From: Cambridge Regional College.
Distance: 24 miles round trip.
Summary: Visiting the market town of St Ives along the route of the new Cambridge busway.
The map below is interactive — you can zoom in, move it around, see a satellite view, etc.
Building a route for guided buses in Cambridge began in 2007, using the path of the former Cambridge and Huntingdon railway. The engineers building the busway faced a number of construction and contractual difficulties, but the track was eventually opened to the public in August 2011. This cycle route follows the busway northwest from Cambridge to the market town of St Ives, near Huntingdon.
It might sound obvious, but do ride on the cycle path beside the busway, and not on the path that the bus itself follows. Even before the track was formally opened, a cyclist riding down the busway itself was struck by a bus travelling in the opposite direction. The route is on tarmac most of the way, though racing bikes, with thin tyres, might have difficulty travelling along the 3-mile gravelled section north of Swavesey. The route is quite exposed in places, so it’s best not to try it for the first time on a windy day.
- This route starts at the back of the Cambridge Regional College, which is now situated beside the Science Park in North Chesterton (just south of Milton). You can access the busway cycle track from King’s Hedges Road (position A on the map).
- Heading north, you pass under the A14, and then on your left you will catch a view of a large lake, occasionally used by Cambridge University sports clubs for open-air swimming.
- With pedal-power, you can of course stop wherever you like, but the first stop for bus passengers is at Histon & Impington, shortly after the lake. Although these villages used to be two distinct settlements, they’ve now grown to such an extent that it’s hard to know where one begins and the other ends.
- Continuing along the busway, sniff the air as you pass the large factory on your right. Owned by Premier Foods (a vast food manufacturer owning brands such as Oxo, Angel Delight, Branston, Hovis, and Mr Kipling), this is the factory that produces jams under the ‘Chivers preserves’ label.
- If you’re already tired, take a left into Park Lane (position B on the map) after half a mile, and you can return to Cambridge via Girton.
- Otherwise, push on, and you’ll start to cycle beside fields as you leave Histon behind, passing next between the villages of Oakington (on your left) and Westwick (on your right).
- To the north of Oakington, you might notice a small airfield to your left. This used to be an RAF base, used to house bomber and reconnaissance planes during World War II. From 2000 to 2010, the airfield was instead the site of a notorious immigration reception centre, where asylum seekers and illegal immigrants alike were detained whilst the Home Office considered their case. Soon the grounds will be converted into a new town, Northstowe, with almost 10,000 new houses.
- North of the airfield, the route curves gradually around to the left, and 1.5 miles later you’ll pass a beautifully restored windmill in the small village of Over.
- Just a mile later, the cycle path clips the northernmost side of Swavesey (position C on the map) — a port in the Middle Ages, when the surrounding land lay underwater. After the bus stop for the village, you’ll see the Church of St Andrew to your left — this church hails from the 11th century, though has subsequently been rebuilt and altered a number of times over the centuries.
- At the time of writing, the remaining 3 miles of the route haven’t yet been paved with tarmac, though the council’s intention is to lay down a decent surface along the whole cycleway by the end of 2011. In the meantime, it’s worth the extra hassle, as you’ll pass straight through the middle of the Fen Drayton Nature Reserve. With the reserve being home to 190 species of bird, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views over lakes formed from disused sand and gravel pits. You’ll probably find it helpful to whip on some sunglasses though, given the number of midges that fly around near large lakes!
- Shortly after passing between the lakes, you’ll travel over a bridge (position D on the map), marking the entry into St Ives. The bridge is over the River Great Ouse — the same river that flows through Ely, though it’s rather narrower at this point in its course.
- On arrival at the main road (the A1096) in St Ives, continue straight on into Station Road and explore the town! The riverside is down towards your left as you enter the town — and there are plenty of places to buy food for a picnic alongside. Alternatively there are also some splendid pubs — when I was there, the food at the Royal Oak (position E on the map) was very good.
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Once topped up, turn around and head back! Enjoy this easy but fun route.
This post, and the photos contained within, are based on contributions from Ian Bullman, a reader of the website. If you are also interested in writing for the site, please leave a comment at the bottom of the ‘An excuse to cycle more’ post — thanks!