Straight and narrow
Jonathan Manning follows the Roman Road that linked Cambridge to Colchester on this pretty ride
The Gog Magog sounds like a giant from JR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but are in fact a short series of modest chalk hills just outside Cambridge. These are not mountains to challenge the Lake District or Snowdonia, but in the kingdom of the blind (or the flatlands of the Fens) an altitude of 70m is sufficient to open up vast views over the surrounding landscape, as well as the towers and rooftops of Cambridge. On a clear day it is apparently possible to spot Ely Cathedral, some 17 miles away, from points of this ride.
It’s certainly exposed enough to warrant the building of an old windmill on the edge of Fulbourn as well as phalanxes of new power-generating turbines.
Cambridge is one of the most cycling- dominated cities in the country, but this route turns its back on the colleges and beautiful, bustling streets, and instead heads into the countryside for a head-clearing dose of calm.
It’s a ride of two halves, both of which follow arrow-straight Roman roads. The outward half is on asphalt, and while it’s a thin yellow line on an Ordnance Survey map, not even worth B-road designation, the absence of bends means traffic does tend to overtake quickly.
Most of the highlights come in the second half of the ride along a parallel Roman road that is now closed to traffic. Built almost 2,000 years ago to link settlements at Godmanchester and Cambridge to Colchester, the byway is blissfully peaceful and buzzing with biodiversity.
In spring, wildflowers in the chalk grassland attract beetles, bugs and 25 different species of butterfly, while in autumn the hedgerows explode into a kaleidoscope of yellows, reds, oranges and browns. What’s more, with chalk underneath, the land drains well, so even after heavy rain the track isn’t muddy or boggy – just a bit greasy. This would be an ideal ride for a gravel bike.
A bridge over the A11 breaks the quiet for an instant, before calm resumes, and anyone looking to extend their outing can wheel their bike (no cycling allowed) along the magnificent beech avenue into Wandlebury Country Park, where long- fringed Highland cattle graze the pastures. There are eight miles of waymarked trails to explore and a pop-up café, next to the Tadlow Granary, on most Thursdays to Sundays throughout the year.
You can download this route from our dedicated Strava page here.
1 From Cambridge Cherry Hinton Club Campsite turn right and continue for 1.2km.
2 1.2km – Turn left, signposted to Fulbourn, passing the Wildlife Trust’s Beechwoods on the right. Later, look out for the windmill on the left. Continue into Fulbourn.
3 5.1km – Turn right at the first mini-roundabout and then go straight over the next. Continue on this road, signposted to Balsham and Cemetery, passing the White Hart pub on the left. Continue for 8km to Balsham.
4 13.2km – Turn right immediately after the Balsham village sign, and then right again immediately, and continue for 2km.
5 15.3km – Turn right along the Public Byway, just before a large pylon, and stay on this track for almost 4km until you reach a road.
6 19km – Turn left and cross the bridge over the A11. On the other side of the bridge keep straight ahead (ignore the Cycle Route sign pointing left) and ride down to regain the Roman road by the gate to Mount Farm. Continue on the track for almost 5km, passing Wandlebury Country Park on the left, to reach a road.
7 23.8km – Turn left along the road and continue to a T-junction.
8 25.1km – Turn right at the T-junction and continue to the Club site on the left.
About the route
- Start/finish: Cambridge Cherry Hinton Club Campsite, Limekiln Road, Cherry Hinton, Cambridge CB1 8NQ.
- Distance: 16.4 miles/ 26.3km.
- Time: 2 hours.
- Level: Suitable for all cyclists and e-bikers – no hills, but quick traffic on outward section.
- Terrain: Asphalt, mud and gravel. Gravel, hybrid or mountain bike would be fine.
- Landscape: Arable fields and hedge-lined byway.
- Refreshments: White Hart, Fulbourn; Black Bull Inn, Balsham; The Old Butchers café, Balsham; pop-up café (Thurs-Sun) Wandlebury Country Park.