** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
The time has come, The Walrus said
To talk of many things,
Of stile and gate and seat and bench,
And boots to which mud clings….
Apologies to Lewis Carroll (and in the next breath to John Keats) but this is no longer the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, but the time for unmitigated mud, permeating all parts of the countryside since the rain in the second week in November.
The rain came in time to germinate the Winter wheat, and dress the brown fields within days in an attractive green fuzz, but also to convert nearly all paths to a condition of maximum stickiness. If we confined our attentions to the sandy Brecklands, we might be less conscious of the problem. A visiting walker accustomed to the peaty moors of Cleveland, described our boulder clay as “friendly”, in that she could not rid her boots of it. Some of us might choose a different adjective! However, by March, when one has become accustomed to the post-walk boot scraping session outside the back door in the cold and dark, with a bit of luck, strong winds will start to dry the surface.
Meanwhile, out in the countryside, where does one rest awhile in Winter? I am all in favour of the recent trend to replace stiles with kissing-gates. After all, climbing a difficult stile is probably my most athletic feat (feet?) these days, unless it is hanging up the Christmas decorations, or retrieving a pen from under the sideboard. I digress. My point is, one cannot sit on a kissing gate, but a stile forms a relatively comfortable seat for two, one each side. Most villages have at least one seat, and the pub or church porch is a valuable resource, but if one seeks solitude at lunchbreak, a fallen tree may not be to hand (most of the victims of Dutch Elm disease, and of the 1989 storm having long been cleared away).
An article in the East Anglian Daily Times of 20 November 2007 suggested that the new Disability Law may oust kissing gates! Certainly, some of the more recent structures put in by Cambs.C.C. have a facility to open wide, given an appropriate key.
A dear departed uncle, had a solution to sitting down in inhospitable places. A sheet of yesterday’s daily paper from his bag, would be neatly folded, and he would perch on the top of a concrete hydrant.
With these frivolous thoughts, I wish you all a Happy Christmas, and trouble-free walking in the New Year.
National Trust AGM
This was held on 7 November, during which there was a debate, “The Public Footpath, not The Country House, is Britain’s greatest contribution to civilisation”. Chris Somerville and Janet Street-Porter spoke for the motion, and Marcus Binney and Clive Aslet (previous and present editors of Country Life magazine) spoke against.
Kate Ashbrook reported the outcome on Ramblers’ Net. The footpaths won. Of 371 people voting, 43% were in favour of the motion; 28% were against; and 31% abstained. Most speakers from the floor backed footpaths.
Letter to the Editor
Thanks for another edition of Cantab Rambler, read with interest as always. We don’t get to walk in the Cambridge area too often these days, but we did do the inaugural Fleam Dyke – Roman Road walk and enjoyed it very much. What a splendid guide book – it sets new standards! We hope to do the rest of the route soon using ‘bus 16 between Balsham and Withersfield to break the walk into two shorter stages.
I was interested to see your comment about the refreshment place between Clare & Cavendish on the Stour Valley ‘Way’. The route is, in fact the Stour Valley Path, which may not seem an important distinction, but anyone wanting info from the web will get the Dorset Stour if they google ‘Way’ and the Kentish Stour if they try ‘Walk’. I’ve seen the refreshment place’s adverts but have yet to sample – it’s too early or too late in the walk when I do sections of the SVP. Interestingly, John Andrews thought the road from Houghton Hall to the A1092 should be PRoW, but I don’t know whether he ever got as far as submitting a claim.
Your comments on Bartlow were also of interest. Despite the rather poor network of paths in the parish we began many walks from the station when the lines were open. The lines lasted well into the post-war BR era; that to Saffron Walden and Audley End closing in 1964; the line to Shelford and Cambridge on 6 March 1967. I recall the latter date because I led a Cambridge Rambling Club (then CHA – HF) walk from Clare to Long Melford, making use of the trains on the last day of operation. We returned to Cambridge in the evening on the penultimate train. (1923 was the year of transfer of both Bartlow lines from GER ownership to the newly formed LNER and can’t have made much difference in such far-flung outposts of railway empires – everything must have carried on much a usual, just as happened when BR took over from the LNER in 1948).
Roger Wolfe ( e-mail in response to Cantab 53)
A Mistletoe Walk
Combine your Christmas shopping with a mistletoe-spotting walk! Park behind the Cambridge Botanic Gardens on Trumpington Road, and visit the gardens, which are open free on weekdays from November until the end of February.
See some mistletoe on trees in the garden, and yet more, high in the willows, on Coe Fen (providing the old trees have not been cut down as part of the Council’s recent tree-felling activities!). Cross Fen Causeway using the underpass and walk along The Backs to Castle Hill. In the gardens below Castle Mound is an apple tree with several bunches. If it is near Christmas, you can buy yourself a bunch in the Market!
Mistletoe, Viscum album, is a strange parasite of tree branches, specialising particularly in apples, poplars, willows and limes, but can be found on other trees. Distribution in the wild in Britain is uneven, with largest amounts found in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, but is reasonably frequent in Cambridgeshire, especially in gardens.
To grow your own mistletoe, the following procedure is recommended. (I have not tried this, having no suitable trees!). Take some fresh sprigs from your Christmas bunch, and keep them cool until a mild day. Each sticky berry has one seed. Squeeze seeds from the berries and stick them with their natural glue onto the underside of a branch. A small proportion may germinate, but growth is slow for 3 y before any mistletoe is recognisable.
There are over 1000 mistletoe species around the World, but the European white-berried mistletoe is the source of many legends. Mistletoe is mentioned in Greek myths and Pliny and Caesar described the reverence of the ancient Druids for the plant. Later, it featured in Norse sagas. Like a number of heathen traditions, the custom has been taken into the Christian calendar, and used to symbolise peace and love.
Parish of the Month – West Wratting
West Wratting is in Cambridgeshire, and is not to be confused with Little Wratting and Great Wratting, over the border in Suffolk.
In 1981/2, when RA Cambridge Group did a survey of paths in all 100 parishes of South Cambs., West Wratting distinguished itself by having some of the poorest, unfindable paths in the District. Today, that is certainly not the case: a majority of its 24 paths are in excellent order, and there is a good degree of waymarking, following a path re-organisation scheme in 2005. An effect of this, however, is that your map may not show the changes, so follow waymarks carefully.
In the village, it is possible to use the recreation ground car park at TL 604524, or a few cars can park, considerately, down the dead-end lane, The Causeway, to the church at TL 606524. This is a small village (10 years ago the population was 460) in a long, thin parish which stretches 6 miles. It tapers from the clay woodlands near the village at the E end, to gentle chalk downs behind Fleam Dyke, which was recorded as a parish boundary in the C10th. A good deal of the parish was heath or woodland in the Middle Ages, and there were extensive sheepwalks at Inclosure in 1813. There are few prehistoric sites identified on the heavy clay soils, although on the W side there are soil marks of pits, enclosures and ring ditches which could be Iron Age or Roman. There was a small Roman farmstead half-way between the church and the boundary with Weston Colville, where scatters of pottery of C1st-C3rd were found, along with burnt stones.
It seems possible that this was a late forest-edge settlement by Saxons moving from Great Wratting into a largely unoccupied area. In 1086, the name was Waratinge, or the place where the cross-wort grows. The village supported 33 residents in 1066, and by 1377 had 180 taxpayers (i.e. at least that number of households), but was decimated by the Black Death.
The church at the end of The Causeway was completely rebuilt in the C14th, then there were two C19th restorations. Its predecessor is mentioned in Domesday. Immediately to the N of the church stands the C18th Old West Wratting Hall, on a site that may date back to Saxon times. The surrounding park contains a hollow-way, and other remains of the medieval village. Not much of this can be seen from the churchyard. Nearby at the top of The Causeway is the attractive well-shelter, recently restored. The Chestnut Tree pub on the High Street is still functioning, and when recently inspected, boasted of a tea-room, open 12-5 on weekdays. Half-way between the well-shelter and the pub on the main street is a square brick enclosure, the former village pound. There is a village hall, but no shop. Buses run through the village between Linton and Haverhill. The largest building, the red-brick West Wratting Park, dates from ca. 1730, and can be seen from fp10, running E from the large barns on Mill Road. Further down Mill Road, at TL 605 510, the disused Leys Mill, dated 1726, a black-boarded smockmill with a white cap & sails, is a cheerful landmark.
On the E end of the village, the former WWII bomber airfield can be approached on the unfortunate path which crosses a huge arable field. Starting as West Wickham fp20, signed over a footbridge at TL 633501, it soon continues as West Wratting fp 16, before curving NW as Weston Colville 22. This is surely the most demanding and unrewarding path in the locality, but the majority of others are generally in fair order.
Where can one walk from West Wratting?
From the well-shelter, TL 605523, turn SE along the High Street, to find fp 4 signed between houses on the right Go up a passage between gardens, and turn right on the field-edge, using fp 3 behind gardens to the B1052. Walk SW down the road, until reaching the broad Byway 17, which leads W to the track, Fox Road, and thence into Balsham.
Alternatively, on fp 4 behind gardens, turn left on the field-edge, which follow to Padlock Road. Here turn right, and soon notice fp 2 signed opposite. Waymarks point you across a field, and through woods , and out onto a good field path which leads to Plumian Farm, Balsham. Out on one route and back on another gives a 4 to 5 mile circuit, depending on routes through Balsham.
To West Wickham
From the well-shelter again take fp 4 towards Padlock Road, but before reaching the lane, there is an option of turning off across a field on fp 6 at TL 606 516, which brings one to the junction of Padlock Road and Mill Road. Go S along Mill Road to the large barns, and at the signpost turn left through the yard past the weighbridge on fp 10. Follow this along a field edge, crossing to the other side of a ditch & continuing on a concrete road. Fp10 turns N between trees to return to the village, but continue around a field-edge E on fp 15 (which formerly crossed the arable field). Go round 2 sides of the field to a waymarked gap in the hedge near Rands Wood. Continuing, well-waymarked paths in West Wickham lead either to Burton End, or to Yen Hall, or to the church at the W end of the village. (3 to 5 miles). Note that the only pub in West Wickham has closed.
To Weston Colville
Go through the churchyard, and follow fp 7 through grassy fields to a farm road, where the path goes N for a few yards, before resuming its former direction towards The Grove. Turn N through The Grove, cross a bridge, and go on N across a field, and through a band of trees. You are already in the parish of Weston Colville. Continue in the same direction towards Weston Colville’s church.
This hamlet, in the same parish as Weston Colville, is best reached by following fp 10 round two sides of West Wratting park, to emerge on Wratting Common Road at TL 616 516. Turn right along the road, and left down fp 13 beyond a few houses, where there was once a larger settlement. The path follows the field-edge then leads over a ditch to continue as Weston Colville fp 11, to the chapel at Weston Green. There is a small shop in this settlement, that sells cold drinks and ice-cream. Sadly, the only direct connection between Weston Green and Weston Colville is along the quiet road. A circuit would make about 5 miles.
A number of other paths allow circuits of the village. Most field-edge paths are in good order, but cross-field ones will at most have a tractor wheeling, and are very sticky in Winter.
Quotation of the Month
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the right paths,
for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23, 1 – 3 ;
New Revised Standard Version
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
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© Janet Moreton, 2009.