Welcome to a New Year of Cantab Rambler. A straw poll tells me that “Parish of the Month” is the most popular regular feature, together with up-to-date information on the state of local paths. So this month, we visit Swaffham Bulbeck in East Cambridgeshire, having first heard from Jill Tuffnell, about the work of the Local Access Forum.
Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum – Jill Tuffnell writes:
Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum (LAF) is a statutory body established under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 to advise on “the improvement of public access to land in that area for the purposes of open-air recreation and the enjoyment of the area”. Members are volunteers who are recruited and appointed by Cambridgeshire County Council; they are selected to represent a wide range of interests, although they are not formal delegates. I represent walkers; other members represent youth groups, people with disabilities, horse-riders, cyclists, off-road trailbike riders, environment trusts, farmers and local councillors. We currently meet four times a year, although many of us have liaison responsibilities and attend consultation groups and events. The LAF is a statutory consultee on a wide range of issues, including strategic land-use plans, DEFRA plans, highways and other transport proposals and anything else affecting rights of way and public access. We are kept very busy reviewing the implications of the huge amount of development planned around the county.
In recent months the LAF has had presentations on a major programme of new off-road cycleways in Cambridgeshire, many of which also provide safe walking for ramblers. These include the cycleway from Wandlebury to Babraham along the A1307, a cycleway alongside stretches of the A10 and a route alongside the A505 from Whittlesford Station to Abington. We have also discussed rights of way in and around the new town of Northstowe as part of the ‘phase 2’ development plans, suggesting that the road across the former Oakington airfield should be adopted as a bridleway. We also supported the creation of a major ‘green link’ through the heart of the new development. We have considered detailed proposals to remove all level crossings on the East Coast mainline railway, attending a number of presentations on options. Some crossings are to be replaced with bridges or underpasses, but others could be lost completely. The A14 plans are also a big topic and we have discussed the implications for rights of way. There has been particular concern over ‘legacy’ issues – i.e. what happens to truncated RoWs which have been unusable since the current A14 dualling was completed.
We monitor work undertaken by Cambridgeshire County Council that impacts on rights of way and land with public access. This ranges from keeping a close eye on how ‘development gain’ from new planning developments is being spent on improved access to reviewing the budgets of two key groups of Council staff.
The first group maintain the Council’s ‘Definitive Map’. Recently a large piece of work concerned with legally rectifying anomalies between what the Map records and what is actually on the ground has largely been completed and the team is again looking at possible improvements to our rights of way network under a nationwide project termed ‘Lost Highways’. Any action to add paths to our network under this scheme must be completed by 2026. This seems a long way off, but very little has been achieved in the ten years since the project started.
The second group of CCC staff are involved with the day to day maintenance of our rights of way. Although budgets for maintenance work on the ground, including cutting field edge paths (which are the responsibility of the highways authority) and replacing broken signs, bridges etc, are likely to be protected in 2015/16, more staff cuts of at least £50,000 are currently the subject of consultation. If the proposed cuts go through the sole management post will be lost and there will be just 3 rights of way officers covering the entire county. In response, the LAF has expressed its grave concern about these drastic cuts. The detailed knowledge on the ground, which is so critical if our rights of way are to be maintained as ‘fit for purpose’, is under threat. Improving the network would become a pipe-dream.
On a personal note, I have a link role with respect to the National Trust in Cambridgeshire. I have written to the General Managers of both Wimpole and Anglesey Abbey/Wicken Fen with the aim of achieving much greater publicity for – and hence awareness of – permissive paths. I have met with Wicken Fen staff and the website publicity of routes will be improved. I have also met with the General Manager of Wimpole and it is pleasing to report that substantial expenditure is planned to improve the well-used path through the Belts. I have been sent a map of existing and potential permissive paths on the estate for comment. And, although it is unlikely that new rights of way will be created, the Manager is willing to have the agreed permissive path network depicted on OS maps.
Jill Tuffnell, 27 November 2014
Parish of the Month –
History of the village
Like most Cambridgeshire parishes, Swaffham Bulbeck has signs of prehistoric occupation. Prehistoric round barrows and ring ditches have been found at the SE end of the parish, and there is a site of a late Bronze Age settlement on Middle Hill, on the Bulbeck / Prior boundary, TL 576 623 (inaccessible on private land).
The Romans built 4 canals connecting villages on the edge of the chalk to the Cam: these are the lodes at Bottisham, Swaffham Bulbeck, Reach and Burwell. There was a Roman settlement near the site of the Benedictine Abbey at Commercial End.
Swaffham Bulbeck’s name derives from a farm of settlers from Swabia. Then, soon after 1066, the bulk of it became the estate of Hugh de Bolbec. Their house was probably Burgh Hall, TL 556 620, now an attractive Wealden house of c1500 within the remains of a moat up to 15m wide.
At the bottom of Commercial End, at the junction with Cow Lane, peer over the gate to look down the drive at the site of a small Benedictine Priory of nuns, dated about 1300. A vaulted undercroft survives , the walls of clunch and early black flush-flintwork are incorporated in an early Georgian house.
In the main village, the broad aisled church (TL 556 623) is constructed largely of clunch, originally C13th, much being rebuilt in the C14th. There are 36 medieval carved benches.
The vicar of Swaffham Bulbeck, when he went to live there in 1823, wrote that the “marsh miasma” (malaria) was so prevalent among the poor of the village, that it was necessary to keep in hand a constant stock of proper medicine (opium pills) for their relief.
Opposite the church, a C15th house had its open hall divided horizontally in the C16th. North past the turning to Lode, at a corner, Lordship Cottage faces S over a green, with only 2 front buttresses testifying to its C13th date. The green and recreation ground are bordered on one side by a thick belt of trees, with the moats of the original Lordship House. The “Denny Moats” are described in an information board.
In 1766, the drainage of 7000 acres of fenland and low ground between the R. Cam and the uplands of Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck was effected by commissioners invested with powers to tax the district, to cut lodes, to erect engines and staunches, and to licence occupants to construct mills. The elaborate drainage system with moats and sluices was used to create lush watermeadows.
Commercial End is as big as the parent village. Swaffham Lode gave access to the fenland waterways, and flourished with transportation of heavy goods from the late C17th. The port is known to have imported wine, timber, salt and coal, and exported grain, flour and malt. In 1821, a New Cut improved the link with the R. Cam via the village lode and the cut ran towards the fen from a large C17th wharf (still partly intact, but on private land).
However, its main development as a fen port was due to Thomas Bowyer, who provided buildings to accommodate a substantial trade in the first part of the C19th. Many of the buildings have been demolished or converted, but several of the rather grand houses remaining have an interesting history. The Merchant’s House, in red/buff brick is late C17th, but was extended in the C19th to provide a counting house, and overlooks the wharf. (TL 557 633). Behind it is a large 2-storey granary (now a private house) dated 1815, with wall anchors in the form of TB. Next door is a 2-storey granary, (C19th). Opposite the Merchant’s House is the former malting’s kiln, with a tiled conical roof, and now an attractive house.
Later, Swaffham Bulbeck had a railway from Mildenhall to Cambridge, of which few signs remain. There was a station at Swaffham Prior, and local people used a pleasant path there, now sadly defunct.
Swaffham Bulbeck is a long, thin parish, aligned NW, SE, and awkwardly placed on Explorer 226, and spilling over onto Explorer 209. Do turn up the maps to consider the parish layout. First, inspect Sheet 226. Like several of the fen parishes of East Cambridgeshire, in times past it was essential for each parish to have access to the R. Cam, in this case reached by water along Swaffham Bulbeck Lode, reaching the Cam at Swaffham Lock, by Lode Farm.
The parish boundary runs on the South side of Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. There is a little bulge in the parish boundary for Swaffham Poors Fen. On the North side of the lode, is Swaffham Bulbeck Fen, enclosed by the parish boundary of Swaffham Prior along Whiteway Drove and continuing Rail Drove, all the way to the Ouse near Commissioners’ Farm.
Similarly, all the East Cambs parishes south of the Ouse, Lode-with-Longmeadow, Swaffham Bulbeck, Swaffham Prior, Reach and Burwell have this long narrow format.
Going SE from the village, (as shown on Sheet 209) the parish boundary goes through the grounds of Bottisham Hall, passes Howes Plantation, and follows a wooded strip towards Whiteland Springs. It then meanders (presumably along former field boundaries) to continue beyond the Old Newmarket Road, which would, in times past, have given the parish a share in the maintenance of the major roads to Exning and Newmarket. Returning NW, the parish boundary passes North of New England Farm, and continues in a straight line to cross the B1102 just beyond the turning to Commercial End.
Parking is available in specified places on the village green. Please park thoughtfully.
(a) Walk along the back of the green (Fp6), and turn into Lordship Farm on Fp5, cutting a corner of the road. Walk through Commercial End, and turn left into Cow Lane and continue to Cow Bridge (seat). At the signpost, turn left along Fp 4, which starts as a grassy field edge, but later crosses a short section of arable field, to reach the footway of the B1102 near Gutter Bridge. Turn left and walk back to the rec. (2 miles)
(b) Enlarge walk (a) by continuing along Cow Lane to the turning to Forty Acre Drove.
Take the signed footpath W on a strip between fields towards Longmeadow Hamlet, part of Lode Parish. Continue on a signed hard path into Lode rec., and take one of several well-signed paths to Anglesey Abbey. Return to Longmeadow, and make a pleasant detour round Cranney Drove and Docking Drove. Return to Cow Bridge, and take Fp 4 to Gutter Bridge. (6 miles)
(c) Take the High St towards Stone Bridge, continuing to a path at TL 549 613. Follow this to Bottisham, find the path between housing to the church, and follow the village road E to the A1303. There is a residual footway, to take you to TL 560 600, where Bp 15 (created 2004) takes you North. For a “clean” Winter’s walk, continue to Swaffham Heath Rd, where turn left to Swaffham Bulbeck. Or turn left at TL 567 612 for a sticky walk to Park End. (6 miles)
(d) Some long bleak winter walks may be had using parts of “The Lodes Way”, and feeder routes, shown in a National Trust leaflet of that title. Circuits involving part of Swaffham Bulbeck are as follows.
(i) From Cow Bridge, go NNW along the E bank of Swaffham Bulbeck Lode, Turn left at White Fen (attractive picnic site). Continue on a newly-made cycleway and down White Fen Droveway, and turn left along Fen Rd into Lode. Return to Swaffham Bulbeck via Longmeadow. (6 miles).
(ii) Alternatively, after resting at the White Fen picnic site, turn right past Slades Farm, and right again on Whiteway Drove to Swaffham Prior. The main road between Swaffham Prior and Bulbeck has a footway (6 miles).
(iii) Clearly, for the strong walker, extensions via Reach, Burwell or Wicken are possible, or a rougher continuation along Swaffham Bulbeck Lode to Swaffham Lock, part of the Fen Rivers Way to River Bank, to return on hard droves to Whiteway Drove and Swaffham Prior & Bulbeck (10 miles upward)
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