400 years thanks to some clever Dutch engineers. It looks a bit insignificant but without it we would probably be under water for some of the year in Cambridge and Ely would still be an island.
The weather was distinctly chilly and the wind remained in our face for some reason but the sun was brilliant and we were soon pedalling steadily down Ten Mile Bank towards Litleport, taking in the huge skies as we went and watching out for wildlife. It was a magnificent sight.
Thoughts of rare beef and smoked salmon in The Queen’s Head soon disappeared as we neared Ely at 12.30pm, hungry and thirsty. But Brian then had a brilliant recall from his distant past of a wonderful café / tearoom on the river at Ely which transformed the tigers into peacocks as we paraded into the establishment of the same name, which even had an empty table for 9 awaiting us. And what a great lunch it was, with Elgood’s beer from Wisbech to wash it all down – definitely one for a repeat visit the next time.
With 27 miles under our belt, there was still a long way to go and so Maurice wisely took us through the lanes to Witchford and Cottenham instead of crossing the fens via Cycle Route 11 to Wicken which adds a few miles, but which is very nice on a good day. The wind was more kind to us on this final stretch but legs began to tire, or was it punishment because of the quiche for lunch which real men are not meant to eat? Here are the tired tigers in Cottenham, the home of Martin’s exploding tyre last year (courtesy of Brian).
A downwind stretch to Landbeach was sheer luxury and then it was through Milton and onto the towpath back to Cambridge past Baits Bite Lock. All was going swimmingly until Martin decided to copy Vernon’s involuntary dismounting of last year and nearly ended up swimming when he hit the same raised path edge which threw him off his bike towards the river bank, but escaped unscathed except for a few scratches and bruises, his pride taking the main dent.
Thoughts of beer in Cambridge came and went unusually quickly as it was approaching 4.00pm by this time and most Windmillers felt like falling asleep in their own armchairs rather than risk collapsing in a pub.
And so it was after quite an eventful day of 51 miles that we said farewell to Chris and Brian on the busway path to Trumpington as they peeled off towards Shelford whilst the remaining tigers, and tigress, carried on back to their cars.
Here is the sperm-like route taken, thanks to Andrew’s Strava, indicating slightly fewer miles than those recorded by others.
Thanks to Maurice for planning a great ride, Andrew for all the organisation and Brian for some of the pics. Crossing the fens is never to be taken lightly!