Wednesday 4 July 2018 6:21a.m.
Why was up I so early? The short answer is that I’m mad!
The previous day, I had ridden the five miles down to Matlock station for the 06:21 to Derby but the bloody thing was cancelled - thank you, East Midlands Trains. So today I had another go, and this time, no problem – thank you, East Midlands Trains.
I'm trying to cover as much of the National Cycle Network as possible. Now that I’ve done everything close to home, the only way I can do this is by using public transport to get to my starting point. And by setting out earlier and earlier and returning later and later.
NCR63 doesn’t pass through the centre of March (either that or March has no centre) but instead turns northwards and wends its way through the residential part of the town, followed by a pleasant wooded section which is a permissive path owned by Whitemoor Prison. Next, some very quiet minor roads across the Fens brought me to Wisbech, where the annual Rose Fair was in full swing. I took my first break in the gardens of the parish church, bought something to eat and drank some water - but only because I didn’t spot a beer tent and I was a bit pushed for time.
National Route 1 is a long-distance cycle route from Dover
to the Shetlands, or will be when it’s finished, it currently still has several
gaps. The signage up till now had been almost perfect but leaving Wisbech
on NCN1 I encountered the first sign of trouble. We Sustrans volunteers
(‘Rangers’) do a lot of the signing of the National Cycle Network. The NCN numbers
are quite small compared to other road signs but distinctive and once you know
what to look for you’ll spot them everywhere – they’re a white number in a red square
with a white border set in a blue background. These patches are either
self-adhesive and stuck to lamp-posts, road signs etc in town, or rigid plastic
and nailed to wooden posts in rural areas.
Crowland church and abbey
After I crossed the River Nene at the north end of town, I missed a Ranger patch guiding riders through a narrow passageway, and I stuck to the main road instead. This wasn’t much of a problem – I soon corrected myself – but it was the beginning of some rather indifferent signage along miles of unremarkable but quiet roads zig-zagging all the way to Holbeach.
I left the Network in Holbeach as there is currently no numbered cycle route to Spalding. I gritted my teeth, took my life in my hands (if that’s not mixing too many metaphors) and plunged onto the A151 along with all the lorries and cars of the Fens that seemed to be going the same way as me. It’s not the most pleasant of roads and comparable, I would say, to the A6 in Derbyshire.
Spalding is an agreeable little market town, which sadly I didn’t have time to explore. I arrived from the north, rode alongside the River Welland and stopped for a drink and to take stock of where I was and where I wanted to go next. I was looking for some Route 12 signs which, according to the Sustrans online mapping, should have started at the northern end of London Rd. Yet nothing. Nada! Nix! How does Sustrans get away with this? I am keeping a log of routes I’ve come across which are supposed to be signed but aren’t...
Crowland Trinity Bridge and a NCR12 patch on a lamp-post
I knew if I was quick I could catch the train at Peterborough which would get me home by 7:30pm, so I tried to hurry up. This was easier said than done though, as the 5-mile traffic-free path from Crowland to Peakirk was rough and stony. After the madness of the A151 it was good to be away from vehicles but the going was still quite arduous. From Peakirk I just hoped that the route would be straightforward and I wouldn’t make any mistakes. In fact, the cycle network around Peterborough - a mixture of dedicated greenways and quiet roads - is mostly very good. I hurried along, occasionally taking a chance on which direction at junctions, fortunately choosing correctly each time. I got to the station with two minutes to spare and caught my train.
The total distance for the day was 132 km, at an average of nearly 19 kph, which for me is pretty fast. I’d give this ride 8/10 for the superb weather, the many dedicated cycle paths and the impressive and varied countryside.