Discovering the river Cam by bicycle

The first leg of my #CamTriathlon kicked off with the cycling leg, 70 miles source to sea in order to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

As it turns out, when you try to cycle the length of a river, you don’t actually get to see a whole lot of the river.

At it’s source it trickles along back streets and through the edges of vast fields far away from any cycle path or road. And as it reaches an urban area you might be lucky enough for a stretch or two of towpath as the river’s historic use for transport enables far better navigation by bicycle.

However, in the center of town it’s likely the high value of scenic water front views has caused the river’s edge to be crowded out with residential properties or, certainly in the case of Cambridge, by the exclusive colleges that control the waters edge.

All this meant that we glimpsed the river from afar for most of the route, getting little snippets of it as it grew. When I came up with the idea I expected that I would be traveling at a different speed, with a different vantage point and that the actual route itself will be dictated to some extent by my chosen form of transport — this is what enticed me to start the adventure. But I was surprised just how little of the river we were able to see when cycling the route.

Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows

It was quite dramatic the sudden change in shape, colour and speed of the river as we got short glimpses of it’s development along the route. From the sweeping curves as it meandered through the Grantchester Meadows where it’s muddy banks and lack of strong current made it perfect for dogs to dive in retrieving balls that patiently bopped on the water, to the wild and muddy channel as it neared the sea. I’m intrigued to experience the more gradual evolution of the river when I next visit by foot and spend far more time along it’s banks.

I love cycling and it’s usually my favorite mode of transport — quick enough to cover ground and discover somewhere new but slow enough that you’re not whizzing by and missing out. But I found from cycling the length of the Cam (almost — I’ll get to this later), that for discovering a river, a bike simply doesn’t do it justice. You miss out on the twists and turns, the growing spurts and the little details which make it unique.

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Despite the lack of river in our source to sea river journey it was still a great adventure. I was lucky enough to have a lovely friend of mine, Chantell Frost, join me for the whole journey. As I’ve previously discovered company is what makes experiences memorable. And for me, adventure is best served cold, in so much as I’d rather it was a feat of endurance over time rather than a sprint race to the finish before the heat of the start line dissipates. I’m also not one for training, so slow and steady wins my race.

And that’s lucky given when loaded up with a sleeping bag, thermorest, a change of clothes, the odd GoPro selfie stick and helmet attachment and of course, lots of food, the going is pretty slow.

We averaged around 5 miles an hour with all our gear, equating to around 6 hours a day on the bike for two days. In between we stopped to enjoy local coffee shops and warm up with a hearty dinner before adventuring out into the dark night to find a suitable field to sleep in.

For those of you with good mental arithmetic you’ll probably have worked out by our progress that we only reached around mile 60 of the full 70 mile length. Sometimes adventure, as in life, doesn’t work out quite like you thought it would.

As we set off on the Tuesday from the source in Ashwell I had a cold brewing and by Wednesday morning I was feeling pretty heady. Despite not feeling great we pushed on at a comfortable pace to see how far we could get on that second day. The sunshine was bright and the sky clear blue without a cloud in sight.

As most of us know, the weather makes such a huge different to moral and even when you feel heavy with a cold, the warmth of sunshine on your face and the camaraderie of a hilarious friend makes the going a little easier. As the day drew to a close on Wednesday we felt Downham Market was a good point to call it in. Being ill happens and it’s always a good idea to listen to your body.

In the coming months I’ll be doing the same length along the Cam twice more; once by foot and once by Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP). While 70 miles from source to sea is a fair distance, it’s also manageable and I’m expecting to take around 4 days for each of the next two trips.

If you fancy exploring the Cam up close and personal, while staying dry, I’d love for you to join me on my walking stretch kicking off in May/June — drop me an email fiona.quinn@hotmail.co.uk. Alternatively if you don’t mind the prospect of dipping your toe, or whole body, in the water please get in touch to join my SUP length in July (dates tbc).