** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
This edition is largely given over to the “Parish of the Month”, and some considerable detail has been used to describe the path network. The use of grid references seeks to overcome the difficulty of printing a detailed map in the light of OS copyright restrictions. It would be interesting to receive some feedback from readers as to whether they valued this detail in an occasional issue, or whether they always prefer the more general format with shorter more varied articles.
Parish of the Month – Balsham
Balsham, some 10 miles from Cambridge, appears to have developed jointly in the Saxon period with West Wickham. The parish, some 750 ha area, mostly lies on a chalky boulder clay plateau ca. 100m high, with chalk exposed at the W end. Roman Roads form the W and S borders, and the dark ages earthwork, Fleam Dyke, lies along a greater part of the N boundary. In medieval times, sheep formed an important part of the local economy, as commemorated by two lambs on the village sign. Inclosure of the open field system followed an award of 1806. Today, most of the parish is under arable cultivation, but with some pleasant pastures close to the village.
Like most English villages, its oldest building is the church. Saxon tomb lids have been found in the area, indicating the probable presence of a church of that period. The present building has a C13th tower, one of whose bells is 400 years old. Within the church can be seen two decorative stone fragments, part of a grave slab and a cross shaft, both with interlaced carving dating from the early C11th.
The church tower is illustrated on the village sign (erected on the Green in 1975). The main illustration relates to an incident ca.1000, when all but one inhabitant of the village was slaughtered. The entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1010, describes the defeat of the English army by the Danes who overan East Anglia. Svend Forkbeard overthrew the English hero Ufeytel in the Battle of Ringmore Heath. Subsequently at Balsham, “they massacred all whom they found in that place, tossing the children on the points of their spears. One man … mounted the steps to the top of the church tower…and…defended himself single handedly against his enemies“. Atrocities reported nowadays in Africa and elsewhere blemished our own soil a thousand years ago.
The population of Balsham (called Balesham in Domesday Book) was only 26 in 1086, not having recovered from the Danish invasion. In 1251, 500 people lived in the parish. Many cottages and farmhouses set in long medieval closes along the High Street were built in the C16th & C17th. In 1801, the census still counted 542 people: but by 1851 there were 1352, most living in poverty. Numbers reduced by half in the early part of the C20th, but with new houses being built from 1950 onwards, by 1996 the population was 1400.
Notable buildings in the village are Nine Chimneys House, which has C16th doors & fireplace; the Black Bull, which is a C17th coaching inn; and several fine thatched cottages. The Manor House, Balsham Hall was already ruinous by 1356, but its site was given to build the old school in the C19th.
The attractive shelter on the village green commemorates William Alfred Prince, in letters carved on the inner beams.
Balsham’s Path Network
Maps: Landranger 154; Explorer 209
To some, the greatest glory of Balsham lies in its linear monuments, its old trackways and paths. It is on the route of the Icknield Way Long Distance Path, a route based on ancient trackways following the chalk ridge from the West Country NE towards the coast near Hunstanton. This band of communication is spoken of as our “oldest road”, at least 4000 and perhaps 6000 years old. The stone on the green commemorates the official opening in Balsham of the Icknield Way LDP as a regional route on 11 September 1992. Balsham is also traversed by the Harcamlow Way, a 140 mile footpath invented by the veteran walker, Freddie Matthews.
Balsham has 22 rights of way on the County’s Definitive map, most in fair order, and these allow for a number of circuits in the parish.
Balsham Footpath 1 continues the line of Fleam Dyke WNW from West Wratting Footpath 18 at TL573523, where it ceases to be a headland path, with the low, tree-covered bank of Fleam Dyke to the left, but climbs onto the Dyke itself. The Dyke, a Dark Ages monument, bears the path past Dungate Farm, and carries it to the footbridge crossing the A11, and thence on to Fulbourn.
Footpath 2 starts by a traffic derestriction sign on Fox Road, at the end of the tarmac, by a green metal sign at TL580512. Starting alongside a garden hedge, the path launches itself diagonally across 4 fields; it goes through a gap in a crossing hedge at The Ambush, and climbs steps onto Fleam Dyke at TL570524. Fox Road itself gives way to the unsurfaced Byway 3, running N from TL580512.
A pleasant circular walk (A) may be enjoyed using these paths, starting on Footpath 2, joining Fleam Dyke, and following the route back to Byway 3, and returning S to the village. (3 miles). Note both Footpath 2 and Byway 3 can become sticky and unpleasant in wet weather.
The Winter walker may well prefer to leaven the muddy paths beyond the village, with the cleaner routes on its outskirts. Two paths Footpaths 6 & 7, leave the recreation ground behind the church. Footpath 6 leaves the far SW corner of the recreation ground over a stile at TL587509, continues N for a few yards through bushes, then turns left through a gap in a crossing hedge to run WNW on a grass headland, with a ditch and tall hedge to left, and arable to right. It joins Byway 3 at TL581515.
Footpath 7 runs generally parallel to Footpath 6. It starts over a bridge in the hedge by a white notice in the recreation field, goes through a kissing gate at TL587509, and passes beside a series of small pastures on a broad grass way, to emerge on Fox Road (Byway 3) past some lock-up garages.
Thus it is possible to go up one path, and down the other, and combine this short route with the circuit (A) towards Fleam Dyke.
Further elaborations on this inner-village circuit use Footpaths 21 or 22.
From High Street at a Street sign, “Nine Chimneys Lane”, TL585508, a tarmac residential lane leads N between properties to Nine Chimneys House. Footpath 21 starts left on tarmac in front of the house, then half-right (NNE) to go 20m as a rough access track to a locked field-gate and a stile at TL581510, giving access to a grassy field and Footpath 7.
Alternatively (for the navigationally adept) from High Street at TL585508, the signed Footpath 22 runs N along a 2.5m wide tarmac access road immediately E of house no. 62. It crosses the frontage of house no.60, then turns NE on 1m wide tarmac with the frontage of another house to left and a high garden fence to right, before joining a 2m wide tarmac roadway. This is followed, now with a high garden wall to right, and the garden fence of house no.3, Nine Chimneys lane to left, to reach Nine Chimneys lane at TL585509.
Along the South Boundary of the parish, Byway 4 forms part of the Roman Road, commonly called today The Via Devana, but before the C18th known as Wool Street. The entire Roman Road ran 42 miles from Godmanchester via Cambridge and Sibble Heddingham to Colchester. At TL583488, it passes the end of Woodhall Lane (Byway 16). In Winter parts of both these byways become rutted and muddy. The user can turn off N on Footpath 17 at TL576491, but this is across a cultivated field (formerly a grassy strip). At the top of the field, the route turns right in front of a fence, and continues to a stile at TL 578494. The path crosses 2 grass fields diagonally, goes alongside a hedge, and crosses a ditch by a bridge at TL 581496. Beyond, one turns left beside a ditch, and continues through a little Spinney, to emerge on Woodhall Lane.
Starting from the village, and combining Byway 16, Footpath 17, and part of the Roman Road makes a circuit (B) of ca. 3.5 miles.
Elaborations and extensions may also be made to the circuit (B), using several inner village tracks.
Footpath 13 runs WSW from a “Public Footpath” sign high on a lamp-post on West Wickham Road at TL592506, going between house no. 38 and Brown Penny Cottage, on a drive between garden boundaries. The path turns W, and continues behind gardens, and later beside allotments. It emerges on Woodhall Lane at TL 586506.
A more popular start to this network, perhaps following refreshment, may be made through the yard of the Bell Inn’s Car Park on High Street. This is where a short tarmac path, Footpath 14, leads S through Hay Close to join Footpath 13.
Footpath 15 continues this line S from TL 588505, as a narrow path by a garden fence, then a grass baulk between allotment plots. It continues across an arable field, crossing a bridge in a hedge-gap at TL588504, and crosses a second field to a stile in a fence-corner at TL586500. From here, it crosses two paddocks diagonally, to a bridge and stile at Woodhall Lane, TL585499.
As an alternative to Footpath 15, Footpath 18 starts SSE from Footpath 13 at TL590505, on a narrow path between allotments, and continues by garden boundaries. Curving SSW, it passes the end of a crossing hedge at TL590503. Beyond the rear of a paddock, it becomes a grassy headland in arable fields. At TL589501 on the hedge-corner, it turns right (W) across undefined arable to join Footpath 15 at TL588502.
Circuit (C) may be made via West Wratting, a distance of some 5 miles, using the paths descibed below.
Balsham Footpath 8 starts from the rear of the churchyard, TL588509 and is also accessible from a gravel track to the bowling green, via a hedge gap. The path crosses a concrete bridge over a ditch, and continues NE as a mown path between fences, with garden boundaries to right. It emerges on the B1052 West Wratting Road by Frog Hall.
Across the road, Footpath 9 follows a well trodden path through a meadow, crossing a little stream mid-field on a new bridge. In a gap in a tall crossing hedge, TL591510, a second bridge leads to an arable field. From here, the right of way runs E undefined to meet Footpath 11 at TL593510 (but a customary route goes round the field edge). Part of Footpath 11 continues along the field edge to the parish boundary at TL594511, where West Wratting Footpath 2, continues across 2 fields, and through a wood into West Wratting.
Emerging in Padlock Road, West Wratting, a path on the left runs beside a ditch, then behind the tall hedges bounding the foot of properties on High Street. Continuing along this path to emerge on the B1052 at TL602522, it is necessary to walk left (S) down this road, to the start of West Wratting Byway 17 at TL598520. Here turn right (W) along the wide grass/gravel track, going downhill to a clump of trees at the junction with Fox Road, Byway 3.
Return to Balsham on Fox Road or turn left at a path junction, TL584519, where Footpath 5 starts between metal posts in a hedge-gap. Use the grass track running ESE across one field, then beside a hedge, then enter a charming narrow lane in the thickness of a hedge. The path emerges on the B1052 to the N of Oxcroft Cottage, TL591513, and the road may be followed back to the village, approaching the church along Footpath 8.
Alternatively, to avoid using Footpath 8 twice, start circuit (C) by taking the main tarmac path SE through the churchyard, cross the B1052, and walk along Burrell Way to a footpath sign at TL590507. Footpath 11 starts as a narrow passage between tall fences. It crosses Plumian Way and continues as a narrow path between a tall fence and ditch. The path crosses stiles into 2 pastures, and emerges over a stile at TL593508, by a wired up gate. This is where we meet Footpath 9 in the above description for route (C).
(Footpath 11, although partly urbanised, is dear to my heart, as it was saved from closure during redevelopment of this part of Balsham. I represented the RA at the public inquiry in 1994.)
A further variation to route (C) consists of following Footpath 8 through the churchyard, crossing the B1052, and finding the start of Footpath 10 at TL590509. The path runs ESE down a rough access road, between a tall hedge to the left and garden fences to right. After 30m, it passes to right of rough iron gates, into a passage between tall chain link fences, and later a high corrugated iron fence.to right. It crosses a bridge into a pasture. We continue ESE in the field beside a fence to right, then maintain direction across the field, crossing the line of Footpath 11 mid-field at TL592508. Footpath 10 terminates on Old House Road over a stile at TL593508.
Footpath 12 starts at the same stile, and runs W across the field to join Footpath 11 by a stile and bridge at TL592508. By this time, we have managed to use all the paths in this part of Balsham!
Have you been counting path numbers? We have remaining Byway 19, and Footpath 20, but I have run out of unused Balsham paths to build them into a circuit! Byway 19 is, however, an important component in a long route involving West Wickham and West Wratting. But why not just admire the view from the water-tower?
From the West Wickham Road at TL592504, a sign, “Public Byway” indicates Byway 19 running SSW on a gravel track. Continuing on Byway 19, the track widens as it passes the gated entrance to the water tower. The path continues SE as a rutted muddy track, up to 4m wide. Beyond a field entrance at TL592500, the path continues as a 2m wide mown grass path between hedges 4m apart, running downhill. When the hedge on the right ends at TL593499, the right of way curiously becomes a footpath, curving SSE on a 1.5m wide grass headland, with hedge to left and open arable field to right. It passes through a 1m wide gap in a crossing hedge to become West Wickham 2 quite shortly beyond, at TL594497. This is not the only case in Cambridgeshire of paths changing their identity at parish boundaries. More commonly, it is a bridleway which becomes a footpath on entering the next parish. One has Thelwell-type visions of “portage”, with the horse thrown over the rider’s nonchalant shoulder..
Footpath 20 leaves Byway 19 at a gate at TL592502 and crosses attractive new open access woodland, going WNW on a wide grass ride to join Footpath 18 at TL589502.
We have studied the paths of Balsham intensively and, perhaps, exhaustively. Some information used was derived from the Ramblers’ Association Cambridge Group’s Millennium Survey of South Cambridgeshire for Balsham parish, updated by recent site visits. I hope it will encourage readers to explore the less well known paths, as well as the well-documented routes passing through the parish.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post: Issue 27
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© Janet Moreton, 2004.