From: Central Cambridge.
Distance: 15 miles round trip.
Summary: An exploration of the villages to the northwest and southwest of Cambridge.
The map below is interactive — you can zoom in, move it around, see a satellite view, etc.
When you live somewhere, it’s very easy not to get round to visiting some of the most significant sights in the area. Now that Spring is on its way, I decided to do something about this, and leapt on my bike to visit the American Cemetery in Madingley, just to the northwest of Cambridge. I’ve written a separate post about the cemetery itself, but this ride goes up the pretty cyclepath to Coton, across to Madingley, and then along a bridleway to Hardwick, and back alongside the thatched houses of Comberton.
If you decide to visit the American Cemetery en route (and I thoroughly recommend doing so, as it’s beautifully well-presented), then I would suggest allowing about an hour for your visit. I rather underestimated the time that I would spend there, so my ride became a race against the impending sunset! Whether or not you build this visit into your day, this cycle ride is quite easy-going, though I would only recommend it during dry weather, as will become clear later…
- Starting outside Trinity College, cycle along Trinity Street and then turn right into Trinity Lane. Continue around the corner, and turn right into Garrett Hostel Lane, so that you pass Trinity on your right.
- This busy pedestrian and cycle path crosses the river, with the Backs (the grassy open areas belonging to the colleges) on either side. At the top of the road, at the traffic lights, continue ahead into Burrell’s Walk, passing the imposingly tall tower of the University Library on your left.
- As Burrell’s Walk approaches a junction with Grange Road, it forks into two. Take the right-hand fork towards some traffic lights—you’ll find that the lights detect you approaching, and you’re unlikely to wait long before you can continue ahead into Adams Road.
- At the top of Adams Road, there’s a well-paved cycle path straight ahead (position A on the map), which tends to be known as the ‘Coton footpath’. Turn onto this path, and continue straight on.
- On the right-hand side, shrouded in trees, you’ll first pass the famous Cavendish Laboratory, and then the new (and rather more photogenic) Hauser Forum (shown above). This is intended to become the University’s home of high-tech entrepreneurship—and will contain university offices, space for private research companies, and a coffee shop for the whole of the University’s ‘West Cambridge’ site.
- Continue straight ahead, down the cycle path. Through the trees you may be able to glimpse the distinctive white tent-like structure of the Schlumberger Research Center—an R&D site where scientists are investigating new ways in which we can drill for oil.
- A little further on, the cycle path takes you up a shallow ramp and over the M11 motorway. Just 400 metres on from this, and you join the imaginatively-named ‘The Footpath’ road, in the village of Coton, passing the Coton Countryside Reserve on your left.
- Take the next right, into the Cambridge Road. This takes you past a garden centre and to a crossroads with the A1303. At this point, ignore the sign telling you to turn left to the American Cemetery. You get a far better view by arriving at the back entrance, and this way can also avoid cycling along the busy A-road. Cross to the road opposite, towards Madingley and Dry Drayton.
- After 700 metres you’ll reach the perimeter wall of the cemetery. At the very end of this wall (position B on the map) are two open gateways, leading into the rear car park for the site—turn into these if you do fancy taking a look at the memorial. There is of course no charge to wander in, and the site is open until 5pm every day other than Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
- Once you are ready to carry on, turn left out of the cemetery so that you continue down the road. You’ll pass the University’s new ’800 Wood’, so-called because it was planted to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge, in 2009. The trees are still young, but will form a visible figure of 8 when viewed from the air. It’s said that, on a clear day, you can see as far as Ely Cathedral from the viewpoint.
- Continue along the road until you meet a T-junction, with the grand Madingley Hall ahead of you. This is now the University’s Institute of Continuing Education, which runs residential and short professional courses for companies and academics. Amusingly, the entire mansion formed the student digs for the young King Edward VII.
- Turn left. You’ll start to climb a small hill, towards the transmitter mast that broadcasts Channel 5 analogue television, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and independent radio over the city. Half a mile along the road, you’ll reach a roundabout. Continue straight ahead into the small road directly opposite, aiming for the transmitter mast. Shortly afterwards, take a left into Long Road.
- Long Road is incredibly straight, and runs for almost exactly 2 miles, forming one of the few interconnections between the villages northwest and southwest of Cambridge. However it’d be boring to cycle the whole length, so this route instead explores one of the bridleways in this area.
- Two-thirds of a mile down the road, you’ll pass a sign pointing towards a bridleway on your left. Ignore this. Carry on down the hill, and you’ll see a footpath signed to your right. Ignore this also. A little further on, and sneakily hidden behind a telegraph pole, is a sign on your right indicating the other side of the bridleway (position C on the map). This is where you want to go—turn right, down this bridleway (signed towards The Wimpole Way).
- The first section of the bridleway is in remarkably good condition. The going is bumpy, but there’s no sharp hawthorn or brambles to puncture your tyres. Half a mile along, you’ll reach a small wood directly ahead, and the path veers left, so that the wood is on your right. Here you have to be careful to avoid large holes and the exposed roots of trees.
- Once past the trees on your right, you’ll reach a fork in the path, with a gate directly ahead. Instead, turn right along the path, keeping the wood on your right, with an open field on your left. This is where the mud can become rather wet in places—I ended up having to carry my bike for a few metres, to avoid sinking into a swamp of wet mud. A good reason only to cycle this route after a few dry days!
- Continue down the bridleway, and after another two-thirds of a mile, you’ll reach Main Street, as it passes through the village of Hardwick.
- If you’re thirsty at this point, there’s a pub in the centre of Hardwick, towards your right! However to continue the cycle ride, turn left, heading along this outer edge of the Cambridge green belt for 1.4 miles, until you reach a T-junction with Comberton Road.
- Turn left, towards the pretty village of Comberton. People have lived at this site for many thousands of years: archaelogical findings in the village have included a Neolithic stone axe, a Bronze Age burial mound, and an elaborate Roman villa.
- Before entering the village itself, you’ll first pass the Cambridge Meridian golf club on your right … the name of which gives away another feature of the village, which becomes apparent shortly afterwards. Comberton lies on the meridian line, as it sweeps up the country from Greenwich, and this is shown with a stone marker by the side of the road.
- As you cycle towards the village, the road signs indicate that it’s allowable to cycle on the left-hand pavement, and this provides a good surface. However, as you reach the centre of the village itself, the path switches to the right-hand pavement. At this point, I would suggest staying on the road, as the pavement goes up and down many roads and driveways, and it’s probably safer to leave the pavement for pedestrians.
- You’ll reach a mini-roundabout, intersecting with the other end of Long Road. Continue straight ahead, and from now on the cycle path on the left provides an excellent surface once more, and keeps you away from the busy traffic.
- Towards the eastern edge of Comberton, you’ll notice that many of the houses have curious little bridges over a little brook that runs alongside the road: itself a tributary of a minor tributary of the Cam.
- Continue alongside the road to reach Barton, and bear left at the village sign and pond. You’re now on Barton Road, which runs the 2 miles all the way back into Cambridge: first back over the motorway, and then past several college playing fields.
- Follow the cycle path all the way to the very end of Barton Road (position E on the map), where you’ll reach some traffic lights with several signposted cycle paths. You have a choice at this point—follow the paths straight ahead to head towards Hills Road and the rail station, or turn left to head back towards the colleges. The route shown on the map takes the left turn, then right into Silver Street, past Queens’ College, and left at the end to head back towards King’s College and the Senate House.
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In this ride, I’ve tried to take in several of the outlying villages, and to make use of roads either with cycle paths, or without much traffic. If you’re familiar with the villages mentioned, and can add to or correct anything that I’ve said, it’d be good to hear from you—just leave a note in the comments.
Similarly, if you do try the route out, please do let me know how you get on!