Peat Bog Horror - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

March 8, 2020

Peat Bog Horror

Potton - Peterborough

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And Lo the storms continued, and despite their unthreatening names: Storm Dennis, Storm Ciara - they brought down trees, blew off bits of people's roofs, and generally dumped a load of water on us for three weekends in a row. The wind stuck in the south west and stayed there, blowing hard. 

At the beginning of March I finally spotted a fine Sunday, and decided to head out again. Since I had no great desire to fight the wind the whole way, it looked like it was going the be north-east again. I'd had my fill of the fens, so figured a run up to Peterborough, a major urban centre on the edge of the Fenland (and a stop on the East coast rail line that also serves Sandy) would be my target. Peterborough is an ancient place, a city with a medieval cathedral that was looted of its valuables by Hereward the Wake, with the help of some viking Danes, almost a thousand years ago. Legend says he felt bad about it and gave the loot back; the more likely case is that they "found their way to Denmark" (as wikipedia has it). It is also an industrial centre and, alarmingly, a commuter town for London twice the size of Cambridge that has a (perhaps undeserved) reputation of being a bit dull. "Peat bog horror" is a less-than-affectionate garbling of its name and location.

I'd done this run before early in the year and (who'd have predicted!) got horribly stuck in deep mud in the Fens. Since I'd had enough of that I decided to stick to a more westerly route, through what used to be Huntingdonshire (before it was incorporated into the Leviathan of counties that is Cambridgeshire), where I hoped to see more hills and scenery. I was not disappointed.

The first part of the route took me my favourite backway to St. Neots, via Everton and the huge estate lands on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border. Fortunately this time I remembered to take a picture or two.

Re-climbing the Greensand Ridge after crossing the Everton lands. This is an extremely steep hill with a very bad surface - I didn't make it up without pushing this time.
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Great views from the top back towards the ridge at Sandy
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This is one of my favourite routes in the area. In high summer, when I'm training for a tour, I do it every day
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Coming down into St. Neots with its distinctive double-chimney incinerator
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Crossing the Ouse on the cycleway at Eaton Socon and looking back towards St. Neots
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The cycleway is raised above the broad wetlands to stop it flooding
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I climbed out of St. Neots and the Ouse valley, and after a brief failure in direction finding where I managed to cycle past the co-op three times, took the tiny backroad out toward Duloe and back into Bedfordshire. My aim was to work to the north and west to bypass the big reservoir at Grafham Water, which I have visited far too many times, mostly offroad. The day remained fine and the wind was largely behaving itself.

The route cuts through a manor house repurposed as a conference centre and several farms. A friendly farmer pointed me in the right direction as I almost went completely the wrong way.

Village playground in Duloe. This is before the virus restrictions - it's just not a busy place.
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Impressive old manor house at Bassmead manor
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A very mossy roof
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I finally discovered where all the ubiquitous pheasants come from: there are actual pheasant farms. They then get released, where they wander the countryside attempting to throw themselves under cars and generally draw as much attention to themselves as they can, before they get shot.
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After I peeled off onto another good track between Perry and Kimbolton, my luck broke and the heavens opened with a vengeance. Raincovers on myself and the leather saddle and I was quite waterproof, though I hadn't reckoned on just how cold it still was. In the middle of nowhere and of the rainstorm I ran into a lady walking the fields, who must have thought I was precisely as mad as I thought she was.

It was really soggy and muddy and this point. Mudguards performing well, though.
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On the road to Stow Longa, I passed this noisy gathering
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It turned out to be the local go-kart track. Photo complete with motion blur
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Cutting the corner off Cambridgeshire in this way allowed me to easily cross the A14 Cambridge-Midlands road, which is a bit of a barrier otherwise. It's not technically a motorway, which means that many of the crossings are at-grade; but you certainly wouldn't want to cycle with any of the traffic on it. Beyond Stow Longa at Spaldwick there's a good bridge over the highway. After this you can climb up to the high ground that marks the end of Cambridgeshire and the start of Northamptonshire. The area is sparsely populated (for this part of the world), with the villages really being hamlets (i.e. many of them do not have a pub). 

Climbing up from the A14, with the road still gleaming from its recent soaking
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Solid stone church in Barham
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The roads were deserted - as I turned onto the backroad to Hamerton, I was passed by one car in half an hour. The sun came out and it was so tranquil I sat on a gate and had my lunch.
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I continued to cut through the quiet roads to the north through a series of small villages: Hammerton, Steeple Gidding, Little Gidding, and ... wait for it ... Great Gidding. 

Sometime people try to drive too fast on these tiny, bendy roads. When you have deep drainage ditches on each side, that doesn't end well.
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The little village of Stilton, on the Great North Road (now the A1), gives its name to the delicious cheese. But, amusingly, cheese produced in Stilton cannot legally be sold as "Stilton", because the cheese was actually originally produced near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire (it was just sold to hungry travelers at Stilton).
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Having two masts is just showing off
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For a finale, I thought I'd try to cut a bit off-road at the village of Haddon. I'd remembered getting stuck in this region before, and to do this I had to cross the busy A605, so I'm not 100% sure why I chose to do this. Anyway, it was (again) extremely muddy, but I did make an odd discovery.

At the top of the hill was a little shed, and inside was what I initially assumed was somebody's abandoned packed lunch. But in the tupperware was in fact a book. Had I discovered some sort of clandestine document drop, or exchange of samizdat literature? Had I been reading too much about the weird history of Doctor Zhivago (a story much more interesting than the book itself)? (the answers are "no" and "yes", respectively).

It turned out to be a kind of guestbook called "Prayers for Peterborough" (heaven knows it needs them). Charmingly, people had written lots of notes, nearly all in the theme of "in this troubled world, this is such a tranquil place". Considering I could hear the raw of traffic less than half a kilometer away on the main road into Peterborough I did wonder a little about this, but it's still a nice sentiment. I was pretty exhausted at this point and covered in mud, and in a bit of a funny mood, so I'm afraid the note I left wasn't entirely in this vein:

8th March 2020
I cycled up here
Extremely muddy
I thought this was Samizdat literature
Reading too much Dr. Zhivago

Hopefully this will amuse (or at least perplex) someone.

Nicely cobbled together scarecrow on the very muddy track cutting north out of Haddon
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Cool beacon. In the "old days", these would have been lit as a way of quickly sending signals from hilltop to hilltop across the country. This is a modern ornamental one, of course, as the inscription reveals.
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Looking back from the top of a very muddy hill the way I'd come
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The mysterious container and the guestbook. This is the first one of these I've ever seen in England (Iceland is lousy with them), and this is not the place I'd expect to find it.
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I crossed the A605 in rather ungainly fashion by sliding down the steep banks, and then hauling myself up the other side, before picking up the (still hard-going) track.

OS trigpoint on the other side. These are surveying points used in preparing the excellent, and very detailed, Ordnance Survey maps of the whole country.
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Spinning down the otherside into Chesterton
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Last time I went to Peterborough I had to cycle through endless miles of new-build suburbia. This time I'd picked my route more carefully, and would work my way up to the river Nene, which I could follow all the way into town. This is a much prettier approach and endeared Pete-bog to me rather more. 

After picking my way through a business park, I found the river and followed it east, along with the Nene valley tourist steam railway.

The skyline of central Peterborough is still dominated by the huge medieval cathedral
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Great turret!
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A really crummy photo of the Nene valley steam railway
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A heron? I'm so bad at ornithology
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Bill ShaneyfeltNot good at it either, but google searching, it looks like a little egret.
https://app.bto.org/birdfacts/results/bob1190.htm
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3 months ago
Kathleen ClassenAt least you can spell ornithology!
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3 months ago
Jon AylingAha, yes what with the colour I did wonder! To my shame I've seen these before around south Devon, and then failed to recognise them subsequently...
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3 months ago
Heron (?) in situ
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Good to see yarnbombing is still going on. A rather plaintive boost to passerbys self-esteem, this.
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This took me to the centre of Peterborough with much less fuss, as well. While there are unattractive bit, it's looking rather grand and prosperous these days.

The town hall
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The market square is really quite well-preserved
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The entrance to the cathedral. I have no idea what the man in the foreground is doing.
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An Anthony Gormley statue on a rooftop
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I worked my way to the station, and easily caught a train back to Sandy. It was dusk when I arrived, but this time I do have some pictures of the short ride back up the Greensand ridge to Potton.

Moon and mast
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I love cycling past this. It's a topiary farm!
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Today's ride: 88 km (55 miles)
Total: 238 km (148 miles)

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Comment on this entry Comment 3
Rachael AndersonYou put in a lot miles for a nasty day. Iā€™m really enjoying your writing!
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3 months ago
Kathleen ClassenI am really enjoying this šŸ˜. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
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3 months ago
Jon AylingThanks Rachael and Kathleen, glad you like it! More to come...
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3 months ago