Fen and Fell, the West Cambridgeshire Hills

Route Stats:
672m climbing
70 miles / 113km

Of all Cambridgeshire, the west of the county is the area I enjoy riding the most. Bordering Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, there is some fine cycling country to be found here. The roads are remarkably quiet and are generally well surfaced.

As for the hills, there is nothing quite so high as those found in the chalk ridges of South Cambridgeshire. The southern routes break the 100m above sea level threshold, whereas here, the roads barely make it to 80m. Separated from the Fens by the northward line of the A1, West Cambridgeshire rises up like rumpled creases in a bed sheet. It offers shorter, but much steeper climbs and together they add up. However, this close to Fenland it is easy to pick a route where the contour lines disappear altogether and, where they do reappear, are as likely to be negative as positive.

West Cambridgeshire, home to some small, very small, but perfectly formed gradients.

The Sunday I intended to ride this route it rained very heavily, and it was cold, not much more than 5°C. I still rode out, but it wasn’t long before by fingers became too wet and cold to operate my phone’s touch screen. Not being able to take any photos, as well as been wet and chilled to the bone I cut the ride short. The following Sunday I woke to a clear, crisp late Autumn morning. A perfect day for riding, so I dragged the club run north to finish reconnoitering the route and to take a few more pictures. I only mention this as some stuff will refer to the first wet ride and some to the dry ride.

Grafham Water cycle path. Slippery under the trees, but pretty

This route starts out from Mander Car Park, Perry, on the shores of Grafham Water. You will need change for parking, but there is a cafe there too. To avoid re-riding the same section of road down to Kimbolton, the route starts off road and heads clockwise on the Grafham Water cycle track. The track is a mix of farm track, compacted limestone and tarmac. It is rideable on a road bike, even, as I now know, after it has been raining solidly for the past 12 hours. In the autumn slushy fallen leaves, plus loose gravel can make it a reasonably technical ride for a road bike, but a bit of bike handling practice never goes amiss! Avoid lightweight race tyres. My personal preference is for Continental GP 4 seasons which I have used many times here without mishap. Likewise, go for solid wheels over deep section carbon rims (which to be honest, outside of racing are unnecessary).

The track leaving Grafham, imagine you’ve just dropped Philippe Gilbert somewhere in Flanders – it looks like the kind of thing he might enjoy

After about 2 miles, at the bottom of a dip there, is a left hand turn under pylons onto a farm track (picture above). Take this, it will bring you out onto Stocking Lane, and a more conventional road surface. At the road junction you have two choices, either turn left and follow the route or turn right to Easton. The Easton turn is optional because once there you’ll need to turn back, however, you do get to ride the 40m climb back up Stocking Lane.

Stocking Lane, 40m over 1km. It steepens towards the summit with an 8% gradients.

Continue through Stow Longa and Spaldwick, cross over the A14 and onto the next climb, Belton’s Hill. It gains 20m over 200m, but you will probably need the little ring to conquer the gradient which steepens to just shy of 1 in 5.

Belton’s Hill, a short and sharp test for legs and lungs

Belton’s hill is a straightforward up and over so there is instant relief as you plunge down the other side, but you will also see the second bigger climb up to Barham village looming ahead. The Barham climb has a shallow middle section, with steeper 8% steps either side and gains 28m over 500m. Together, this and Belton’s Hill form St Ives CC hill climb course.

The stepped climb up to Barham village

For the next few miles, the road rolls along with a couple of little climbs. If you are of a literary bent, you should probably stop off in Little Gidding and pay homage to T. S. Elliot. It is, after all, close to the season when the brief sun flames the ice, on ponds and ditches. From the Giddings, follow roughly surfaced Milking Slade Lane then cross the B660 towards Elton. The road is level for a few miles then descends nicely to a crossroads where you turn right for Morbonne. You get a short run up before the steep little ramp that is Morbonne Hill. The climb gains 24m over 330m and at its steepest comes close to 20%

Morbonne Hill, the transmitter dominates the landscape, its lights are clearly visible from Grafham water.

I rode the Morbonne part of this route with some of the other St Neots CC guys. Just over the summit we had a puncture in the group and while it was being fixed about 30 Fenland Clarion riders went by. Looking at twitter later on, it turns out Russ Downing had been in the group. It sounds like he enjoyed his ride, but I hope the Clarion boys didn’t leave him to do all the work up front!

There is another climb after Folksworth, gentler than most, then a pleasant tree lined descent into Glatton. Continuing across the A1 flyover, as you leave its artificial slope you enter the Fens.

Looking back to Folksworth

I had ridden the Fenland section of the route on my first ride. Unfortunately my fingers were too far gone for touch screens so I didn’t manage to take any photos, and I didn’t ride out there with the club for the second ride. If you don’t know The Fens, to give you an idea, my blog header picture was taken along a stretch of road, looking west to Holme, that the route takes you on. In words then.

After the A1 you reach Holme village then cross the East Coast Mainline. On the other side of the tracks the road ahead would be the envy of a Roman engineer. At some point between you and the horizon, the black asphalt becomes indistinguishable from the black peat. Only a drunken line of telegraph poles marks its path.

This section of the B660 carves through what will one day become the Great Fen. This is an ambitious project to restore the stark drained fields to their former wetland beauty. I look forward to the day I can ride across the Fens to the sounds of bitterns booming and snipe drumming. But today nature is largely silent here. The Fens may give the impression of a bleak wilderness, but the truth is this is a sterile, agricultural landscape of industrial proportions. The wind and the rain, your bike and your breathing are the sounds you are most likely to hear.

If you are lucky the wind will be on your back and you will fly across the Fens. Eating up the miles, cycling across the Fens is a buzz, you feel strong and unstoppable. But if you turn against the wind, it never turns against you, be prepared to be punished with a demoralising slog. There is no shelter in the Fens. The unchanging horizon never seems to creep any closer. There are few landmarks to distract you here and, alone with your thoughts, the Fens can be a mentally hard place to ride.

After miles and miles in the Fens these short steep little climbs are a rude shock to the legs

5 miles after Holme you approach Ramsey St. Mary’s. It is a sprawling linear settlement characteristic of the area. Turn right in the village for 4 more miles of straight and flat road. Eventually the road curves to the left and starts to rise towards Upwood. You are now skirting the edge of the Fens around Wood Walton. Either side of the village are two small, but steep hills. The first climb gains 27m over 470m, just making 10%. The second climb is shorter gaining 20m over 240m, but steepens to almost 20% by the summit. At the Summit turn right at the T junction and head to Alconbury Weston.

The exposed climb from Winwick to Old Weston, it always feels a little harder than it has any right to be!

From Alconbury Weston the road rolls nicely, before a gentle climb upto Winwick. In Winwick turn left, back on to the B660. The road rolls along with climbs after Winwick, Old Weston and up to Catworth. The Catworth climb is the biggest gaining 40m over 500m. The steepest section of the climb is just before you enter the village under the imposing Elm trees which arch across the road.

Passing under the elm trees into Catworth

Heading to Kimbolton there are no climbs, but there is an impressive sweeping descent approaching the village.

Agden Spinney. No run up so choose your gears wisely…

There are only two climbs left now. The first is Agden Spinney. Immediately after you turn left off the B645 the road bends right and you are on the slope of this brutal little climb. Gaining a mere 15m over 130m, it is just the tonic for tired legs. Or not.

Perry hill, the ride’s final climb

The second and final climb is Perry hill and takes you back to Grafham water. Gaining 30m over 470m, the climb starts off gently before steepening to almost 10% as you leave the trees and Grafham Water slides into view.

Grafham Water, now go and have some tea and cake from the cafe and enjoy the view!




About velorichard

Riding a bike around Cambridgeshire looking for some hills
This entry was posted in Cambridgeshire, club run, Cycling, Cycling routes, Grafham Water, Hill climb, Route planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fen and Fell, the West Cambridgeshire Hills

  1. Frank Burns says:

    Great description of the route. I know all those climbs painfully well. But, do you know about the cycle-path alongside the A14 from Easton to Spaldwick?


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