** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
This month’s offering is rather more urban-based than usual, with articles mentioning both Cambridge and Saffron Walden. However devoted is a walker to the delights of the countryside, there are few of us who do not, from time to time, venture into towns. Saffron Walden is best seen on foot, and although many of our readers will know the town already, I hope the enclosed includes some snippets of previously unknown information.
St Radegund – Around Cambridge and elsewhere…
On King Street, opposite Wesley Church, notice the unusual name of the hostelry.
St Radegund (also rendered Rhadegund, Radegonde or Rhadagund) was the wife of Clotaire, King of the Franks (558 – 561). Disgusted with the crimes of the Royal family, she founded the monastery of St Croix at Poitiers. But why is she remembered in Cambridge, both in a pub name, and as a street off Coleridge Road?
We encountered St Rhadegund elsewhere recently, on the Isle of Wight, featured on a display board along a newly promoted 5 mile walking route, The Pilgrims Path. The route is based on that used by pilgrims in the Middle Ages. They arrived by ship at Binnel Bay, near St Lawrence (no longer possible, due to centuries of coastal erosion). They climbed the steep winding ways in the luxuriant vegetation of the undercliff on what is still known as The Cripple Path. Then they turned inland to offer prayers at the spring of White Well, reputed to have healing properties. The well, opposite the church, is now freshly painted, and has one of a number of descriptive boards along the route. Over the Downs went the pilgrims, past the now deserted Nettlecombe Medieval village, to return to the coast via St Rhadegund’s Path, passing the further holy wells of St Rhadegund itself, and that in the village of St Lawrence.
The latter has a tiny C12th church, still much in use, where the old pews and dark woodwork evoke thoughts of Celtic saints, and pilgrims of a past age.
Parish of the Month –
Map – Explorer 195
The name “Walden” means “valley of the Britons”, and “Saffron”, refers to the cultivation of the saffron crocus in the Middle Ages, when it was used in dyeing, medicine, and later for culinary purposes. The older town is sited on a low chalk spur between two small tributaries of the R.Cam, (the Madgate Slade & the Slade Brook), which join west of the town, before flowing into the Cam itself at Audley End.
The town’s most magnificent feature, The parish church of St Mary The Virgin, was built between 1470 and 1540, but the spire, at a height of 193ft, and dominating the town, was added by the architect Thomas Rickman in 1832. Interesting lanes and passages lead from the church to the Market Square. Here are the Tourist Information Centre (where obtain a simple street plan), Town Hall (1762), the Corn Exchange (1848), connected with the town library, and in amongst the market stalls, The Fountain (built 1863, restored 1975, and commemorating the marriage of the then Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra). In the streets around the market, are a wealth of fine old buildings, several now housing little independent retailers, which make Walden a good place for coffee and cakes, or a browse in one of several old bookshops.
Bridge Street has cottages of the late C15th, where close-spaced, heavy timbers were used while oak was abundant. Gold Street has C17th weavers’ cottages with a communal rear courtyard, but the flint weavers’ cottages in East Street have early C19 brick facings. En route to the museum, and the flint-wall remains of the C12th castle, note C15th cottages following the line of the castle bailey into Museum Street.
High Street’s frontage of fine buildings range from a timber-framed C16th house, “The Gables”, through a number of lovely Regency properties, to lofty Victorian Gothic. Youth Hostellers will know that the finest medieval building in the town is the YHA building in Myddylton Place, built early C16th, and at one time used as a maltings.
Saffron Walden is particularly known for its pargetting, or decorative exterior plaster-work. That on The Sun Inn at Market Hill illustrates the East Anglian legend of a battle between Tom Hickathrift and the Wisbech Giant.
On the E boundary of the Common, note the fine turf maze, and do visit Bridge End Gardens, created 1840 (entrances from Bridge Street or Castle Street).
Leaflets in the church, museum, and information centre can provide much more data on architecture & history. When sated with sightseeing, shopping or coffee, it is time to consider walking options out of the town.
(a) To Great Chesterford (4 miles)
For a linear walk, go N out of the town, along Catons Lane, past the football stadium. Follow the good path N, crossing a track E of Wheatley Farm, and over Rowley Hill. Descend to Springwell, cross the road, and take the fp to Little Chesterford. Here, turn left on the lane, and soon a further path leads N to Great Chesterford.
(Return by ‘bus, or to Cambridge by train.)
(b) Audley Park (2.5 miles)
Set off down Abbey Lane, noting the United Reformed Church of 1811, with its 4-column portico*, and King Edward VI’s almshouses of 1834. Go through wrought iron gates into Audley Park. Take the path half-right (romantically towards the sewage works), and continue through the park to Weir Tea Bridge. Follow a passage by a wall, and a driveway to London Road (B1383). Turn left along the footway, admiring the excellent views of Audley End house & grounds. Turn left at the junction, and follow Audley End Road back towards Walden, turning left at TL 530 379, to re-enter the park through iron gates, and return to Abbey Lane.
* teas here on Sunday afternoons!
(c) Newport &Wendens Ambo (8 miles)
From Abbey Lane, go into the park, turning half-left on a path, to reach Audley End Road through iron gates at TL 530 379. Turn right along the footway, and left into the little road through the attractive Audley End village. Carry on ahead through Abbey Farm. Cross Wenden Road, and along Beechy Ride. This track crosses the B1052, and continues past Brakey Ley Wood. You are on part of the “Harcamlow Way”, and follow this S all the way to Bromley Lane, crossing a stile and descending a grass field to Debden Water. Here turn right over an awkward stile, and follow the path through a strip of wood, and past a sewage works & Essex CC Maintenance Depot to Newport.
Visit the fine church, then go NW through the churchyard, crossing a grass field, and emerging down a road by the brook in front of large new houses. Cross the Bury Water “ford” at TL 517 343, and turn right up Whiteditch Lane, passing greenhouses and Tudehope Farm. At the end of the lane, a track leads over the hill to Rookery Lane at Norton End. Follow the lane left to Wendens Ambo Church, then cross the B1039 carefully near a sharp bend, TL 512 365. From here, a path leads ahead (N) to Cornwallis Wood, then right (E) to London Road. From here, the safest route back to Saffron Walden is N along the footway of London Road, turning right (E) onto Audley End Road, and following the instructions for Walk (b). A quicker route is to return along Wendens Road to TL 525 373, then taking the path to Audley End village, but Wendens Road lacks a continuous footway.
(d) The Roos & Cole End (7 miles)
Follow the description in walk (c) above as far as Brakey Ley Wood. Here turn left (E) along the clear track parallel to Fulfen Slade. On reaching Debden Road, continue to “The Roos”, and take the byway E to Thaxted Road. Cross the road, turn left, and shortly right on a minor road passing Six Acre Wood and Cole End. Where the road forks take the left fork on Cole End Lane. Just past Bears Hall, turn left (W) on a sunken byway, which follow to the junction with a bridleway. Take this to emerge on the Thaxted Road (B184) at TL 546 380, and return to your starting point.
(Note that between Six Acre Wood & Cole End, it is possible to branch off onto field paths, which are quite findable, but sticky in Winter or after rain).
(f) Circuit to Debden (11 miles)
One limb uses the Harcamlow Way , then continue S over Debden Road, passing the 105m trig point, and on to Waldegraves. Take the byway to Cabbage Wood, where use the path to the isolated church, and the road to the village & the White Hart pub. Return to the church and the bridge over the lake, and turn right (N) passing Debden Hall Farm. Cross the road, and take the bridleway N through Howe Wood* to Debden Road. Follow the road N towards Walden (care), turing off at The Roos for the path to Herberts. Cross the rec. to rejoin Debden Road, but turn off left on Seven Dials Lane. Return to Walden on the B1052 (or use your street plan for urban short cuts!)
* The path through Howe Wood is wet in Winter
(g) Littlebury Green & Strethall (10 miles)
It is also possible to make circuits from Walden to Littlebury Green and Strethall, using the footpath crossing the railway by Cornwallis Hill. The return is less interesting, being made via Littlebury Green Road, a fp S to Chestnut Avenue & London Road.
(h) Wimbish, Radwinter (12 miles)
When ground conditions are good, it is possible to make more ambitious circuits to Wimbish & Radwinter, with a suggested outward route via Cole End, and a return along the Roman Road between Stocking Green and the turning to Redgates Lane. Such routes are recommended with some reservations, however, because of poor crossfield paths, and the necessity of walking back into Walden for a mile on either the busy Ashdon Road or the Radwinter Road.
Plants of Suffolk Roadside verges
In January, I was privileged to hear a lecture at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens by Yvonne Leonard, talking about wild flowers which can be seen on roadside verges in Suffolk.
In Suffolk, as elsewhere in East Anglia, much habitat & many wild plant species have been lost due to wartime ploughing, military airfields, commercial conifer planting, and modern agricultural methods. In 1968, Hilary Heyward (connected with Cambridge University, and the then Ministry of Agriculture) noted some 600 species in the verges. (Some further species loss has been recorded since.) But since 1968, Suffolk CC and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust have cooperated in a scheme to protect verges, erecting “NR” (Nature Reserve) posts.
The criteria for selection of a verge are to protect a species rare nationally or only occurring locally in Suffolk, and to protect good examples of habitat communities. The scheme has also sought to protect displays of common species, to promote & encourage public interest. Wardens control the management plan for cutting NR verges, normally cut once per year. Where a verge is adjacent to a conservation headland, the effectiveness is enhanced.
Examples were given of the more unusual plants we might see are appropriate seasons.
Spanish Catchfly grows in verges at Chippenham and sand catchfly at Mildenhall.
“Creeping bellflower” grows in the verges at Mildenhall.
Maiden Pink grows at Ramparts Field.
Spring speedwell may be found on verges at Cavenham.
Chicory can be spotted by the old factory at Lakenheath, and Lesser Calamint at Moulton. And the verges support many orchids including the common early purple, spotted and pyramidal orchids, bee orchids, and seven sites boast the rare man orchids.
Not all the plants on verges are altogether welcome. Common scurvy grass, a low-growing tough little plant with white flowers, once found mostly at the seaside, is increasing along verges, due to salting of busy roads. Alexanders (a tough umbellifer, typically 70cm high, with yellowish green flowers) is also on the increase, shading out roadside primroses, violets etc.
So when your walk takes you off the public paths, and onto the verges of the highway, walk with care, avoiding not only the traffic, but also the delicate plants underfoot. Look & enjoy, but please don’t pick!
See “Flowers and Wildlife of Mildenhall Parish“, by Yvonne J Leonard, Publ. Mildenhall Parish Council, 2001 (available locally)
Footnote – Cambridgeshire County Council has recently started its own roadside verges nature reserves scheme, so look for “NR” posts.
Vehicles on Byways – a Petition
Cambridgeshire has a lot of Public Byways (also known as “Byways open to all traffic”, or BOATS) – there are some 250 miles throughout the county. Often byways form vital links between other paths, and many of them are “green lanes”, sometimes between hedges, which can be havens for wildlife among the cultivated fields.
Those joining group walks during the Winter may well have been asked to sign a Petition, calling on the Cambs.C.C. to do more to protect our byways from damage by 4×4 vehicles and motor-cycles, especially during Winter months. In fact over 350 people signed, mostly from RA Groups and the Cambridge Rambling Club, and we want to say a big “thank you” to all who did.
The Petition was received on 20 March on behalf of the Council by Cllr. Mac McGuire, in front of a small number of supporters assembled outside Shire Hall. Anyone listening to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 7.45 that morning could have heard me being interviewed on the subject in the Breakfast Programme. In presenting the Petition, we emphasised that green lanes are valuable for healthy recreation, as well as acting as linear nature reserves. We recognise the rights people have to drive along public byways, but we want to stop the horrendous damage being done by a few irresponsible individuals, and costing the County a lot of money in repairing the surface each spring. To be fair to all byway users, we asked for motor vehicles to be banned only in the Winter, when most damage is caused. Such restrictions have worked very well in a few cases, and we want the scheme extended.
The Petition has gone to the Council’s ruling “Cabinet”, and because of the number of signatures on it, I was given the chance to introduce it on 18 April. One can’t say much in the 3 minutes permitted, but I repeated our arguments, emphasising the financial advantages. There is clearly quite a lot of sympathy among the Councillors, and we know that Rights of Way staff are on our side, so we’ll see what happens.
More on Unrecorded Public Paths
A recent note by Chas Townley on “Ramblers-Net” noted the following. The Institute of Rights of Way Management has published a code of practice on its website* about the creation of new rights of way. It notes that the first step is to look for unrecorded rights and suggests that as much of 10% of the rights of way network is currently unrecorded.
And good luck to Little Shelford Parish Council who are currently appealing to the Secretary of State, against Cambs.C.C’s refusal to register two new rights of way in the parish, based on evidence of past use.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post: Issue 36.
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© Janet Moreton, 2006.