Lots of Feet and a Few Miles (LGD - 355 Days)
Tuesday 23 May 2017, 103 Miles
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After Sunday’s rather splendid Boudicca ride through north west Norfolk and a gentle 60 mile bimble round south Norfolk yesterday my legs were ready for another century outing today. The prospects were excellent at 6:00am when I opened the curtains – blue skies, not a cloud in sight and a very gentle breeze. Just the conditions for a ride to the Fens to savour the vastness of the land with some magnificent long-distance views across the flatlands. I decided to follow the route I used for the final ride of last year’s Century Series (C#60, 3 December 2016) and this time go the other way around.
In a nutshell, the route headed westwards between Newmarket and Mildenhall before arriving on the edge of the Fens. From there it was a northwest leg to Queen Adelaide, then around Ely to Little Downham before turning northwards for Denver. Then the route temporarily left the Fens and headed briefly into the slightly more enclosed south west Norfolk countryside before emerging back on to the Fens with one last hurrah along the four mile Southery straight. The final leg took me through Brandon and the forests and heaths of the Brecks. So a good mix of scenery to enjoy with the flat expanses of the Fens providing the lion’s share of the landscape.
One of two goals for today was to ride along the New Bedford River, also known as the Hundred Foot Drain. The Hundred Foot is the distance between the tops of the embankments on either side of the river. This is all part of a complex drainage and flood prevention system originally commenced in the seventeenth century to provide relief from the natural (Old) Bedford River. The Hundred Foot runs in an almost straight line for nearly 20 miles from Mepal between Chatteris and Ely to the sluice at Denver. Although not very deep (c2 feet) it is also tidal.
Just after the small hamlet of Pymoor the road dog legged and passed under a railway line. Looking at the map on my Garmin I could see that it ran arrow straight ahead for me for nearly six miles. The other thing I noticed when looking at my Garmin was that I was riding at an altitude of 15 feet below sea level! I guess this reflects the vagaries of the technology as the Ordnance Survey map places most of the road at sea level, with a maximum elevation 3 feet! Casting aside any notions of altitude sickness I stopped briefly at a rather splendid pumping station which was originally constructed in 1756 when it was wind-powered. A steam driven system succeeded it in 1830 and in turn was replaced with a diesel-powered engine in 1926. Since 1986 it has been driven by mains electricity. With a combination of soft ground and cycling shoes with cleats I was unable to get a picture of the delightful pump house – maybe another time?
Whilst most of the surrounding land is intensively agricultural, benefitting from the improved drainage, there is a rather splendid wetland nature reserve at Welney. As I passed by today the visitor centre and car park were quite busy with lots of twitchers sporting expensive telescopes, looking out across the washlands.
Heading north east I arrived at Ten Mile Bank. Some post ride giggling on the Interweb has failed to uncover the significance of the ‘Ten Miles’ so I am going to have to set aside some time to do investigate further as my curiosity has definitely been piqued! From Ten Mile Bank I meandered along the side of the River Ouse, the Great Ouse and Little Ouse merge a few miles upstream to form a single river. Denver Sluice was delightful in the sunshine – the combination of water, meadows and boats was really quite picturesque.
Arriving at Denver marked the end of my fenland experience, though there was short reprise between West Dereham and Feltwell with the chance to ride along the three and a half-mile long Southery straight. A bit like a final hurrah for a big day in the big country. And what a great day it was.