When the Northern Distributor Road was constructed in 2018 a cycle path was also built along much of its length, but just how useful is it? Peter Silburn finds out
No, I don’t mean cycling on the NDR. That would be silly if not downright suicidal. I mean cycling on the path built alongside it from near Taverham in the west to the Postwick Park & Ride in the east. In the first of two articles I take a look at the western section from Taverham to Horsham St Faith.
There are miles and miles of good quality cycle paths for much of the route (they’re wide, smooth and well signposted) but are let down by the lack of safe road crossings, the large gaps in the route and the lack of connectivity to the places people actually want to go to.
There was clearly no plan to create a network and you are left in no doubt that the cycle path (however good in places) was an afterthought to be fitted in where convenient.
Having said all this, it’s tantalising to wonder how with just a few improvements the path could be made into a much more useful cycle route. The paths are very pleasant to cycle on. The road is mostly far enough away that you’re not affected by road noise and are often barely aware that it’s there. There’s just the occasional boy racer treating the NDR as a racetrack.
It’s almost a great cycle route, something that could be marketed as an attraction and would draw people to the area, as well as being a useful commuter/local utility route.
There are nine junctions on the route with uncontrolled crossings of the NDR, mostly where it severs arterial roads. Expecting people to use an uncontrolled crossing on a 70mph dual carriageway is frankly madness. The only reason someone hasn’t been killed or seriously injured yet is because the road is so dangerous hardly anyone is using these crossings. Road safety, UK-style.
The route I’ve taken involves just one crossing of the NDR, and it’s possible to avoid this if you take a diversion.
I could add a fourth problem with the route: all the hawthorn bushes planted along the path. There are unfortunately miles and miles of these as well. Not a problem yet since they’re only a few years old but once they’ve grown and are pruned with a flail mower it will be a puncture-fest. Clearly nobody thought that through.
Trees are obviously a good thing but this is not the best place to plant them. The wide grass bank between the path and the road already offers a good sense of safety, the noise of the traffic mostly being just a gentle hum. The open space gives a feeling of security. Once the trees and shrubs have grown into a dense wooded area will it feel so safe? Nobody thought that through either.
All these thousands of trees were presumably planted so they can say they’ve offset the environmental damage caused by the road. No thought was given to the experience of people using the cycle track. It’s mostly exposed to the full glare of the sun and it would have been far better to have planted tall poplar-type trees that would give shade but would allow a clear view through the trunks – and would look beautiful too.
I’ve broken the route down into four sections, travelling clockwise from west to east:
- Taverham to Reepham Road
- Reepham Road to Horsham St Faith
- Horsham St Faith to New Rackheath
- New Rackheath to the Postwick Park & Ride
There are three occasions on the route when we have to leave the NDR and take a detour: the first is between the Reepham Road roundabout and the airport, the second is between Buxton Road and Wroxham Road and the third is near New Rackheath.
Taverham to Reepham Road
For completeness, and because there’s a decent cycle track along this section, I’ve begun the journey where the NDR starts at the roundabout on Fakenham Road, even though from a cycling perspective this really is in the middle of nowhere. There are no safe cycle routes to nearby villages from here and there isn’t even anywhere to park a car. For most people the westernmost end of the NDR will be where it meets the Marriott’s Way, which offers a direct off-road route into the city.
Heading east from the roundabout we take a service road on the northern side of the NDR and shortly go through a gate to join the cycle path. At the next roundabout on the junction with Fir Covert Road we encounter one of the key problems of the route – uncontrolled crossings of busy roads.
Soon afterwards we come to where a bridge carries the Marriott’s Way over the NDR and continue on the path to the Reepham Road roundabout.
Reepham Road to Horsham St Faith
At the Reepham Road roundabout we need to take our first detour. Go through the car park and take the track into the woods (the Drayton Drewary Open Access Area). At a clearing take the signed track (restricted byway) to the right. This opens out and becomes a farm track which we follow until we pass through a gate to join Dog Lane. Follow Dog Lane towards Horsford and just before the T-junction with Holt Road take a path to the right through some housing (Crown Hill) and join Holt Road further on.
We turn right onto Holt Road and just past the junction with Church Street we join the cycle track on the left. The track skirts around a roundabout and re-joins Holt Road (now a quiet country lane closed to through traffic) which takes us almost all the way to Cromer Road. At the end of the road, take the cycle track to the left which comes out near a roundabout on Cromer Road.
Take care crossing Cromer Road and head down Morse Road where almost immediately we take the path to the left which leads to New Holme Lane. At the end of New Holme Lane turn right into West Lane and then almost immediately left into Blind Lane.
At the end of Blind Lane by a garage turn left into Old Norwich Road. We are now in Horsham St Faith.
Taking a break
On a sunny Sunday you’ll see plenty of families and couples out riding the cycle path. Parts of it are clearly being used as a leisure route, which begs the question: Where are the refreshment stops?
Opportunities are few, there’s often a burger van in the car park near the Reepham Road roundabout and there’s sometimes one near the Petans roundabout. There are convenience stores in Horsford, Horsham St Faith and New Rackheath and there’s a Costa coffee in the Broadland Business Park but that’s about it. You’re probably better off bringing your own supplies.
Equally important, there are no toilets on the route. What were they thinking?
In Part 2 I’ll be riding the section of the route from Horsham St Faith to the Postwick Park & Ride and also looking at what improvements could be made to ensure the route fulfils its true potential.
All photos by Peter Silburn
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