Brecks Forest Way Meeting

I had a useful and informative meeting today with Russell Wilson and Sharon Bland from Norfolk Trails. Russell and Sharon are delivering the “Brecks Forest Way” part of the HLF-funded Breaking New Ground project. They had agreed to meet with me to talk about the “Brecks Forest Way” and other cycling-related projects in the county.

First, the bad news: despite the bid document stating that the project would “create a multi-use route, with short sections and circular paths, connecting Thetford to Brandon along the Little Ouse valley”, the agreed plans are now only to provide a river-side cycling route between Santon Downham and Brandon. This is a great shame, as that’s the one part of the route where there are already suitable cycling alternatives — either on the quiet C622 or off-road along Santon Street. The section where there is the greatest need, at the Thetford end, is now not to be upgraded or improved for cyclists.

Russell and Sharon seemed unaware of the intentions expressed in the bid document, so I’m not sure if the plans have been changed somewhere, or the impression from the original document was in error. The reason they gave for only concentrating on the section between Santon Downham and Brandon is that this is already a Bridleway, whereas the rest of the route is only a Public Footpath. While they would be keen to see it upgraded in the future, there were no resources to do so within the Brecks Forest Way project. This is all very disappointing, especially given the importance given to establishing a cycling link from Thetford to High Lodge in the Thetford Area Action Plan. Thetford is now missing out on any benefits from either of the cycling projects in Breaking New Ground.

On a more positive note, I learn about various other plans for cycling improvements. Russell and Sharon seemed keen to improve cycling facilities in general and to sign and promote new routes. The main problem holding them back at the moment was a lack of resources. But various bits of funding may become available thanks to new housing developments in the county.

Within the Brecks Forest Way project, there are plans to extend the route west from Brandon to Lakenheath, making use of existing Rights of Way, with some missing links being upgraded from Footpaths to Bridleways.

On the other side of Norwich, there are plans to extend the Marriott’s Way alongside the Bure Valley line to Wroxham. From there the planned Three Rivers Way will provide a link to Horning and Lundham on the Broads. There are also plans for a link back to Norwich from Wroxham, which will then form an excellent 50-mile loop with the Marriott’s way.

The Norfolk Trails teams are investigating the possibility of a new multi-user route running from Kings Lynn to Thetford. Presumably this will follow the existing Fen Rivers Way for a while, before branching off to Thetford.

I also learnt that Norfolk County Council have recently appointed a “Walking and Cycling Champion”, which apparently is a pre-requisite for accessing certain funding streams. I didn’t get a chance to ask who this was at the meeting, but I believe it is Cllr Hilary Cox.

Route Inspection: NR13 Dereham to Gateley

I went out for a circular ride today, taking in the section of National Route 13 between Dereham and its junction with Route 1 just north of Gateley. We then followed Route 1 to Reepham (with lunch at the Kerris Farmhouse Pine Tearooms), before returning to Dereham. This was the first time I’d cycled most of this part of Route 13, and it hasn’t had a volunteer ranger for some time (anyone interested in volunteering?). Nevertheless, the signage was mostly fine, largely because a lot of it was done with permanent metal signs erected by the local council. There were a few places where an additional confirmation sign might be useful, and several instances of the hard-to-spot tiny square “13” plates in use. I didn’t stop to address these, as they weren’t that urgent. There was one permanent sign on the B1146 that needed a little rotation to get it back pointing the right way, which I was able to do. I also checked the two Millennium Mileposts on this section of the route. There’s a Mills Post at the junction with the B1146 between Beetley and East Bilney, and a Rowe Post at the junction with Route 1, just north of Gateley.

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Both had firm bases, and the arms and posts were all securely attached to each other. However, the Post at the junction with Route 1 looks like it could do with a new coat of paint. This is something I’ll look into in conjunction with the East Norfolk Ranger Group who look after that stretch of Route 1. Finally, while I was following Route 1 jest west of Broom Green, there was a missing sign at a left turn. I didn’t have any “1” patches with me, nor my staple gun, and the only available place to put a sign was a telegraph pole. So I did my best with a self-adhesive sign. Hopefully it will last long enough until a local ranger can do something better.

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Route Inspection (RR 30 Weeting to Thetford)

I went on an inspection ride along Route 30 this morning, on the way back to Thetford from Brandon Parkrun. Mostly everything was ok, but a few minor issues required attention.

A rigid sign attached to a marker post with cable ties on St Benedict’s Road had been cut off. The sign and the cut ties were lying on the ground nearby. I didn’t have any more ties with me, but was able to use the existing ones to secure the top of the sign. I returned the next day to finish the job.

IMAG2551Two signs at the top of the cut-through from the C622 to Woodcock Rise needed a clean, as did the signs at the junction outside St Mary’s Church in Santon Downham.

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I was also reminded that the two signs on a telegraph pole on Frog Hill Road north of Croxton will need replacing soon, as they’re looking a bit the worse for wear.

Route Inspection: RR30 Thetford to Harling

I went out today for a routing route inspection as part of a longer bike ride. All the signs were fine, so now work was needed.

I did however have a closer look at a known problem — that of how to sign the junction at Knettishall where route 13 and 30 meet. It’s difficult to do using the standard ranger signs, as from each approach there are two directions to take, with different route numbers applying. From one approach there isn’t even a suitable sign post to attach any signs to.

I think the long-term solution will have to involve permanent signs. Probably some combination of adding facing panels to existing posts on the approaches, and maybe installing a new post at the junction. Photos showing the three approaches, and a possible position for a new three-way sign are shown below.

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Maybe Suffolk County Council can be persuaded to do something here, as part of the Suffolk Year of Cycling.

New A11 Cycleway

I went out today to have another look at the new cycleway parallel to the A11 between the Sainsbury’s roundabout in Thetford (map) and the new A11 slip-road at Elveden Gap (map). This is something I’ve previously blogged about.

Unfortunately, not much progress has been made since the previous post. At the Thetford end, the new cycleway ends abruptly at the roundabout, with an annoying “Cyclists Dismount” sign.

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The northern end of the cycleway, at the Sainsbury’s roundabout.

There’s then no way for cyclists to legally and safely get from the roundabout to the centre of town. The choices are either cycling along London Road (used by heavy lorries and with only a 40mph speed limit), or to cycle on the pavements. I asked the Highways Agency contractor whether they had any discussions with Norfolk County Council regarding the route there, but they never got back to me. I contacted Norfolk County Council a few months ago, who said they had no plans to add a cycle route along London Road, and the necessary investigation, planning, and installation would be likely to cost in the region of £100,000.

At the southern end of the cycleway at Elveden gap, there is still a problem with how the route re-joins the carriageway. Things are a little better than they were, as the shared-use footway parallel to the narrow one-way section of the road has been widened and a better turning radius has been provided to allow south-bound cyclists to turn left along it more easily.

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The view southwards from the southern end of the cycleway. The pavement on the left is shared use. The road on the right is the end of the new sliproad off the A11.

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A close-up of the widening and turning radius provided at the southern end of the cycleway.

However, the additional width and turning space parts have only been surfaced with compacted material, and it’s unclear whether they will be properly surfaced in the future. There’s also an issue that the natural place to re-join the carriageway is at an entrance used by agricultural vehicles, which is currently rather muddy and uneven.

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The view northwards up the sliproad towards the southern end of the cycleway.

The compacted surface and the section where cyclists rejoin the carriageway all need to be properly tarmaced, some paint markings should be provided to direct south-bound cyclists along the shared-use path and road users away from rejoining cyclists, and some cyclist warning signs should be installed on the slip road.

I will be following these issues up with the Highways Agency.

Route Inspection: NR13 Thetford to Thompson

I went out to inspect National Route 13 between Thetford and Thompson today. The signs were generally very good, though there was one in Thetford town centre that will need repairing. There is also a fork in the road just north of Galley Hill that needs a more visible sign.

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The problems with flooding on the off-road section on the Peddars Way that I previously wrote about seems to have been suitably addressed by the Council. However, the southern section was very muddy and full of water-filled pot-holes. From the numerous tyre tracks visible, I presume that the surface is being damaged by heavy vehicles travelling to and from a nearby farm.

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Elveden Memorial Underpass and New Bridleways now Open

With the opening of the newly dually A11, also comes the opening of a new underpass next to the Elveden memorial and some associated changes to the Public Rights of Way network.

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The new A11 underpass by the Elveden Memorial.

The orders for the changes were approved some time ago, but the new routes to the north of the A11 didn’t officially come into use until they were certified by Suffolk County Council on Friday 12th December. The key changes are as follows:

  • Icklingham BY 7 has been stopped up between the junction with Icklingham BY 6 at the north-west corner of Berners Heath and the A11 at the Memorial. A new Public Bridleway (Icklingham BR ?) runs along most of the old route, but ends at the underpass, rather than joining the A11.
  • New Public Bridleways (Elveden BR 7 and BR 8) have been created passing through the underpass at the Memorial.
  • A new Public Bridleway (Eriswell BR 11) has been created following the eastern and northern edges of Weather Heath, and then continuing west to join Shakers Road (Eriswell BR 8).
  • The section of Shakers Road (Eriswell BR 8 and Icklingham BR 13) between the new Bridleway and its old junction with the A11 has been stopped up, and so is no longer a public right of way.

You can view the Creation Order for Eriswell BR 11 and Elveden BR 7, which includes descriptions of those new routes, and a map is shown below. (The other changes were made by a DfT Side Roads Order as part of the main A11 works.) You can also see the detail of all the new routes on OpenStreetMap.

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Council map showing the new routes.

Public Bridleways provide a right of way for the public on foot, horseback and by bicycle. They must be maintained in a suitable state for pedestrian and equestrian users, though not necessarily for cycle use. Nevertheless, these changes now provide a useful new route for cyclists without having to cycle along or cross the A11.

Good Points

  • The new Rights of Way provide a continuous route from Thetford Forest along Shakers Road, through the underpass, and then either south to Icklingham or north-east to Thetford.
  • The surface of new route should be ok for use on an off-road bike, though it may be hard going in places.
  • The fenced in section round Weather Heath is nice and wide — 4.5m according to the description in the Definitive Statement.
The new Bridleway along the north edge of Weather Heath.

The new Public Bridleway along the north edge of Weather Heath.

Bad Points

  • There’s no cycle or pedestrian link parallel to A11 between Memorial and Elveden village. There’s a service road for the Elveden Estate that could be used, but it’s a private road not open for public use.
  • The signing by the Highways Agency around the new underpass is rather over-the-top and spoils the natural environment. Large green road-sign style signs have been used, rather than more fitting roundels or finger-posts, and far more signs than would be necessary have been used.
An example of the excessive and obtrusive signage provided by the Highways Agency.

An example of the excessive and obtrusive signage provided by the Highways Agency.

  • The surface of new Bridleways is not ideal for cycling; bumps and vegetation growth may be tiring around Weather Heath. It also may get overgrown, and it’s not clear how committed the council will be to keeping it well-maintained.
  • The barbed wire on fences either side of Eriswell BR 11 around Weather Heath, could be dangerous. Fortunately the wire is mostly on the outside of the posts, but there is one section a few hundred meters long where it is the other way round (a pre-existing fence along the heath boundary).
The new Bridleway on the east side of Weather Heath, showing the barbed wire on the wrong side of the fence.

The new Bridleway on the east side of Weather Heath, showing the barbed wire on the wrong side of the fence.

  • It would appear that the changes to the Rights of Way may have inadvertently cut off any lawful access to Horn Heath. The only access point I’m aware of is a kissing gate from the stopped up part of Icklingham BY 7. Users now need to trespass on the private estate road to access this from Icklingham BR ?.
  • No cycle parking has been provided for those wishing to arrive at the memorial by bike and then explore the access land on foot. Though presumably one could lock bikes to the fence posts.
  • There’s no easy access to Weather Heath at its north-west NW corner, which is now passed by Eriswell BR 11. There is a field gate there, but it was padlocked shut when I visited a couple of weeks ago.
  • On the section of Eriswell BR 11 west of Weather Heath, there are some overhanging branches, which will probably obstruct horse riders.
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