** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
It is always good to have feedback from an article (“Outdated Cambridgeshire Walks’ Guides” in the December issue of Cantab Rambler) and we will all be indebted to Roger Wolfe for sharing his reminiscences on the mid-C20th availability of maps and guidebooks for walking in Cambridgeshire and the wider East Anglia. Litlington is this month’s parish, offering relatively dry cross-field walking on chalk soils.
Letter to the Editor- Roger Wolfe, 11 Nov. 2011 More on Earlier Guides and Maps
“I was particularly interested in your review of footpath guides, a fascinating and rather neglected aspect of the pleasures of country walking. It’s interesting to speculate what our rambling predecessors got up to and what the East Anglian countryside was like to walk through in the 1930s.
Perhaps the question is partly answered by the ‘Cambridge and District Footpath Map’ published by the Cambridge Preservation Society in 1936. At two inches to the mile it shows a lot of paths and tracks not on the modern definitive map, but also omits quite a few routes now public. The inside cover has some interesting advice, e.g. “Any footpath connecting two spots open to the public is as a rule a public footpath.” Such optimism!
Also from the 1930s is a booklet entitled ‘Rambles in Cambridgeshire’ published by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) price 6d (2.5p). The county definition is somewhat elastic, ‘Cambs’ extending well into Essex and Suffolk on several walks. What a pity to have been born too late to have enjoyed the 18 mile Mildenhall to Ely ramble making use of the ferry at Barway! (‘Walking tour ticket 2s 8d third class, any day any train from Cambridge’.) It’s interesting that many of the walks featured ventured into Fenland. The average distance of all 14 walks in the booklet is 15.5 miles, so it seems the earlier generation of walkers must have been a pretty tough lot.
The earliest post-WW2 walks booklet I can remember (about 1957) described rambles in the Saffron Walden area, several of which extended into Cambs. The author claimed that the walks could be followed in the opposite direction to that described simply by substituting left for right and right for left! Sadly I don’t have a copy and don’t recall having put this formula to the test.
In the early 1960s I did a series of walk descriptions for the ‘Cambridge Daily News’ as it was then. Each walk was based on public transport in the local area. The paper declined to publish maps for fear of infringing OS copyright and the sub-editors thought nothing of omitting whole paragraphs of crucial description if they needed extra space for other material! As your Cantab comments make clear, in those days it was a challenge to find usable paths for publication.
The inclusion of public rights of way on OS maps in the mid 1960s was of huge significance and I well remember looking at the new, specially produced OS ‘Tourist Map of Cambridge’ (1965, one inch to the mile, ten bob) and seeing for the first time where we could (and could not) walk as of right.
The huge increase in car ownership in the 1960s and consequent decline in rural public transport caused a significant shift in the way that ramblers in Cambs and neighbouring counties experienced the countryside. Point to point walks were replaced by circular routes from convenient (and sometimes not so convenient) car parks. Ironically, walk planners who had previously been limited by the availability of train or bus services are now constrained by finding adequate parking places for group and club outings. However, rising fuel prices, increased parking charges and environmental concerns have caused a small revival of the use of surviving rural rail stations as gateways to the countryside. A series of leaflets has been produced by the Mid Anglia Rail Passengers’ Association (MARPA) describing walks between each of the stations served by trains on the Cambridge to Ipswich line (also Bury St Edmunds to Ely) with a bit of help from local bus services at places like Soham and Fulbourn where intermediate stations have closed. The leaflets can be downloaded from www.marpa.org.uk
My, isn’t your rucksack heavy?
This is not usually a comment directed at me, but to Roger, apparently toiling along under a huge load. I have been threatening for some time to make him turn it out, and discover the reason for the bulges, and this is what I found.
The Rucksack weighed empty at 0.70 kg.
Food and drink. A full stainless steel flask of coffee, and a 300ml plastic bottle of water weigh 1.30kg. Food for the day, (biscuits and cheese, fruit, cake, cereal bars) might add up to 0.75kg.
Spare clothing. This is very much a seasonal thing, but taking into account approved outdoor safety standards, assuming one is already wearing a fleece, one might also have with one: waterproof jacket (0.50kg) and overtrousers (0.25kg), waterproof mittens (0.10kg), gaiters (0.20kg), scarf (0.10kg) spare socks (0.10kg), spare woolly (0.25kg), hat (0.10kg).
Accessories. 2 Maps, notebook, pen (0.35kg), GPS (0.10kg), mobile phone (0.10kg), wallet money and keys (0.30kg), first aid kit, comb etc (0.20kg), folding aluminium umbrella (0.20kg), secateurs (0.25kg), small torch (0.20kg), monocular (0.10kg), sit mat (0.10kg), rucksack cover (0.10kg)
I weighed these roughly on the kitchen scales, but accuracy is not important as different varieties of items would vary considerably in weight. A waterproof jacket might vary between 0.30 and 0.75kg, for example.
So the clothing in the rucksack weighs 2.05kg unless it is cold and wet, when you will be carrying it on your person! Roger’s food and drink weighed 1.6kg. This could have been less without the water bottle, or with a smaller flask of coffee. The accessories, individually, mostly weighed about 100g each, but together weighed 2kg. A surprise is how much money and keys weigh one down, and that two Landranger maps weigh 0.25kg.
So the grand total makes 6.35kg (or 14lb). My, isn’t your rucksack heavy?
Parish of the Month – Litlington
Explorer Sheet 208
Location and History. Litlington is one of the parishes on the chalk, with Limlow Hill to the south of the village, rising to 60m. The parish extends south to the A505, one of the lines of the ancient Icknield Way. Ashwell Street (or “Strete”) has a mile of its length in the parish, passing from Steeple Morden to Bassingbourn. This green lane is, like the A505, of prehistoric origin, part of a strand of tracks leading across England from Wessex to East Anglia. To the north of the parish, the little stream “Mill River” separates Litlington from Abington Pigotts. The open fields were enclosed following an award made in 1830, and the Cambs definitive map of 1953 left Litlington with a sparse 10 paths.
It seems that in Roman times, Litlington may have been an important, wealthy settlement, but traces of earlier occupation go back to the Mesolithic Age, with worked flints and 3 axes found on the site of the village. The Bronze Age is heavily represented by 16 former barrows (now only visible as ring ditches, and identified by aerial photography) along the southern route of the Icknield Way. An early Bronze Age dagger was found in the village, and lumps from a bronze Ingot (indicating bronze workings) came from Limlow Hill. On older maps, a tumulus is shown near the summit of Limlow Hill at TL 323 417, almost on the line of fp 9.
Finally, an Iron Age settlement preceded significant Roman sites. On Hill Farm, just N of Ashwell Street, small squarish enclosures showing as very slight banks and depressions may belong to this period. Mile Ditches (3 banks and ditches, crossing the Icknield Way and running through the E edge of Litlington) are defensive earthworks of Iron Age date, and extend from an upstanding round barrow on Therfield Heath, for about 1.5 miles to the Springs at Bassingbourn. The ditches were silted up from Roman times, and were finally levelled in the C19th, but can be seen as massive dark parallel lines in bare soil.
Cambs’ most important Roman cemetery was at Litlington, found during gravel digging in 1821. The then vicar’s wife made drawings from 80 cremations, lying in rows 1m apart. Some urns were in wooden boxes of which the iron nails and bronze lock plates survived. Other burials were accompanied by grave goods, eg handled flagon, storage jar, and samian cup. There were also ca 250 inhumations, with findings of pottery and glass vessels, glass beads, and coins. Nearby was a stone chamber containing a stone coffin, which can now be seen outside the W end of the church. The “Romano-British” burial ground is shown adjacent to Ashwell Street, at TL 314 420, just west of a crossing track.on the 1956 OS 1st series 1:25 000 sheet. Sir Cyril Fox refers to “a walled cemetery in a field known, from time immemorial, as Heaven’s Walls”.
The 1956 map shows the site of a C4th Roman Villa on the SW edge of the village at TL 313 425. The villa was excavated in 1829 and 1881. It measured 100 x 120 m, and contained 30 rooms around a courtyard, hypocaust, bath, and at least 1 mosaic pavement. All records of the excavation were lost. The rectangular layout of the village, together with the evidence of the Roman villa, may indicate that this village originated as a Roman settlement.
Later, the village seems to have developed from 2 settlements, Church End and South End. In the Middle Ages, Dovedale Manor House stood in a moated site at Bury Farm. The rectangular enclosure contained fishponds, fed by Chardle Ditch. Much of the moat has been levelled, and can only be seen as dry depressions in the field. In 1428 the property passed to the Pigotts of Abington Pigotts. The moat of The Bury is shown at TL 312 432, just beyond Bury Farm, north of fp 5, probably in a grassy paddock. Huntingfields Manor House, off Church Street, was first recorded in 1337. The moat around the present house, which dates from the C16th, only survives as a widening of the stream.
The C13th church is of interest and has a medieval pulpit and fine caved oak chancel screen of that period. Inside, there is the stone head of a scold-in-bridle, ca. 1330 as head-stop to a moulded arch in the N arcade. Old bosses in the roof are picked out in gilt .
In the village stands an old brick lock-up in Middle Street, TL 312 428. A small triangular village green at TL 313 426 contains 2 seats, and an attractive village sign.
Pub and shop are located on Church Street.
Walks suggestions from Litlington
Walks are described from the church. There is a little informal parking here on the verge of Litlington Road (avoid Sundays). There is a car-park for the village hall on Meeting Lane, but it would seem best to seek permission.
Most of these routes involve a proportion of cross-field arable paths on chalky land, generally less sticky than the heavier claylands to the north of Cambridge.
(A) Ashwell Street, Royston and Therfield Heath. 6 miles, or 9 miles with diversions
From the church, walk SSE along Royston Road to Ashwell Street. Fp9 is signed going SE, climbing Limlow Hill, to cross seven arable fields, generally well marked, reaching Bassingbourn Bp16 at TL 334 411. Follow this S carefully over both the railway crossing and the A505 to the Little Chef. Go a little way up the Therfield road, and turn left to walk along the Heath, into Royston. (A detour into the Nature Reserve from TL 337 400 is rewarding). Visit Royston, or turn down at lane at TL349 406 to Green Drift. Cross the railway, continue on a fenced path through the industrial site, cross the bypass, and continue NNW on Bassingbourn fp 18 to Ashwell Street. Turn left, and return to Litlington.
(B) Visiting Bassingbourn and Abington Pigotts. 7 miles
From the church, walk along Church St to Cockhall Lane, and take Fp7 SW to join Ashwell Street. Here turn left along Ashwell Street, crossing Royston Rd, and continue along Ashwell Street to TL 331 426, where a kissing gate gives access to a permissive path going N to Wellhead Springs. Turn right in front of the Springs, and follow the path to South End., Bassingbourn. Continue N over the crossroads to visit Bassingbourn Church, and go beyond Church End to The Mill, TL 326 443. Take the path going SW, then generally W across seven fields to Abington Pigotts. (This sounds formidable, but has recently been re-waymarked: excellent when frozen, or in short young cereal). The Inn is recommended. Take footpaths to Down Hall, TL 315 437. Just beyond, take the signed path through the grounds of the watermill house. Crossing a ditch on a bridge, the path continues as Fp2 in Litlington, reaching the road at TL 309 433. Go S down the road, and turn left on Fp5 past Bury Farm. Continue through paddocks, emerging in Litlington on Meeting Lane. Turn right to inspect the old lockup.
(C) To Upper Gatley and Morden Grange 5 miles. From the church, take Royston Road to Ashwell Street. Turn right (WSW) along this fine green lane, as far as Upper Gatley End. Here turn S on a track towards Morden Grange Plantation. At TL 297 405 it is possible to walk forward to the junction at TL301 400 or, more interestingly, follow around the other side of the plantation next to the concealed chalkpit, passing over a conveyor belt. In either case, walk beyond Morden Grange Farm to TL 313 406, where turn N, and follow the grassy track to young woodland, to emerge on Ashwell Street. At TL 311 417, take Fp7 back to Litlington village. n.b. This is a “clean” walk. (It is possible to extend this route to Ashwell station at Odsey, to give distances up to 10 miles.)
(D)To Abington Pigotts and The Mordens 4 miles, or much more!
Opposite the churchyard on Litlington Road, a signpost points W along Fp3 across an arable field, generally well walked. Mid-field, Fp4 branches off at TL 306 428. Follow Fp4 W into Steeple Morden parish, passing through a belt of trees, and going uphill in an arable field to join a track at TL 311429. Follow the track N, then around bends by a ditch and field edge, to a bridge over Cheney Water at TL 298 435. Turn right on the brookside track towards Down Hall Farm. Take the track N to Bible Grove. Here, either turn right into Abington Pigotts, or left along Bogs Gap Lane to Bogs Gap, Steeple Morden, TL 292 435. Many options are possible for visiting the Mordens from here. The shortest variant involves turning left along the lane to Brook End. At Hillside Farm, TL 292 428, turn E on a track to meet your outward route at a corner, TL 301 429. Turn S on the track to Litlington Road, and return to the church, taking care on this rather busy road.
The Mordens, between them have an excellent network of over 100 paths. A typical circuit from Litlington taking in both villages would give a walk of 8 to 12 miles.
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