Off-road to Ely

About 12 miles north of Cambridge there is a city called Ely. It's actually pretty small, but it's a city because it has a cathedral, by far the largest and most impressive near here. (Fun fact: in England, your town can't be called a "city" unless is has a cathedral, except by a special act of parliment or something like that. Cambridge doesn't have a cathedral, but being the biggest town in the area, and very famous to boot, they got the exception in the 40s or so and so it's now the City of Cambridge.) (Another fun fact: since Ely's cathedral is on top of a little hill, you can see its tower from some of the taller buildings in Cambridge.)

The way to Ely is perfectly flat. There's a footpath (and so technically bikes are not allowed there, but I've been told that if you're polite and give way to walkers no one minds) along both sides of the river (the Cam) all the way to Ely. I'd been along the part near Cambridge, and it's a wide, flat, smooth gravel path there. Thus I thought that going to Ely on an MTB along the river would be a fun and easy ride.

So, on Sunday Simon (boyfriend with new Trek 970) and I got out the maps, checked where we were going, plotted out a mostly-off-road return route (along byways, which are long-ago abandoned roads), and headed out. Indeed, the first part of the route was pretty easy. Gradually, tho', the wide smooth gravel path narrowed to a couple narrow dirt paths in the grass. Then a bit north of town, there were flood dykes along the river, and the footpath went along the top of them. There were pastures all along there, and this meant that (1) you had to stop and shoo cattle off the path every now and then before you could proceed (2) the cows' feet made the path very rough and we have completely rigid bikes, and (3) you had to lift the bikes over the fences that separated the pastures.

This made the going pretty hard. On top of this, it started to rain lightly. Luckily it wasn't cold, but we still got plenty wet, and the footpath got a bit muddy. So by the time we got to Ely, 15.5 miles later, we were pretty tired. We really wanted a place to get out of the rain, drink some hot tea, eat some goodies, and rest a bit before heading back to Cambridge. But we were covered with mud, and no one would let us in like this. Furthermore we didn't have bike locks.

Thinking a bit, we decided that the train station would work. So we went there, bought some tea and cookies from the snack bar, and sat on a bench on the platform, out of the rain, watching the trains and passengers go by. There were several people standing around with bikes next to their luggage. Most of the bikes were MTBs, and some were quite silly. Like there was one bike with a front shock and some sort of rear suspension, but it had regular rat-trap pedals, without even toe clips! Our bikes were not only decent MTBs, but they were clearly used for off-road riding, being (as were we) quite mud-spotted.

After our snacks we headed back to Cambridge, but we were too tired to go along the byways, so we stuck to the roads. The rain had picked up a bit, becoming steady. So we remained wet on the trip back home, but at least the exercise kept us warm.

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