My first post on Cambridgeshire’s hills upset one of my club mates as I had missed out his favourite local climb. The climb in question is the hill at Ellington Thorpe near Grafham Water. It is a respectable Cambridgeshire climb, but it’s omission was a deliberate act on my part. You see, the hill isn’t on the route to anywhere. That is, it isn’t on the route to anywhere that you would want cycle to or from. Ellington Thorpe’s geographical misfortune is to lie just off the A14 with no sensible crossing for cyclists.
If you don’t know the A14, you’ve clearly never heard a UK traffic report. It is Britain’s principal route for providing the Midlands with tat imported to the east coast ports, and is loathed by travelling salesman, truckers and locals in equal measure. Its terrible interchanges and accident prone, over capacity dualled carriageways have a remarkable capacity to grind South Cambridgeshire to a halt. Still that need not concern us because we have our bikes and can largely ignore the congestion.
Across most of Cambridgeshire the A14 skirts the southern boundary of the Fens. West of the A1 and Brampton Hut you head towards Northamptonshire and the geography changes. The road runs up a low valley belonging to a minor tributary of the River Ouse. The north side being characterised by a low but steep ridgeline followed by a second set of longer and shallower climbs. The southern climbs are longer and set further back from the A14.
For Cambridgeshire, there are some good climbs, trailing up the valley sides, to be found here. The problem is most of these roads just don’t go anywhere; they terminate against the piteous roar of the A14. A few of these climbs you can easily build into a route, but the rest require a detour. To ride these climbs requires a conscious, determined decision by the road cyclist to ride out, find them and conquer them. You climb them just because they exist. These are the climbs for the dedicated Cambridgeshire Hill Climber.
First a couple of them did make it into the original list, but they are mentioned again here for completeness. The climbs are ordered in sequence from East to West and indicate with N and S for north or south of the A14 respectively.
1. Ellington Thorpe (S)
This hill is a little out of the way, but is worth the ride out. The climb starts gentle, but on entering Sparrow’s Spinney the road quickly steepens hitting a 14% gradient halfway up. The road flattens out to Grafham village
2. Woolley Hill (N)
This is the first hill on the north side and, if anything, is even more off the beaten track than Ellington Thorpe. Start at Mad Bridge for no other reason than its name. The road runs flat and straight until Whitleather Lodge. The climb starts gently but as you approach the summit it has steepened to a 1 in 5 gradient. Over the top the road descends to Woolley.
3. Stocking Lane (S)
This is a long draggy one. Start in Easton village, the climb starts as a drag for the first kilometer. Look to your right and you will see the ridge line you will be climbing run parallel with the road. After that first kilometer, the ridge crosses the road and the route inevitably steepens. Reaching the top of the ridge the climb goes on a little but with a more forgiving gradient.
4. Stow Longa Road (S)
This is the first road on a crossing over the A14 (Belton Hill is on the North side). The climb’s topography is similar to the Stocking Lane climb, but as it does not lead to a dead end, you may see the occasional car and the run into Stow Longa village is quite pretty.
5. Belton hill (N)
Start at the A14 flyover to give yourself a bit of a run up because this is a short, sharp, nasty little 10% climb.
6. Staunch Hill (N)
Sitting on top of the northern ridge line is the charming little village of Leighton Bromswold. Ride along the quaintly named Thyme Avenue to the Greenman pub, turn left then drop like a fat man on a bike down Staunch Hill. Turn around and climb back up the 1 in 5 slope to the welcoming arms (or benches) of the Greenman.
7. Catworth (S)
45m, 1 mile
This is a 40m climb which steepens and narrows at its mid-point through high hedges, so take care for oncoming traffic. Keep going through the village, there is a dip just past the garage, the road gradually plateaus off heading to Kimbolton.
8. Old Weston (N)
51m, 1.3 miles
For a climb on the north side, this is unusually long and steady, lacking the steep gradients of the other climbs. It also has a surprisingly wide road, although, perhaps not that surprising when you remember there is an American air base at nearby RAF Molesworth.
Riding the Hills
Because many of these climbs don’t go anywhere, putting together a sensible route isn’t easy. Still I have a go and the link to the slightly drunk looking effort below is it.
48 miles, 607 metres of lumpy climbing:
Starting from Spaldwick. First Head north to Belton Hill, then Woolley Hill. Then onto Leighton Bromswold and Old Weston. After Old Weston, miss the turn for Catworth and take the back road to Brington. This will bring you out at the bottom of the Hill. Do the full loop then climb up to Catworth. Head towards Kimbolton, but don’t enter, head to Stow Longa instead. Before Stow Longa, turn Right to Easton and the Stocking Lane climb. Now, take a deep breath and prepare for an off-road section. This is a short cut using the gravel tracks round Grafham Water and is meant to save you riding a 10mile stretch to Ellington Thorpe and back. From Ellington Thorpe head back to Spaldwick via Perry, Dillington, Stonely and Stow Longa.