Thursday, 21 April 2011


We have now been in our house in Cambourne for two months, long enough to form some impressions of the place.

Cambourne is a village situated about eight miles directly west of Cambridge, situated on the road to St Neots. Construction on the village started in 1998, and my vague connections with the place began the next year when a couple of friends bought some of the early houses - indeed, I think that they were the second and third houses (aside from show homes) built.

At that time it was very much a construction site with no facilities.

There was a certain amount of negativity about Cambourne when it was first mooted, and with good reason.The last attempt to build a village to cater for Cambridge's growing population was Bar Hill, situated by the A14 to the northwest of the city. Built for 4,000 people, construction started in 1967 and it rapidly gained a reputation of being a soulless place, made worse by the presence of a massive Tesco hyperstore. Its problems lay mainly in the lack of facilities.

Fortunately the developers of Cambourne appear to have learnt the lessons of Bar Hill. The facilities may have taken time to arrive, but they are indeed arriving. As well as the obligatory supermarket (a well-stocked Morrisons), there is a pub, coffee shop, doctors' surgery, a hotel, several schools and many other shops. Indeed, the schools are necessary as the influx of middle-aged professionals means that at times the village feels like it is filled with babies and young children.

So what is it like to live in? We have not been here long, but so far the experience feels positive. There is a palpable sense of community, with various campaigns and groups echoing through the population - one such campaign has meant that the village is going to be one of the five to benefit from BT's Infinity broadband scheme.

The Morrisons supermarket is well-stocked, and the spread of other shops is good, if not yet comprehensive. There is scarcely a straight line to be seen in the street plan, the curves of the roads keeping traffic speeds down whilst giving the illusion of space. Indeed, from a first-floor window in our town house in Great Cambourne (a newer and more cramped part of the village), I can count forty-three separate roofs, yet it still feels curiously spacious.

There are also plenty of green areas - indeed, there are lots of paths ┼×encan's workplace is in the business park near the main road, a fifteen minute walk away from our home. One day we took another route into work that took double the time but was totally off road, with only two roads to be crossed on the way. This traffic-free route uses just some of the bridleways and footpaths that have been constructed along with the town. I have also managed a three-mile walk using the paths around the edge of the complex that scarcely encountered any roads.

True, the village does not yet have the character of (say) nearby St Ives, or Romsey that we have recently left. That is to be expected: the character of a settlement is often granted by its history, and Cambourne is still in its infancy. Yet the varied style of houses bestows some character, excepting a couple of terribly-executed faux-Georgian buildings.

So all in all I am happy.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Six more walks on the website.

I've been a busy boy...

No.LocationDistance (m)Date Walked
894A circular walk between Denton and Westborough22.713/04/2011
893A circular walk from Dunwich to Southwold16.708/04/2011
892A circular walk between Thorpeness and Dunwich19.807/04/2011
891A circular walk from Aldeburgh to Tunstall via Snape21.706/04/2011
890A circular walk through Rendlesham Forest21.729/03/2011
889Ipswich to Melton20.828/03/2011

... in which I do the Sandlings Walk, and restart my campaign along the Viking Way.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Visual Basic

Many people hate Visual Basic. It is produced by Microsoft, a company that attracts a great deal of derision (both rightly and wrongly). Secondly, many people see it as not being 'proper' programming, and a bit of a toy.

The second point is the most valid - although the language has been tided up in the last few years with the conversion to .NET, it is still a little noddy, and does not require a great deal of skill to knock up a simple program. Yet that is also its beauty, as it is an excellent rapid prototyping tool.

I was in a slight funk last weekend - I did not want to do any writing, nor any work on the website or around the house. My mind was totally focussed on the walk that I was planning for later in the week. Unfortunately I am incapable of lazing around and doing nothing. So whilst Sean Connery tried to steal Red October, I loaded Visual Basic 2010 onto my new laptop and had a play. I had not used Visual Basic for at least a year, and it was my first experience of the latest version.

A few months ago I wrote a post about MP3 players. At the time, I did a quick and dirty calculation about how long, in terms of duration, my MP3 collection was. The rough figure I came up with was 44 days.

So I decided to fend off boredom by working out a better figure. Within two hours I had created a Visual Basic program with front-end that scanned through my Podcasts and worked out the total duration of all the files (*). The figure: over 80 days of files, and growing by at least a day a week.

Of course, this could have been done in other languages, such as C, Perl or Python. But Visual Basic gave me a program that could run on any Windows PC without having to install any other languages or support infrastructure. In two hours I managed to write a program and User Interface that solved the problem at hand. I did it from a basis of not being an expert in the language, or in having used the latest version. What is more, it was fun.

There is no right or wrong programming language: they all have uses (yes, including Modula-3). A good programmer knows several languages, and picks the right one for the job in hand. A bad programmer weds himself to one language and uses it even when it is not appropriate.

So thank you, Microsoft, for Visual Basic. It does its job, and does it well.

(*) I use the track duration as reported within the file, which can be wrong. A better way would be to parse through the files and calculate the number of samples. This would be an easy change, but would take an eternity to run. The current system will do for the moment.

Friday, 8 April 2011


So you spend five days walking 100-odd miles in order to complete a trail. You are on the last day, with glorious sunshine to see you to the end. You can almost taste the pint of beer that you will allow yourself to celebrate. What is more, said pint will be drunk a stones-throw away from the local brewery.

Everything is good.

Then you turn onto the last stretch of path to be greeted with a 'footpath closed' sign. Additionally, there are obviously people working on the narrow stretch of path. Therefore you had to divert off.

So the question is: can I still say that I completed the trail, even if I missed off the last half-mile? Will it only be complete when I go back and do that stretch? And if so, what sort of diversion constitutes not completing a trail? A half mile? A quarter mile? A step around a puddle? Are diversions allowable if they are official diversions?

The only good side (and it is a very good side) is that it will mean that I will have to visit Southwold again, if only to walk that last half-mile. And, of course, to have a pint of Adnams...

Monday, 4 April 2011

We had some visitors today

I just went to hang the washing out, and we had some squatters on the pegs...

Beeflys, I think.

I really need to get the hang of the supermacro mode on my camera...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sarah Outen

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog post about Sarah Outen, who had just completed a record-breaking solo row across the Indian Ocean. We met her at the Southampton boat show, where she had just arrived with her tiny-looking boat. It was so small that I would not have dared to row it across the Channel, yet alone an Ocean. Then again, that is what sets Adventurers apart form us mere mortals.

At the time, I wrote:
During our chat I asked her what she wanted to do next. As I asked her the question her eyes flicked out into the Solent. Something tells me she may be voyaging out again sometime.
Well, I was correct. On April the first this amazing lady set off on her 'London 2 London via the world' trip. She is going to be cycling and rowing her way around the world, an endeavour that is going to take the best part of three years. Not only will this involve her cycling across Eurasia and North America, but also rowing the North Pacific and North Atlantic. I find it hard to think of a greater aim.

She is an amazing lady, and I wish her all the best. God speed, Sarah.