From: Central Cambridge.
Distance: 19 miles.
Summary: Open country views, but wear something reflective!
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Given the flat land to the north of Cambridge, a leisurely visit to Ely is best done by bike. There are three obvious routes to Ely — this is the scenic route, along the back roads. The cycle through open countryside gives you fantastic views, but it’s strongly advisable to wear something reflective (and perhaps have your rear light switched on) so that drivers can see you some distance away on these long, straight roads.
- Make your way up Castle Hill, towards the petrol station shortly after the county council’s “Shire Hall” headquarters. It’s amazing how many people seem to struggle on this first step, presumably because hills are so unusual in this area! Castle Hill is extremely short (only about 300 metres) and not actually that steep, but it can be hard work unless you change down a few gears and build up a bit of speed early on.
- Turn right just before the petrol station (position A on the map), and then immediately left into Histon Road. This road changes name a number of times, but is essentially the road that will take us most of the way to Ely.
- Histon Road takes you through the northernmost part of Cambridge (the Kings Hedges area), up to a large roundabout with the A14. Cyclists are diverted onto the pavement at this point, but you’re aiming to cross the roundabout, cycling past the Holiday Inn, towards the villages of Histon and Impington.
- Histon and Impington were both originally ancient, pre-Roman settlements. As Cambridge expanded markedly over the past century, so the population of the two villages has rocketed upwards as well, so that any boundary between the two is now fuzzy to say the least. Very broadly speaking however, you will pass Histon on your left and Impington on your right — though this distinction is a point of some contention amongst local residents.
- Continuing straight on after Histon & Impington, you will then pass through the large village of Cottenham. Again, continue ahead on the main road, passing the village green on your left-hand side, and later the All Saints church on the right.
- The road now changes name again, this time harking back to the toll that was formerly levied for vehicles travelling between Cottenham and more northern villages. The two long stretches of ‘Twenty Pence Road’ take you through five miles of open farmland, with rabbits hopping along beside you and views stretching way into the distance. Halfway along, you pass over the Old West River (the name for this southern stretch of the Great Ouse, before the confluence with the River Cam at Little Thetford), near the Twenty Pence Marina (position B).
- Eventually, you’ll start seeing signs of civilisation, reaching the outskirts of Wilburton, and then the T-junction at the top of Twenty Pence Road. Turn right here, and then shortly afterwards left into Station Road (presumably there used to be a rail station serving Wilburton? I haven’t seen any remnants — feel free to explain all in the comments if you know more…).
- Station Road again leads you out into the countryside; turn right at the top of this road, and then left at the top of the next, to head into Witchford. This village, on the southernmost outskirts of Ely, has a sign proudly proclaiming that it was awarded the Ely Standard‘s ‘Best Kept Village’ award in 1995…
- An off-road cyclepath towards the right takes you through the village and beside the A142. From here, you want to follow the signs towards “Ely historic attractions”. The shared pedestrian/cycle path is in extremely good condition, and takes you on a slightly different route to the cars, finally coming out at a crossroads, opposite Barton Road (position C).
- As you cycle down Barton Road, you’ll see a sign saying that you’re entering the Ely Porta area. The Ely Porta was the gateway into the monastic settlement of Ely, and remains today as the King’s School’s library (seen below on the right-hand side, with the Cathedral in the background).
- Barton Road leads you to the Porta, and from here you can continue under the archway into the Cathedral grounds, or walk your bike down the road to the left into the city centre. Alternatively, if you’re still feeling energetic, you could try some of my suggested cycle rides around the villages bordering Ely itself.