Leisure Outdoors

An October cycle ride from north Cambridge to Coton and back via the city centre

Over the years I have gone for several cycle rides with my friend Nancy. These have mainly been in the summer and early autumn, based on our enthusiasm to get out when the weather is good and when we are not too busy with other things. In theory we arrange to meet for a cycle ride three or four times each year but in fact it usually turns out to be a maximum of two, accompanied by comments such as ‘where has the summer gone’, ‘can we fit in a ride before the weather turns’ etc.

Luckily cycle rides were not affected by covid as they were definitely in the ‘allowed exercise’ category. I see from my ever increasing collection of undeleted emails that we cycled to the south of the city on 30th September 2020 but have found nothing earlier that year. In the summer of 2019 we cycled to villages north of the city, a conveniently close area as both of us live in north Cambridge. It was this area that we also cycled to in early August this year, the first of our two rides in 2021. The route was to Histon via the guided busway then to Girton through some lovely, locally managed woodland, a stop at Girton church where I bought some jam, and back via a track from the new development at Darwin Green to Histon Road.

Our most recent cycle ride, on 4th October, was to Coton, a village to the west of Cambridge. It has been joined to Cambridge for decades via the ‘Coton footpath’ that runs westwards to the village from the intersection of Adams Road and Wilberforce Road. When the M11 was constructed in the early 1980s it crossed the route of the footpath so a bridge was built. As continuing development took place in west Cambridge and more and more university departments moved out of the centre, the footpath became an increasingly useful link, so much so that part of it was widened with designated separate cycle and pedestrian paths.  

Our cycle route started at Nancy’s house. Our route is shown by hand written black arrows. We went north on Histon Road then joined the track that took us to Darwin Green. We crossed Huntingdon Road and took a cycle path through Eddington, another new development, this time mainly residential, on the original site of the University Farm between Huntingdon and Madingley Roads. After crossing the Madingley Road we cycled through the west Cambridge site to reach the Coton footpath.

Before setting off there is a fair amount of preparation from pumping tyres to checking the route. The photos below demonstrate this, Nancy’s map followed by a picture of her in the garden before putting on her helmet.

We set off at a reasonable pace negotiating various hazards including ongoing work on the new cycle path along Histon Road. Where the path was blocked by machinery it was the usual situation – dodge out into the stream of cars!! For ages I have found the principles behind separating cycles from mainstream traffic intriguing – at many traffic lights and all but one ‘Dutch’ roundabout in Cambridge, the cycle lanes stop altogether which makes me think cyclists need to take to the skies like Mary Poppins (or risk life and limb joining cars, buses and lorries as they whizz through intersections and round roundabouts).

Once we were on the track to Darwin Green, accessed via a short stretch of footpath, all was well – lovely clear skies, a light wind and views of ‘about to be developed’ farmland. The light wind sounds delightful but it was blowing towards us so, as always, it had a surprising effect on the effort needed to cycle. The story goes that whichever direction you are cycling, it is always against the wind – or at least that’s what it feels like. Another factor that should have no effect at all in Cambridgeshire is gradient. We have almost no hills so perfect for cycling, but even a gentle slope makes a difference.

When we reached Eddington we bowled through it with barely a glance I am ashamed to say because it is a fascinating new development. In fairness Nancy and I have been there many times before and have seen the lovely wild flower areas, the sustainable housing and the award winning community centre, Storeys Field Centre ( Eddington is well worth a visit, via its website ( if it is not possible to go there in real life.

From Eddington we crossed the Madingley Road and, at my suggestion, cycled through the West Cambridge site, rather than taking a rural path along the east side of the M11. We had cycled that footpath a few years ago and so a new route seemed a good idea.

The photo below is of the point where we turned south to access the Coton footpath.

We found ourselves cycling for a short distance through an area that is clearly next in line for new buildings, with access roads leading nowhere and some areas of rough ground. Our route led straight onto the footpath, which at that point is single track alongside autumn fields (some recently tilled and others showing signs of harvested crops). The sun was shining and suddenly we felt we were in an extremely rural area. But this was slightly offset by the throbbing of traffic on the M11 a short distance away.

To cross the motorway we cycled up a steep slope (in fact I chickened out and pushed my bike!). This next photo shows the slope up to the bridge – this side has not been resurfaced.

Then across the bridge and down the other side (freewheeling on a smooth track that is much improved since the last time I cycled there when the surface was potholed and quite dangerous).

It seemed a good idea to take a photo of us in front of a Coton sign, to prove that we had reached our destination. The first one we saw led to Coton Country Reserve, managed by Cambridge Past, Present and Future. The sign was fairly low compared with us when standing – you can see the top of the gate behind us – so we had to shrink down for the photo! Coton Country Park is definitely well worth visiting but on this occasion we decided against and went on to the church.

Although Coton has many attractions for the 21st century including a very good pub and an excellent garden centre, for me the area round the church is the biggest attraction. Here are the traditional features that you would have seen for centuries including a village pond, the village green with an old pump and the primary school.  We were able to go into the church itself which was a bonus, and were fascinated by it and its history from the 12th century.

Leaving Coton we retraced our route along the path towards Cambridge and over the M11. The next two photos show this. I took the first of the two precariously as I cycled along – luckily there was no other traffic and plenty of space to wobble along one-handedly with the phone in the other.

The photo below, from the motorway bridge, gives a deceptive idea of the traffic because of the spacing of vehicles. In fact, despite petrol supply problems, there was a continuous stream in all four lanes.

Our route took us due east along the Coton footpath and away from the village towards the city. We passed many other cyclists and as we approached the eastern end of the footpath there were more pedestrians. On the left side of the path we could see the modern buildings of the West Cambridge site, but when we reached the end, and set off down Adams Road we were in an area of huge older properties most of which are now split into flats.

We crossed Grange Road and cycled down Burrell’s Walk past the university library (photo below) on our right.

Then across Queens Road to Garrett Hostel Lane and up and over Garrett Hostel Bridge, which was full of undergraduates in their gowns taking photos. The picture below is to the north, showing Trinity Bridge beyond the punt.

We cycled down Trinity Lane – a lovely narrow old area of the city and pushed our bikes down Trinity Street (it is one-way, the other way) towards Round Church Street.

The next photo was taken outside Trinity College looking towards St John’s College.

From Round Church Street we crossed Jesus Green to Victoria Avenue, onto Midsummer Common and along the river with the college boathouses on the other (north-east) bank.

We finished by crossing the river via the footbridge that leads to Manhattan Drive, through the ‘de Freville estate’ to Chesterton Road, and on to Milton Road, arriving at my house for a late coffee.

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