Old Man River…
Roger & I met recently with Karen Champion, to celebrate the installation of new self-closing and kissing gates along the bank of the Old West River between High Bridge Aldreth and the Haddenham pumping engine and an almost stile-free route on both sides of the river between The Lazy Otter and the Newmarket Road, Stretham. Sadly, there is one stile left on the village side of the river close to Bridge House due to lack of space for a kissing gate. Although a self-closing gate would have fitted, the cattle owner was nervous of the gate being propped open to accommodate fishing gear.
Karen is Cambridgeshire County Council’s Public Rights of Way Officer for the whole of East Cambs District, and this project involved much work liaising with several different landowners along the route. Seen on a fine May morning, with clouds scudding across the landscape, the extensive views from the well-mown river bank were a compelling invitation for a good walk, and the Lazy Otter” on the river bank near Stretham is a good place to appease the appetite so engendered.
We talked about the huge density of paths (over a hundred) in Soham, where a group of volunteers have, over the years, installed very many new bridges and gates. Sadly, this group of volunteers has now disbanded as they have become physically less active.
Karen also deals with path matters in the “paddock belt” of East Cambs, and described recent surface improvements and hedge trimming on Gypsy Lane (byway 10) and bridleway 13 in Dullingham. Other path improvements are in Brinkley, and over the District border in Carlton, South Cambs, in association with Karen’s South Cambs colleague, Peter Gaskin.
Why not take a fresh look at East Cambridgeshire? Cambridge Group’s books, “Walks in East Cambs” and “The Fen Rivers Way” are still in print, and available from Lisa Woodburn, tel 01223 245566.
Karen is keen that walkers report East Cambs faults, using either CCC’s call centre 0345 045 5212, or on-line www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/highwayfaults
I must admit I find filling in these forms on-line time-consuming and tedious, especially with several problems in one parish, repeating details common to all, but do give it a try, as the Highways Department refuses to accept complaints by other written means. This must surely reduce the number of complaints going into the system.
Parish of the Month, Stretham
This parish, South of Ely, is centred on the crossroads of the A1123 and the A10, the latter generally following the line of the Roman Akeman Street north from Cambridge. The fenland sections of this Roman road are thought to have been submerged from the C4th to the C17th. Its successor, turnpiked in 1763, entered the parish at what is now a layby beside the bridge over the Old West River.
The centre of Stretham, The Market Place, has a little triangle, graced by a stone market cross, which, amazingly, has survived since the early C15th. Many of Stretham’s ancient buildings were destroyed in a disastrous fire of 1844. Dates of rebuilding after the fire can be observed from the dates of houses along Top St. A survivor of the fire, the large red-brick house dated 1770 at Plantation Gate, may give an impression of the type of many properties that were destroyed.
What did survive is the church, dating from ca 1400, with a perpendicular stone spire. The spire & tower are relics of the original structure, following major Victorian renovation Parts of the adjacent rectory date from the C14th.
A converted windmill, with a 4-storey tarred brick tower, at the north end of Stretham, TL 512749, is a local landmark.
Stretham’s rarest feature is the Beam Engine, housed in a pump house on the banks of the Old West River, reached via Green End, and used for fen drainage. Built 1831, the engine powered a 37ft diameter scoop wheel, which lifted water at 124 tons per minute. It was last worked in 1941. There is a typical 3-part engine house, the engine (built by Butterley Co.) placed between the boiler-house and the scoopwheel house. Double piston valves were installed in 1909. This impressive engineering construction is open to the public at advertised times.
Stretham has a good selection of public paths, connecting with Ely, Little Thetford, and Wilburton, and allowing shorter strolls around the village.
Stretham lies on the route of two long distance paths. One of these is:
The Fen Rivers Way, running from Cambridge to Kings Lynn, ca 80 km.
Details are available in a small handbook of the same title, available from RA Cambridge Group (tel 01223 245566).
Other walks in the locality are described in “Walks in East Cambridgeshire”, also available from RA Cambridge Group.
The other long-distance path is:
The Black Fen Waterways Trail
This is a circular walk of 105km, passing Stretham Old Engine, and going through Ely, Littleport, Downham Market, Outwell, March, Chattris, Sutton, and back to Stretham. A leaflet was available in 2001 from The Fens Tourism Group, Spalding tel 01775 762715
(Note that the Black Fen Waterways Trail is not to be confused with the Brown Fen Waterways Trail, a circuit of 107 km, passing through Boston, Fosdyke, Surfleet, Spalding, Croyland, Donnington, and Swyneshead.. Yes, I know these places are in Lincolnshire!)
Back in Stretham, the village has excellent facilities, including a bus service to Ely and Cambridge. In the village, the Red Lion and a fish & chip shop are available to sustain the inner man. Along the riverside, are the Fish & Duck, by Holt Fen Bridge, and The Lazy Otter on the Old West River, just off the A10.
Various short walks are available from the village.
(a) From Chapel St, cross the A1123, go down Green End, turn right towards Fieldside, but turn off left (S) onto Fp 20.
Meet Everitts Drove. Turn left, then right onto Green End, and continue to Stretham Old Engine on Old West River. Return to the village along Green End. (2 miles). Alternatively, continue SW on the N bank of the Old West, to lunch at the Lazy Otter, returning on the other bank to Stretham Old Engine. Cross the river, and walk up Green End, (total 6 miles).
(b) Follow route (a) to Everitts Drove.
Turn SW to the Fruit & Vegetable shop on the A10. Go carefully SW on the A10. Cross with great care to join fp 18 past Red Hill farm to the A1123. Turn right, cross over with care, and turn left onto byway 13. Turn right along Mill Drove, and cross the A10 to re-enter the village near the windmill. (total 5 miles)
(c) From the church, take Chapel St, left into Chapel Lane, left onto Reads St, right into Goose Lane, left on Brook Lane, and right onto Plantation Gate. You should now be at TL 516 746, and the start of Fp4, which will lead you into Little Thetford parish. Detour on the branch path S at TL 529 750 to visit Holt Fen Bridge, (built as a result of much campaigning), or continue into Little Thetford. Return on The Burying Way, signed in Little Thetford.. This track was once used to carry coffins from Little Thetford to Stretham for burial. Little Thetford has its own church these days. (5 miles)
I recently received some enquiries about permissive or “permitted” paths, and how to find out about them.
There is no simple answer to this. Cambridgeshire County Council does keep a register of those permissive paths where they have been notified by the landowner, but this does not include all paths not on the Definitive Map, nor is the information readily available, although one may enquire about specific paths.
Some of these paths are registered under Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, and information on these is available on the Internet.
Other paths are quite informal, and are perhaps better called “customary” paths. Some, such as several at Longstowe, are signed “Estate Paths”. Some paths are described in local leaflets put out by a parish council, or perhaps a park owner, and may be available in a local shop, or the erstwhile phone box, as at Guilden Morden. Some parishes have useful and attractive path display boards, which may include information on permissive paths. Indeed, several permissive paths in Cambridgeshire have individual display boards showing routes and path availability, but this degree of information is unusual.
Generally, permissive paths, other than those contracted via the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme for a finite length of time, can be closed to the public at any time, at the whim of the landowner.
A route on the riverside meadows near Fen Ditton was recently closed without notice by Gonville & Caius college, having been available without question for many years.
Some paths, (e.g. Part of the Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge Walk near Northill, or part of The Nature Trail at Lackford, Suffolk) are only open at certain times of year.
Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets do in theory have a category (brown dots) for permissive paths, but very few are indicated on the sheets covering Cambridgeshire.
I sympathise with the gentleman who prompted my putting these thoughts together and agree that one can see waymarks for the start of an unfamiliar permissive path, and have no idea where they may be leading….
The Cambridgeshire RA Walking Programme
Going back at least to 1993, Cambs RA has enjoyed a printed walking programme containing the walks of the constituent groups. Over the years, many people have been involved in making this possible, including those who lead walks, the programme secretaries of each Group, the programme co-ordinator, and those getting the material checked and printed, and posted to each group member. Many Groups will remember happy evenings stuffing envelopes when it was their turn to send out the programme, often to the accompaniment of coffee and cake, or perhaps a glass of wine.
Sadly, it seems likely this is to cease. With the exception of East Cambs Group, the groups are continuing to produce their walking programmes, and these will be available on line, as they have been for the last few years. But there will be no co-ordinated printed programme this Autumn.
The reason goes back to the Cambs Area AGM held last Spring, where no-one came forward to be Area Chairman. RA Headquarters have taken the view that without a Chairman, there is no Area organisation, and therefore they will not fund or support a Cambs Area printed programme.
Lisa Woodburn of Cambridge Group has been willing to co-ordinate the set of group programmes, but in absence of funds for posting, it seems very unlikely that the usual booklet of county walks will go out.
It is hoped that RA HQ will pay the groups to circulate their own programmes. Yes, it is possible to view the programmes on the websites, but not everyone has a computer, and if they have a computer, they may not have a printer. The booklet of walks in something received by each member, part of the “togetherness” of the group, giving a more real feeling of community than the membership of the Ramblers’ Association as a whole, valuable as this is. We have sat companionably over our lunch on a Saturday walk, with our programmes open, discussing who will be able to come next Saturday, and who is the new leader in a few weeks’ time… I have a shelf full of old programmes, which have been used on at least two occasions when giving evidence of usage of a disputed path at a public inquiry.
My personal feeling is that RA HQ have treated us shabbily in this matter. Comments are invited.
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Cantab82 © Janet Moreton, 2015.