Surface “repairs” to National Cycle Network Route 12 (51)

I regularly ride part of the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 12 for my commute, sections of which are off-road and very poorly surfaced. Indeed, some are so bad with mud and gravel or in such a poor state of repair I don’t believe it is credible to label them a national cycle way.

2011 witnessed some shocking repairs to the route’s surface. Having recently returned to riding the route since stopping in October, I have found it interesting to observe how these repairs have fared over the winter.

In May 2011, a 400m section of track behind Southoe village, just off the A1, was razed. It is the only word I can of think to describe the damage done. Before, the central part was raised with ruts on either side. The ruts were broad, but not exceptionally deep and had a relatively smooth compacted gravel surface. This part of route 12 passes through arable farmland and is shared with agricultural machinery.

Razed section of track left as a loose gravel surface

After the razing the ruts were obliterated and the surface levelled. However, what was once a fairly fast compacted surface was transformed into a slow and in places dangerous, most notably on bends, pathway covered in deep, loose gravel and large tennis ball sized stones.

I queried why the track had been so degraded with the local Sustrans Ranger. He was unaware any work had been done to the track so queried it with the land owner. The land owner replied stating the surface had been levelled because the undercarriage of some of their vehicles were scraping the track. Out of necessity farm vehicles tend to have good ground clearance so I was quite surprised the surface was causing such problems. I could only think they meant the golf carts used to carry feed for pheasants in nearby woods. But, even that was not convincing since these carts also drive over more deeply rutted mud tracks.

I could still believe this explanation if not for the fact that no effort was made to compact the track surface. Instead it was allowed to bed down naturally. During the summer the surface remained as loose gravel; slow, difficult, uncomfortable and unwelcoming to ride on.

A cynic might suggest, given the time of year, when more people are starting to use the route, and the lack of remedial action to make the surface cycle friendly, that this was a deliberate ploy to deter cyclist from using this section of route 12.

Pothole repairs on NCN route 12, the darker gravel is the repair

During the winter I do not use route 12 for commuting because it is too slow and muddy compared to further, but quicker, on road alternatives. However, with the recent dry weather I have been using it about a month earlier than normal. The first things I noticed were the ruts starting to reappear and numerous new potholes.

Attempts had been made to repair the potholes. The picture shows the darker material used to fill them. It is a fine, almost sandy, gravel aggregate and is heaped into the holes, but not compacted down. Overtime successive top layers are removed by tyre treads and spread along the track. The net result is the pothole soon reappears, more puncture friendly stones and grit are added and the track is further degraded as a cycle friendly route.

About richardjostler

Data Scientist working at Rothamsted Research
This entry was posted in Commuting, Cycling, National Cycle Network, sustrans and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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