When I first moved to Cambridge, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. I wobbled. I panicked. I fell off (more than once). I got back on again.
Fast-forward: it’s March 2020, and exercise is one of only four ‘reasonable excuses’ for leaving the house. Cambridge emptied: first of students, then of cars. Laurence and I couldn’t resist taking to the clear roads on our bikes. We’ve found new routes (some of which have become go-to rides), discovered picturesque villages and spotted adorable baby animals, clocking up 982km in the process.
Before ‘social distancing’ became part of our vocabulary, a blast up the busway to St. Ives (via RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes) would’ve been our route of choice in this direction. These days, we’re steering clear of the busway and favouring the open roads. We pedal out towards Swavesey, and loop back via Over, Willingham and Histon. Aren’t these two calves gorgeous?
If I’m plotting a ride after work, I’ll often venture down to Duxford. (Ring a bell? IWM Duxford is the largest aviation museum in Britain.) It’s a quick and easy route, which fills the void between the end of the working day and teatime nicely. A week or so ago, we saw a sea of red: wild poppies, in their thousands (above). If we pedal a wee bit further south, we hit the quaint market town of Saffron Walden (which is, in fact, just over the border, in Essex). Pancake-flat Cambridge hasn’t prepared me well for hills: there are two or three biggish ones on this route which feel like hard work every time.
Cambridgeshire has its fair share of country piles: Anglesey Abbey (a misnomer – it’s neither on Anglesey, nor was it ever an abbey) in Lode is one such spot. We cycle to Fulbourn, where we pick up quieter roads and lanes. We pass Great Wilbraham and Little Wilbraham (or, to locals, The Wilbrahams). Bottisham, Swaffham Bulbeck and Swaffham Prior (The Swaffhams) beckon. Swaffham Prior’s twin churches – the Church of St. Mary (pictured) and the Church of St. Cyriac And St. Julitta perch on a mound above the main street. We skirt Lode, and head home via Stow-cum-Quy.
Wicken Fen – a vast expanse of restored fenland owned by the National Trust – lies some ten kilometres to the north of Lode. I could’ve done with thicker tyres at times: the pot-holed gravel tracks on the fringes of Wicken Fen made for a bumpy ride. We spotted dragonflies and butterflies flitting amongst the wildflowers and waterways, herds of ponies and cattle grazing, and goslings out for a dip. What’s not to like?
I took a week off at the end of May: five days of sunshine and cycling sandwiched between two weekends. We had time enough to venture a little further afield, so set a day aside for a longer ride to Lavenham, Suffolk. Fields blurred into one another. Country lanes took us past farms, through hamlets and villages. We rode through Brinkley (taking a wee detour to see alpacas), Cowlinge (pronounced cool-in-je, not cow-lin-je as I thought) and Hartest (I won’t forget that hill any time soon). Lavenham is picture-perfect, with crooked, half-timbered buildings every which way you look. If you get a sense of déjà-vu looking at that middle photo, that’s probably because you’ve seen it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Lavenham Guildhall and De Vere House (below, middle) feature as Godric’s Hollow. We cycled home via Clare (below, right), a bustling market town.
More often than not, a ride westward takes us through Grantchester. We zip along Coton Road (on a bike, it’s a breeze; on a run, it’s a bit of a slog), past Coton Countryside Reserve and Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial on the outskirts of Madingley. There’s a sign warning drivers about frogs crossing the road, though I’ve never spotted one. We leave Madingley behind. If we’re after a longer ride, we’ll go further west to Caldecote or Bourn, then south towards Great and Little Eversden. (We spotted a peacock preening itself in front of someone’s car there just the other week.) If a shorter ride is on the cards, we’ll cut down to Comberton. Both routes lead to Haslingfield, which is home to possibly the nicest, smoothest road in the land. (I’m rhapsodising about tarmac. What has my life come to?!) We cycle back into Cambridge via The Shelfords: traffic lights and potholes punctuate this last stretch home.