** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
As the mud dries out on the field paths, lingering only amongst the violets and dog’s mercury in the woods, we look out our sunhats, and seek new venues, or at least paths which have been impassable all Winter. In this issue, find reports of three new bridges which allow some interesting circuits, and consider some “Watery Ways” in the parish of Wicken or along the Fen Rivers Way.
Path Creation at Rampton
See OS Explorer 225
A new bridge and a new bridlepath (Br8) have been provided at Rampton. A substantial bridge now crosses Reynolds Ditch at TL 415674, and the new path, with a fine rubble surface, runs approximately N to join an old hedged lane, which meets the main road between Rampton and Willingham, at TL 415685. Thus it becomes possible to make a short circuit from Rampton, eg down Cuckoo Drove, Reynolds Drove, N up the new bridleway, and back along the main road. This is not recommended, as the latter is busy, and has no footway. However, a longer circuit, N again via Haven Drove into Willingham parish, returning along Iram Drove, Rampton Bp 7 to Irams Farm on Great North Fen Drove, and back on New Cut bank from Great North Fen Bridge to Giants Hill, Rampton makes some 7 or 8 miles, depending on the route through Rampton. This circuit makes a dryshod route in Winter, but lacks shade and detail for a Summer saunter.
Abington Pigotts / Litlington boundary culvert bridge replacement
See OS Explorer 209
At TL 306 435, a former crumbling culvert bridge near the parish boundary between Abington Pigotts Fp 5, and Litlington Fp 2 has been replaced with a safe footbridge. This is an important and attractive link for a number of possible walks linking Bassingbourn, Litlington, Steeple Morden and Abington Pigotts. Note that the cross-field paths either side of the bridge have been more frequently reinstated in recent seasons. Please report any problems here.
New Bridge at Great Gransden opens path unavailable for 50 years.
See OS Explorer 208
With the construction of a substantial footbridge over a deep ditch on Great Gransden Fp 2, a section of path has been made available after many years of complaint. The bridge, near the junction with Fp 1 at ca. TL 265 556, is indicated by a yellow waymark on a stile in the lane section of Fp 1. Descend the steep bank, and cross the bridge over the ditch. Continue diagonally across a rough, uncultivated field, towards the bank of a stream, which is reached in a garden, well away from the house. Continue by the stream-side, emerging between stream and a new tall fence on the road, not far from the Crown and Cushion Inn. This path can be used as part of a circuit involving Great Gransden, Dick & Dolls Lane, Waresley Wood Nature reserve, Vicarage Farm, Wareseley, tea at the garden centre, and the minor road towards Abbotsley, perhaps turning off E on byway & bridleway to return to Great Gransden on Fp 2. This circuit, of ca. 7 miles, can be augmented by visiting Little Gransden Church and windmill.
Fen Rivers Way
Since the last issue of Cantab, three intrepid walkers have now completed the Fen Rivers Way up-river from Kings Lynn to Byron’s Pool, above Cambridge. Readers will recall in the February issue, we had walked as far as Downham Market by 16 January. Since then, we have made a further 4 walks, completing the route on 24 March 2009. Our “new completer” Joan Hillier, now has a certificate commemorating her passage along the route. I wonder how many others have walked the route (for the first time, or again) since the organised series of walks in 2001?
Features of the walks were the consistent dry weather, on days selected in advance using the Met Office’s East Anglian website, and backed up early morning by BBC Cambridge’s “half-hour weather forecast”. We travelled by train, fast, reliable, but quite expensive, even with Senior rail-cards.
Looking back on the different days, we were very pleased to find more to attract walkers on the section from Downham Market to Littleport. At Denver Sluice, there are display boards “Riding and Walking in the Norfolk Fens”, and a display promoting nearby Hilgay. Further on, we were pleased to find a new seat at Ten Mile Bank, and another at Black Horse Drove. We noted that the old pumping house at Ten Mile Bank has been made into a large, attractive residence.
Around Littleport, one of the paths of the route near the station, is oddly signed “Field Footpath”. The Black Horse pub beside the route is still in business. We were rather irritated in places to find the Fen Rivers Waymarks had been overmounted by the “Black Fen Waterways Trail” markers.
There is a now a charming seat beyond Littleport, above the caravan site, inscribed, “In Loving Memory of George Glee 1917 – 2006 – A gentleman walked this way“.
Approaching Ely on 27 February, the paths behind the former beet slurry area near Queen Adelaide were all-but flooded, so we were glad of wellington boots. There were no problems around Ely, where the tourist office reports considerable continuing interest in the route.
On 17 March, we walked on as far as Waterbeach, using the east bank as far as Bottisham Lock. We would have preferred to use the west bank for the splendid new bridge over Braham Dock (completed last year, and already inspected), but reports suggested that the Washes north of Waterbeach were flooded. So we walked the cycleway on top of the bank from Ely to the turning to Barway, new since the FRW route was first completed. The scars on the sides of the bank adjacent to the tarmac are healing over. There are seats (one rather strange) and a sculpture along the route. We were glad when the bank top resumed as grass, to lead us dry-footed past the Kingfisher Bridge Reserve. Since our last visit a couple of years ago, there are now bird hides accessible from the river bank path, and interpretive boards. For a future visit, there is a carpark reached from the road near Wicken. I quote from the handout:
“Since 1995, the Kingfisher Bridge Project has transformed 150 acres of arable farmland into a mosaic of wildlife habitats…The project, started by private initiative, has many special features… reedbed, fen, mere, ditches, ponds, have all been created. Since 1995 over 300 plant taxa have been recorded, most of which have colonised naturally...”
After a very pleasant interlude, came the snag. The drove from the A1123 to Commissioners’ Pit was flooded, so we were obliged to walk down the road to Upware. Here the “Five Miles from Anywhere, no Hurry” is still in good order, and we resumed the flood bank towards Bottisham Lock. The Environment Agency had been consolidating the surface of the bank, so we were walking on bare earth for about a mile – fortunately dry underfoot on this occasion, although below, and to our right, the floods were still out across the Washes. We crossed Bottisham lock and made for Waterbeach station just in time to miss a train. But it was a good day.
Finally, on 24 March, we walked from Waterbeach station, through Cow Hollow Wood, where the willows are being pollarded, and down the tow-path to Baits Bite Lock. Across the lock, we continued on the other side of the river to Fen Ditton, where we were pleased to find the rare black poplars behind the churchyard just beginning to display red catkins. On through Cambridge, where our boots and rustic clothing seemed somewhat out of place, over Silver Street bridge, to find muddy ways again beside the river in Paradise, by Newnham Village. The riverside path to Grantchester was nicely dried out, and the tree works at Byron’s Pool, which have continued through the Winter, are now nearly complete. We solemnly shook hands above the weir, at the end of the path, before seeking a Citi7 bus in Trumpington. Another pleasant day, and a very good route.
Note that the Fen Rivers Way Association disbanded itself in 2003, and care of the route was taken over by Ramblers’ Cambridge Group.
Obtain the guide from David Elsom, Ramblers’ Cambridge Group, 91, Cambridge Road, Gt Shelford, Cambridge, CB22 5JJ. £3.50 inc.p/p
Wicken Parish and Wicken Fen
See OS Explorer 226
Wicken parish has some 35 public rights of way, consisting of a good density of paths in and around the immediate vicinity of the village; going over towards the river Cam and to Burwell and Soham parishes. “Cantab” of Dec 2000 touched on the paths of Soham, but in a limited space could only give a flavour of its well-over 100 paths. Similarly, the aim is to give an impression of the Wicken network, and the range of walking available. The highest point in the parish I can find on the map is 8 m, so paths are all flat (unless you count those which climb a couple of metres onto the dykes), and follow droveways, watercourses, or routes between housing in the village. A few cross fields.
Wicken Fp1 along the River Cam E bank enters the parish from the N, to continue past Kingfisher Reserve to High Fen Farm. Here it joins Bp 2, one end of which goes S passing the chalk pit, to Dimmocks Cote Road (A1123) and the other end runs E to join Shaws Drove (Bp 3) , and the track called High Fen Road (Bp 4). Bp 4 runs S to A1123 at Red Barn Farm, from whence Docking Lane (Bp5) branches off NE to Grey Farm. Here is an interesting network, muddy in Winter, connecting farms, and only joined to Wicken village by the minor road, Lower Drove.
Wicken Fp7 continues S from the A1123 on the W floodbank of the R.Cam, generally a 2m wide path of short grass, and continuing into the parish of Waterbeach, having descended to the riverside. Below on the floodplain, Explorer 226 shows the official W river-edge route of the Fen Rivers Way (Fp8), which, as the preceeding article relates, should be avoided during periods of flood. Fp9 is an obscure route marked on the map opposite Upware, probably recalling a former loop of the river.
Meanwhile, there is no riverside route close to the E bank of the Cam from the A1123 to Upware. Instead, the rutted Fodder Fen Drove (By 10) is followed to Commissioners’ Pit. The latter is an interesting Educational Reserve, where Jurassic fossils may be found in the Corallian limestone sides of the pit.
Beyond the pit, the route continues S as Fp11, leading to Upware, and the “Five Miles from Anywhere, No Hurry” pub. From the pub, the short Fp32 leads to the sluice at Upware.
Just before Commissioners’ Pit, it is possible to turn E on Fp12 (generally reinstated across a field) to reach Upware Road, and continue opposite E along Spinney Drove (Fp14) which skirts Wicken Fen Reserve to the N. From Upware Sluice, Fp13 takes the N bank of Reach Lode as a gravel track beside moorings, continuing in the parish of Swaffham Prior.
Between Spinney Drove and Wicken Lode is the “core” part of the National Trust’s holdings, which have recently expanded to include much of the farmland hereabouts.
An entry fee is levied to visit the core section of Wicken Fen, but what is not advertised, is that there are two public rights of way entering this part of the Fen. From the entrance in front of the Visitor Centre at the bottom of Lode Lane, Fp19 (small yellow arrow!) enters the NT property over a bridge, and runs alongside the watercourse as far as the junction with Monk’s Lode. Alternatively, from the carpark, go NW along Breed Fen Drove (By 16), and turn off into Wicken Fen on Sedge Fen Drove (Bp 15). The RoW ends at a T-junction with an NT path at TL 553705, in front of a dyke. Of course, on both of these routes, one must reverse to return, unless an NT member. By 16 also leads to Fp14, and thence to Commissioners’ Pit, or N on By 17 to the A1123 at Afterway Houses.
Within the village envelope, N of the A1123 (here called Wicken Road) are no fewer than 9 interconnecting paths. Cross-field Fp27 and the track, Drove Lane (By 23, 34) both lead to Bracks Drove in Soham Parish.
From Lode Lane around village, 2 miles
A promoted circuit from the NT carpark uses Fp20 on the E side of Wicken Lode, crossing a bridge to follow the S side of Monks Lode (in Burwell parish) to TL 571702, to the junction with New River. Cross a footbridge, and either turn right (E) along the N bank of New River (Fp31) to Burwell, or go N on the surfaced Fp30 to the village. At the rear of houses, turn left (W) along a back path (Fp29, then Fp35), which leads to Lode Lane, and thence to the car-park..
Walks to the S of Wicken Fen
A new National Trust leaflet, “Viridor Credits Walk around Hurdle Hall and Burwell Fen”, in fact offers 6 and 7 mile walks from Wicken Visitor Centre, but these are largely in Burwell parish. Most of the paths used are established rights of way shown on Explorer 226 except for a short length, Moore’s Drove on Baker’s Fen (where there are bird hides) and along Hurdlehall Drove. An “envelope ” route, using both of the shorter circuits makes about 10 miles, taking in Monks Lode; Priory Farm; Cock-up Bridge; Burwell Farm; Hightown Drove; Hurdle Hall; Reach Lode; Pout Hall; Burwell Lode; Cock-up Bridge; Harrisons Drove; and Moore’s Drove. Burwell Fen is very low-lying, and seasonal use of wellington boots may be essential.
Cross Green in the centre of the village was the site of a market, granted 1331 for the fair of St Lawrence, whose church is sited at the far E end of the village, beside the A1123. Fen shrinkage has necessitated heavy buttressing of the N aisle, and replacement of the original perpendicular-style roof. The old smock grain mill, seen from Fp35, running behind the main street, was renovated recently. The reed-thatched Maids Head pub provides lunches. The village sign illustrates the swallow-tail butterfly. James Wentworth Day, author of the classic “History of the Fens” dwelt in 43 Chapel Lane. There is some free parking near the village hall.
The National Trust Properties
The National Trust has recently bought up several of the surrounding farms, and is presently consolidating its holdings. There is a charge of £2 for parking off Lode Lane (NT members free). The WCs are free. The free Visitor Centre emphasises the reserve’s importance for wildlife. The “core” reserve is open 10 – 5 most of the year, on payment of an entry charge. The reserve’s very small mill ca. 1910, the last survivor of thousands of drainage pumps, was re-assembled here from Adventurers’ Fen in 1956. The exterior of the C19th “Fen Cottage” can be seen well from Lode Lane. The interior is open Sun 2 – 5, May – Oct. Presumably it was somewhat less damp when permanently occupied ! An excellent café is adjacent to the Visitor Centre.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
Cantab usually appears every two months. A large number of you now receive Cantab by e-mail. By hand, 20p is appreciated towards the cost of paper and ink. If you would like to receive an issue by post, please send a large SAE, and a stamp.
Offers of brief articles will be gratefully received.
This is a privately produced magazine, and the views expressed are solely those of the editor, or of the author of an individual item. Janet Moreton 01223 356889
Price 20 pence where sold
Cantab 51 © Janet Moreton, 2009
Note Fp- footpath; Bp Bridleway; By – byway.