60 miles / 97km
This weekend, I had a rare Saturday morning off from family duties, and as the forecast was dry, I thought I would make a start on the Cambridgeshire Hill Routes. For the first route I have picked the Newmarket Ridge in the South East corner of the county. The Newmarket Ridge is a low chalk ridge line dominating this part of the county. It is also area I know least, so in the name of Hill Climb research, it was a good opportunity to ride some new roads.
I Parked at Babraham Park and Ride, it is a free and convenient base, plus you are at the foot of the Gog Magog Downs and the first climbs.
Turn left out of the Park and Ride then take the first right onto Wort’s Causeway to tackle the Cambridge CC hill climb course from Beechwoods and up Limepit Hill, one of the Gogs Hills. The climb is approximately 1km in length and ascends 46m at steady gradient, never more than 5%. It is a very pleasant climb with good views across Cambridge. Over the summit it is downhill to Fulbourn.
From Fulbourn head out on Balsham Road. This is a straight, fast road and the approaches to the A11 were moderately busy when I rode (9.15am on Saturday morning), although traffic did give plenty of room when overtaking. The Balsham Road is the longest climb of the day, lifting you out of the Fenland basin and onto the Newmarket Ridge. Shortly after leaving Fulbourn the road starts to climb, but very gently. There is a slight kick as you hit the A11 fly over. The road continues upwards until a shallow dip about 1km further along, then you are climbing again. The gradient is now marginally steeper, but it still hardly touches 5%. After 8km and ascending 101m the climb finally peters out in Balsham. Bet you never thought you could find a 100m climb in Cambridgeshire!
From Balsham there is a long descent to Bartlow and the Camps south of the A1307. Bartlow village church is worth a quick glance having an unusual round tower. Turn left at the crossroads passing the Dower House; road cycling meets Downton.
Over the next 6.6km the road gently climbs 75m to Castle Camps. At 125m Castle Camps is the highest point on the route and the ride up there is splendid!
From Castle Camps the route continues to gently roll up and down. This is all big gear riding and the strong tail wind I had made the uphill drags easy. From Weston Colville the route passes through a succession of villages with no significant climbs along the way. Continuing to Kirtling and Saxon Street the road again drags upwards gaining about 55m over 3km. Despite the lack of challenging climbs, the scenery is beautiful and the countryside peaceful, so just turn a steady rhythm and enjoy the ride.
In Saxon Street turn right to Cheveley. Here you are just a few miles south of Newmarket and around every corner you pass another grandly gated stud. Although I only saw one horse I did see several Range Rovers. From Cheveley there is a long descent into Newmarket.
As soon as you enter the town, prepare to leave. Take the 3rd left onto Duchess Drive. I did make a minor navigation error here and turned too soon onto Centre Drive. This is a mile long uphill drag along a narrow road populated exclusively by bungalows. It seems I had discovered Newmarket’s retirement ghetto.
The Duchess Drive climb is probably the hardest on the route. It is a straight, tree lined climb ascending 66m along its 2.5km length and the gradient even reaches 5%. However, the difficulty lies in the worn and rough road surface which makes for slow progress.
At the top of the climb turn right and follow the roads south west until you reach the turning to Six Mile Bottom. The roads are still at altitude and tilt along with the usual long upward drags, however, I was now riding along the exposed northern side of Newmarket Ridge and into the wind. The drags that I had been cruising up earlier in the day were a distant memory, battered by the wind, these roads were hard going.
In this south eastern corner of the county it is easy to forget you are in Cambridgeshire. To me Cambridgeshire presents an uncompromising, exposed landscape and yet here the countryside offers a softer aspect. Turning onto the Six Mile Bottom road a more familiar Cambridgeshire vista greets you; the vast Fenland skies open up, beckoning you to descend back to the flat lands.
As this is Cambridgeshire it is this wind, not the gradients which make a ride hard. As I passed through the Wilbrahams, Fulbourn, Cherry Hinton to the Park and Ride I was mostly riding into headwinds and crosswinds, going was slow and not helped by recent cheapskate tar and chip surface dressing applied to some of the roads.
From Cherry Hinton you turn onto Limekiln Road. It only climbs 24m, but from 5% it steepens to over 10%, after 60 miles it is enough to sting the legs. Then it’s downhill all the way.
South East Cambridgeshire isn’t an area I know well, but this route was a good introduction (although I’m not sure there is much more to see). Apart from around Cambridge and Newmarket the roads were quite and generally in a fairly good condition. Unlike West Cambridgeshire’s short sharp shockers, the climbs are long and gentle, there are no serious challenges to find here, but then you would not expect to. With a tailwind you hardly notice the draggy climbs, however against the wind 3% can feel strangely steep. The Newmarket Ridge which dominates this route is a fairly flat plateau, the significant climbs are the ones which lead you onto it, but remember, with this route once you’ve left flat Cambridge behind, you are riding on roads frequently over 100m high.