The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Mon, 05 Apr 2021

Ways to Wimpole

I was quite pleased to find that there's a nice way to cycle into Wimpole from the north-east, specifically along Wimpole Road (a bridleway) from Great Eversden. It's metalled for a decent way, then becomes a slightly stony surface over what seems like hard-packed fine gravel as it climbs up over the ridge. My tolerance to stony paths is pretty low and I found it pleasant. When you get to the top of the ridge, there is a short stretch of packed earth path to traverse along the edge of a field, but on my visit (early April, dry) this was pretty smooth and comfortable to cycle over, and you're soon joining up with the National Trust's own Wimpole Cycle Trail, again a slightly gravelly but a perfectly tolerable surface.

I must say it was lovely to cross the Wimpole Hall site with hardly any other people around... not your usual Bank Holiday. Like the cycle trail, the route through the grounds is officially only a public footpath, but one where cycling is explicitly permitted by the landowner, and the surfaces are very amenable to it.

I can back via Bassingbourn and Haslingfield, making a 36-mile round trip. For the whole ride, the opposition to East-West Rail was out in force, or at least in signage. I have some sympathy... the apparently now-chosen route makes no sense to me, and the failure to provide local stations is appalling. It seems to me that the local opposition group, Cambridge Approaches, hasn't played a good hand... they were pushing for a rather impractical and circuitous route around the north of Cambridge, parallel to the A428, and from my brief perusal I did not see a convincing story on exactly how it could be achieved. And it didn't help that their leading message was one of transparent NIMBYism, thinly disguised by the vague phrase “planning blight”. The latest “consultation” makes clear that their suggestion was not taken forward. Instead of offloading the problem onto villages to the north, they might have found their interests better served if they had argued in terms of what was best overall. The chosen route from Cambourne, cutting through the Eversdens and Haslingfield to Harston, is itself pretty circuitous and seems destined to create a bottleneck on the network between Harston and Shelford... the end result may or may not end up sympathetic to the landscape, but it seems likely to cause several years of unpleasant disruption in those villages, without the eventual benefit of a station to serve them. I am still struggling to see any reason why the old alignment could not have been adopted between Toft and near the M11 (or at least an alignment closely parallel, where telescopes get in the way), before crossing the motorway near the A10 roundabout and pushing through roughly parallel to the Addenbrooke's Link Road to reach the existing line north of the Shelford junction. That road is not very old, is much wider than a double-track railway, and was built without much fuss despite requiring compulsory purchase and demolition of several houses on Shelford Road.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the route, the plan is to reduce the number of local stations on the Marston Vale section, and re-site those that survive so that they are further from their village centres. The claimed justification is something vague about “space” for “expansion” at those stations (what expansion?). One cynically supposes this is so that the existing station sites can be sold off for residential development, and/or for huge car parks to be built at the new ones, and/or to curtail stopping services to free up express and freight paths. I am only surmising those. But like depressingly many public infrastructure projects, despite shiny “consultation” web sites, it would be hard to imagine a plan that treats local people with greater contempt, while spending hugely more than necessary to deliver what seems likely to be an overengineered yet underperforming product.

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