TwoLegsTwoWheels

A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad

Mar
28

Cambridge to Greenwich for the 157th Varsity Boat Race - part 1

Distance: 96 km / 60 mi

I’ve cycled to London quite a few times now; what made this trip special, and why am I writing about this one? Well, apart from getting lost in the Isle of Dogs, this was one of the best trips I’ve made: the weather was great, I think I’ve found what must be the nicest route between Cambridge and London, and most of all - unlike the previous year! - I made it to London in time to see the boat race.

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This route takes you from Cambridge to the Isle of Dogs/Canary Wharf area of London; from there there is a foot and cycle tunnel under the Thames to Greenwich. You could also turn off from this route around Tottenham to go further west, although I haven’t yet found any nice routes from there. It’s about half on road and half on canal towpaths; the two best things about it are, one, that the whole section through London is traffic-free, and two, following towpaths makes navigating through central London much easier! For anyone thinking of cycling from Cambridge to London, this is definitely my recommended route; let me know what you think if you follow it.

Start by heading south out of Cambridge through Trumpington, along Trumpington Street, and past all the people spending an afternoon in a car queuing for Waitrose. Carry on over the M11 roundabout on the road to Harston (the A10). This is by far the busiest part of the whole route; fortunately it’s only a mile or so along here before turning off, on to the appropriately named London Road. Any guesses where it heads to? And that, believe it or not, is about the most difficult part of navigating the whole way; simply follow this road south for the next 40 odd miles to Ware. En route it passes through Newton, Fowlmere and a few other villages. (Ok, it’s not entirely straight; it wiggles a bit in a couple of the villages, but it’s easy to follow.) The only slightly tricky point is at Puckeridge, where there is a left turn just before the old London Road - which has become the Cambridge Road by this point, it’s part half way - rejoins the A10 (if you hit a roundabout at this point, you’ve gone too far). Continue through Puckeridge - past the hairdressers’ shop imaginatively called ‘the hairdressers’ - and then straight over the road at the T junction on to the cycle path; this is only for a couple of hundred metres before the route goes back on to the road, but it avoids another roundabout. A couple more roundabouts in quick succession later and it’s downhill, probably the steepest of the journey and certainly the longest, into Ware village.

That’s the on road part nearly over; follow the road through the centre of Ware, then immediately after crossing the river come off the road on the left onto the canal towpath. Then keep following the towpath all the way. The surface of the towpath varies; this time, it was ok with a road bike - I took mine - but be prepared to clean it afterwards! It’s rather dusty, and in places there’s a bit too much gravel or a few too many bumps to make it a really pleasant ride. A hybrid or cyclocross bike would be ideal. In winter, or after a lot of rain, I imagine it could be a struggle on a road bike. But it’s generally nice. There is one stretch of nice, flat tarmac on the towpath, which would make for a wonderful ride - except that some idiot has put speedbumps on it! It’s the only place I’ve ever seen speedbumps on a cyclepath, that I can remember.

On a warm summer’s day there will be plenty of walkers and other cyclists on the path, and progress won’t be speedy. But it’s an awful lot nicer than being on the road, and the time you lose by going slowly you more than make up for by not having to stop to check a map. There are just a couple of points, where the canal splits or meets another one, where the path is not completely obvious; head south is the general rule.