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CANTAB57 June 2010

CANTAB57 June 2010 published on

** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **


This Month…
First, I have for you an article by Peter Dean on “Beating the Bounds”, an ancient custom revived in a few parishes, such as Little Shelford in South Cambridgeshire.

We are also much indebted to Peter for a second contemplative and thought-provoking article.
Where did he visit?

Janet Moreton

Bounds – Beaten or Unbeaten
Little Shelford Bounds Walk, 2010
Little Shelford, according to one authority (The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire, CUP 1943), takes its name from the River Cam crossing – “the shallow ford” -but there may be something in the fact that the Scaler family “owned” it as absentee landlords between C11th and C13th. Name and place are too close not to allow the possibility.

The Cam (or Granta) from its crossing with the M11 in the NW corner of Hauxton to the Dernford Mill bridge in the SE constitutes half the total length of Little Shelford’s boundary, an estimated 10 miles in all. The M11 takes about half the rest, but entry to that of course is restricted to mechanical transportation..  In a few places, the “Bounds” do come within immediate arms reach.

1. The bridge in Bridge Lane
2. Riverside walk at The Wale rec.
3. Dernford Mill
4. Whittlesford Road Crossing just before Spicers Pond.
5. The Whittlesford – Newton Road at Kidmans Plantation & also where the cinder path meets it.
6. At the Newton Road M11 underpass
7. At the Hauxton Road M11 underpass

Beating the Bounds weekend falls at Rogationtide, and was organised on Saturday 15 May by Little Shelford Parish Council Footpaths Subcommittee and the Little Shelford Local History Society. Some 30 people assembled for the start of the walk near All Saints Church, Little Shelford.

A similar event was held on the same day by Great Shelford, starting at St Mary’s Church, and the two groups met across the bridge in Bridge Lane.

Both parties carried out the ancient ritual of Beating The Bounds, rapping the ground with hazel twigs and claiming their territory.  The custom is believed to be originally of pagan origin, long before maps sealed and defined boundary lines, but has been subsequently acceptable to the church.  The Little Shelford party chanted:
We’re beating the bounds in the name of Little Shelford” (repeated twice)
To all we say: Go in Peace“.

Peter Dean

The event was recorded in the Cambridge Weekly News of 20 May, along with a happy photograph of the participants.

As well as marking its boundaries, the walk was in support of Little Shelford’s campaign for its footpaths.

Walking the Line in South Cambs
By Peter Dean
Cambridgeshire, so adjacent to and incorporating so much fenland, is commonly thought of as a flat county.  The fenland parts are, though you’ve only got to look at Cambridge itself with its Castle Hill up-gradient on the exit to Huntingdon or approach Ely from any direction and recognise its salients.  Nevertheless, generally low-lying though it is, it is not otherwise flat – it undulates, there is any number of small hills west, south and eastwards, its southernmost border at Royston boasting the tail-end of the Chilterns running away eastwards into another reputed flat county Essex – which, of course, also undulates most agreeably.

As a walker – one who wherever possible leaves the roads behind to strike out into traffic-free countryside – will tell you,  passage over the tracks and rights-of-way brings a constant shift of landscape view at human-eye level, long, short and medium.  In a very few steps you find a long vista has disappeared and you’re crowded in by a stretch of rising ground that cuts off any prospect but the little hillock or mound itself, only for you to emerge again in brief time to another prospect quite unlike the one you were looking at those few minutes before.

Let me take you on one such walk.  We’ll go clockwise round a circular route, traversing a sizeable portion of the village boundary, which roughly follows the river all down one flank.  We go north-west out of the village on the roadside pavement for a mile and a quarter (yes, I know, not the most enticing of starts, but things get better) until meeting the main arterial road into the city.  Turning due north here, we meet the (river) boundary line after about 250 yards where it crosses the road.   At this point we go east to make our way along a route more or less following the river, heading against the current.    But with what a difference!

Writing about another Cambridgeshire watercourse, William Potts [Proceedings of Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society Vol. XCIV] memorably commented:

The natural courses of fenland rivers are remarkably convoluted…  original courses were 3 or 4 times longer than the path of a well-motivated crow.  A straight or fairly straight fenland river is the work of man’.

His words are wonderfully appropriate also to this location.  Human paths and routes have been formed usually through a compromise between directness and geography.  They make every attempt to stay as straight as they can – understandably since their purpose was to enable any journey to be accomplished with the least possible outlay of effort and time.  By contrast the river’s shape suggests the opposite – winding, looping, turning back on itself, with, in the section we’re meeting here, nary a straight stretch of any length to be found.  You walk the path alongside it seemingly initially and suddenly, as you were perhaps looking at a view that has opened up before you, perhaps trying to pick out some identifiable feature, it has wound away to a distance, almost become indiscernible under its low banks in the flat green meadowland.  Then, just as suddenly, it’s there at your elbow, glimpsed through a buckthorn or wild damson hedge lining the path, glistening down below, near enough now to jump into.  And even as you stare at it, putting one foot before the other on your walk, it swoops off in another extravagant bend and you’re not certain, such is the unrevealing nature of the contiguous countryside, which way it proceeds, having vanished round that corner, until your progress gives you an angle of view the better to decide.  But even then it’s a bit of a guess.

You only discover it made that general direction when it comes up close again half a mile later in your walk.   An OS map shows you the detail.  That well-motivated crow analogy comes to mind.  In terms of distance the man-made path lies somewhere inbetween.  And because it attempts as far as possible to follow the direction of the river, cutting corners across those loops and twists when it can, the track zig-zags, bringing thus the constant change of view, a different landscape and vista as you walk it.  Thus where at one point you have a view of gantries and towers and other tall buildings in the distant city, when you emerge from behind the long low bluff which cut you off from it all that has disappeared – you have imperceptibly changed direction and the new angle shows a tree-lined horizon and nothing to identify with your previous view.  It’s a surprise and a delight.  And behind you the river winds irresistibly northwards, like the zig-zag track you have trodden, determined by the invisible contours deep beneath your feet.

And at last with this panoply of views and impressions – the unfamiliar back of a familiar church now beyond the river shrouded in romantic willows and poplars; distant road-freighters cruising smoothly and soundlessly across on the motorway;  the mysterious underpasses for both that, when you come by one of those sharp zig-zags to it, and for the railway – suddenly you’re in slightly more recognisable country, another turn, another church and here’s the path coming to an end past the old farm buildings and you’re back with roadside pavement and turning west again and only the bridges to get over to the other side of the winding river in order to complete your circular walk.   The river will have done 5 or 6 miles:  you zig-zagging between the same two points perhaps two and a half:  that well-motivated crow not much more than a single mile.   Magic.

In all, a circular ramble of roughly four-and-a-half miles, not requiring the use of transport and production of c-oh-two to undertake it:  and the sort of thing that should be available in every community.

New Footpath / cycleway beside A1307
Between the Magog Golf Course roundabout, and the Wandlebury estate, a tarmac footway / cyclepath is under construction.  This will allow a safer and rapid (downhill) stride from Wandlebury Country Park, to the Babraham Road Park & Ride site (but watch out for speeding cyclists behind you. A pedestrian is in Addenbrookes’ with severe concussion, having been knocked down on a footway by a hit & run cyclist in Cambridge, as reported in Cambridge Weekly News, 22 April 2010).

A quieter route, from the rear of the Wandlebury Estate is, of course, by means of the Roman Road, a descent down Worts Causeway to the Beechwoods Reserve, and charming permissive paths inside the hedge to the rear of the P & R site.  The downside of this route, is, of course, the section down Worts Causeway from the Roman Road to the Beechwoods where there is no footway, and an unrestricted speed limit. Cambs C.C. is still to take action here.

This little piggy…
a mammal having short legs, cloven hooves, bristly hair, and a blunt snout used for digging…

Have you met a wild pig in the woods?  If so, were you charmed or alarmed?

An article in SAGA (May 2010), suggests that dog owners might not be too pleased to meet a wild pig, especially at this time of year, when there are little piglets to be protected.

Wild boars can weigh up to 500lb, and are possessors of 6 inch tusks.   The wolf is the boar’s natural predator in the wild, so sows with piglets loathe dogs, and will give chase. Wild pigs once roamed freely in the British Isles, but were exterminated by hunting by the C15th. Place names like Everton in Bedfordshire, and Eversden in Cambridgeshire may derive from “eofor”, the Anglo-Saxon for wild boar. Indeed, Little Eversden has a wild boar on its village sign.

How is it that they are back in the woods? They are certainly present in the Forest of Dene, Dorset, Devon, and Epping Forest. It seems they originally escaped from private collections, perhaps at the time of the hurricane of 1988, which brought down fences and enclosures.  As their natural habitat is woodland, they have bred most successfully since.

Has anyone encountered one? The article I read suggests that the risk to humans is low – but personally I would keep well clear, especially if there were piglets, adorable or otherwise.

Eversden Wood
This attractive woodland is topical, as it has recently been re-waymarked by a Karen Champion from the County Council, and local volunteer Clive Dalton,  with assistance from the landowner. In 1997, the whole parish was waymarked by RA Cambridge Group, together with a big local turn-out. Some of the old way-mark posts have been re-used, together with some smart additional ones, to clarify the routes within the woodland, and avoid inadvertent trespass..

Three points give public entry to the wood.
(a) On the S side at TL 345 529.
(b) On the W side of the wood, the point of entry is at TL 342 533.
(c) On the E side  at TL 349 532
Explorer Sheet 209 shows routes to these points from Eversden, Kingston, and the bend in the minor road above Wimpole Belts.

Eversden Wood is perhaps the dampest of all those in South Cambridgeshire.  Lying at the junction of Wimpole, Kingston and Eversden, on high, flat clay, perhaps this is the reason why the ancient woodland survived here untilled. Wellies are definitely needed to explore these woods in Winter.  At present, although pools persist on the rides, boots will suffice. The rides run between former coppice woods with standards, nowadays rather wild and unkempt.

Jealously guarded for pheasants, these woods also support a good selection of wild flowers in season.  In early spring, expect dog’s mercury (that indicator of ancient woodland), lesser celandines, and a few oxlips. Later, when we visited in May, we found a good spread of bluebells, ladies smocks, the yellow archangel, cowslips, bugle, ground ivy, greater stitchwort, pendulous sedge and wood sedge.. Young leaves on beech, hawthorn, field maple gave the rides a green glow. Later, there would be flowers of yellow pimpernel, silverweed, brooklime, figwort, red campion and angelica, as the leaves testify.  In mid-May, we saw some plants of early purple orchid, with spotted leaves, not yet in flower.

Where is waymarking much- needed?
Cambridgeshire County Council Team has acknowledged the need for more waymarking along paths in the County.  The Highway Authority has a statutory duty to signpost public paths where they leave a county road.

Waymarking along the length of a path is discretionary.  The County Council notes that the Local Access Forum regards waymarking as a priority.

Last Autumn Roger and I surveyed West Wickham, Horseheath and Balsham in South Cambs for further waymarking, and this was carried out by contractors early this year.  The Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke have waymarked a 25 mile route which has recently been promoted, also showing paths branching off along the route.

Do you have any suggestions? (Cambridgeshire only, please). If so, I will be delighted to pass them to Kate Day, at the County Council.

We have suggested, for example, that the long, cross-field path between Bassingbourn and Abington Pigotts is a prime candidate for re-waymarking, and this has been put on the waiting list.

Back issues of Cantab on CD
Thanks for the fan mail (to be shared with Norman De’ath, who did the index).  A cheque for £25 has gone to Ramblers’ Cambridge Group.

Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
Cantab usually appears every two months. A large number of you now receive Cantab by e-mail. By hand, 20p is appreciated towards the cost of paper and ink. If you would like to receive an issue by post, please send an A5 SAE, and a 20p stamp. Offers of brief articles will be gratefully received.

This is a privately produced magazine, and the views expressed are solely those of the editor, or of the author of an individual item. Janet Moreton 01223 356889


Price 20 pence where sold Cantab 57 © Janet Moreton, 2010

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