** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
I led a walk in late November, advertised as an opportunity to view late Autumn colours. We visited Hayley Wood, and were lucky to find still a reasonable number of leaves still hanging on the trees like tattered coloured prayer flags. But underfoot was a bright, if rather soggy carpet of leaves, to remind us of a pleasant dry Autumn.
Unless in Thetford Forest, and its conifer plantations, or visiting foreign parts on a Christmas jaunt, one is unlikely to have spectacular leaves, fungi, or indeed wild flowers to admire now. So I always consider Winter is particularly the time to seek out interesting buildings on a walk; to study our lovely local churches, or just to look at the lie of the land, its bare clay or chalk revealed.
So this Month’s parish, Meldreth, has rather more description of its buildings and history than usual. Tell me if you find this interesting, or if more walks’ details would be preferred.
Parish of the Month – Meldreth
On 18 November, I visited Meldreth Community Hall, for an “open day” in which a wealth of information on the history of the village, and its present activities were displayed. I took notes, and augmented this by some reading, especially in Alison Taylors’s “Archaeology of Cambridgeshire”, Vol. 1, published by Cambs.C.C in 1997.
The parish covers 976 ha, of flattish chalkland in the valley of the Rhee.. Like most of South Cambridgeshire, human occupation goes back a long way. The Neolithic Age is represented by finds of an axe, flints and pottery in the village. A smith’s hoard of the Late Bronze Age was found near the station (including 27 axes, 3 spears, 9 swords, and 15 lumps of bronze). Iron Age shards of pottery were found near the bypass. From Roman times, a lead coffin containing a bronze armlet, a perfume bottle and a coin of Cunobelin were found at Mettle Hill in 1816. Since then, several stone coffins have been found at Mettle Hill (one of which is now kept in the church nave), and pottery and bronze items,C1 – 4th were found in the north of the parish.
Saxon; Norman; Medieval…
Mettle Hill, called Motloweyhil in 1319, was the site of the moot for Armingford Hundred, probably on the same slight mound that the Romans had used to bury their stone coffins.
The oldest part of Holy Trinity Church is C12th, built on the site of an earlier wooden church, recorded as “monasterium” in Domesday. The church is of rubble, with external clunch walls, the present heavy rendering dating from 1838-42. The fine lofty interior has a Perpendicular S aisle arcade of 5 bays. The narrow Norman chancel has 3 tall Norman windows, and a thin narrow one, depicting a monk kneeling before the Lamb of God. The lower stages of the tower date from the late C12th, with upper stages built a century later. The font and parish chest are C15th, as is the king-post roof. The C15th stalls with carved poppy heads were taken from a Suffolk church. Remnants of the screen are late C15th, made up and installed in the C19th. In 1658, George Pyke of Sheene Manor left £120 for the building of a funerary chapel to the E of the S aisle. The fine peal of 8 bells has the tenor dating from 1617.
A moated site off Bury Lane (byway 12) still marks the position of successive Sheene Manor houses, once owned by St Evroul Abbey in France after the Norman Conquest, then by Sheene Priory in Surrey by 1415. The present house , seen best through Winter trees, has an incomplete moat.
Much easier to view from footpath 6 at any time of year is Topcliffe’s Mill, opposite the church. The path goes directly past the mill-race. The site of Topcliffe’s Manor (mentioned in texts from 1290) was by a moat S of the church. In 1380, there was a thatched house & gateway. In 1553, the Manor was granted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. In 1617 and 1631, the Mill and Manor Close were leased to Robert Halfhead. Sadly, the mill ceased to operate in 1942. Also in the parish were Church Mill, Sheene Mill, and Flambard’s Mill, of which there is now no sign.
Vesey’s Manor stood on a moated site next to Topcliffe’s. Another moat surrounded Flambard’s Manor, again long gone, but whose name is remembered in Flambard’s Close, at the end of which a footbridge gives access to Footpath 6, beside the R.Mel.
By the C19th, the houses in the parish were grouped in 5 hamlets: at North End; around the church; along High Street and at Manor Close; at Chiswick End; and around Sheene Mill. Meldreth seems always to have been well-populated, with ca 200 residents in Domesday, a population of 1931 recorded in the 1851 census, and ca. 1800 in 2000.
The group of properties by the railway station dated from the coming of the railway in 1851. The simple 2-storey Great Northern station, with a station house, goods-shed, warehouse stabling, and row of 6 cottages completed a small railway settlement. Between 1892 and the 1950s, there was also a tramway, running from the cement works to the station.
Like the rest of the chalk belt from Leighton Buzzard to Burwell, Meldreth was affected by Coprolite mining in Cambridgeshire in the C19th., the crushed and treated fossil deposits being used as fertiliser, as containing 35 – 60% phosphate. The Cambridgeshire Collection has an old photo (ca.1880) of railway waggons taking Coprolites from Whaddon to Meldreth Station.
The 1820 map of the parish, just before Inclosure shows several large fields: Little Field; Chiswick End Field; Little Holme; Synacroft; Mantry Field; Hollow Field; Down Field; Northfield. If this represents the relic of the medieval 3-field system, then it must reflect the effect of more than one Manor in the parish, each with its own set of fields. The 1st Edition of the Ordnance Survey sheet for Meldreth, at 25 inches/mile is dated 1887. An interesting 1910 Land Valuation Duty map exists. Older maps show areas of orchards. Many of these were grubbed out in the 1950s, but Fieldgate Nurseries (established 1969) and the Cam Valley Orchards still provide an opportunity for buying local produce.
The present OS Sheets (Landranger 154, Explorer 209) show a reasonable network of public paths in the parish, numbered up to 14 on Cambs.C.C’s definitive map. Paths between Meldreth and its “sister” parish Melbourn are somewhat debased by the need to cross both the railway and the bypass, the latter built 1988. Crossing the railway is easy, but requires the usual care on a busy line. The bypass can give trouble to cross at peak times – avoid especially late afternoon in dim Winter light, as commuters start home…
Many pleasant circuits are possible, starting, for example, from a small carpark opposite the church (but not on a Sunday morning), or from the railway station.
Thus, from the church, take fp 4 to Malton Lane, N along the lane to Malton Cottages, across the field to walk by the R.Mel to Orwell. Here inspect the new Chapel Orchard (picnic site), and the chalk pit (nature reserve). Return via the path to the golf course, crossing the R.Cam at King’s Bridge, and thence to Whaddon. Return on fp 2 from the cement works to near Meldreth Church (8 miles).
The energetic can extend the walk from Orwell to Wimpole Hall (12 miles). Again starting from the stile beside Meldreth church, take fields parallel to the road on fp 3, to return to the road to Shepreth. Turn off across Shepreth L-Moor and exit towards Shepreth church. Take the path past the rear of the zoo, and over the railway to Barrington. Return along the green, to Dumpling Cottages, and past young woodland back to Malton Lane, by the Meridian Stone. Take the path to the R.Mel, returning to the road at Malton Cottages, and so back to Meldreth. (7 miles).
The most attractive path in Meldreth is fp 6, from opposite the church, passing the old mill, and running through woodland, beside the R.Mel. It crosses the railway, beyond which is a choice of routes through to Melbourn recreation ground. Turn W to pick up Bury Lane, cross the bypass (twice), and use the ancient Ashwell Street towards Kneesworth. (When last here, we were relieved to see the fly-tipping had been cleared). Turn N up a good path behind Kneesworth hospital. Beyond the farm shop on Chestnut Lane, turn left, then soon right on a footpath N to Whaddon. Visit Church, or golf-course café, again returning via the cement works (7 miles)
For a satisfying linear walk, from Cambridge take the train to Meldreth. Return on foot through Shepreth L-Moor reserve, Barrington, Chapel Hill, Haslingfield, Cantelupe Farm Road and bridleway, Grantchester (the orchard tearoom?) and so to Cambridge by the riverside and Paradise. (13 miles)
Essex Bridleway Improvement
An historic bridleway linking Hainault Forest with Havering Country Park, now provides permanent access to Woodland Trust land at the adjoining Havering Park Farm. Previously, a section of the Havering Link leading through the forest had been impassably muddy in Winter, but the new, slightly diverted route will be accessible year round.
The Woodland Trust acquired 4 fields at Havering early 2006. Three of these fields are to be returned to wood-pasture: already cattle have been brought in to graze. The fourth field was once part of the forest, and has been restored with 10 000 native broadleaf trees, planted by local schoolchildren & scouts..
Norfolk last October
A party primarily of Ramblers’ Association Cambridge Group had a very pleasant mid-week break in Norfolk in October. Most of us stayed at Butterfly Cottage, (email@example.com; tel. 01263 768198) in Aldborough, not far from Blickling, where we were most comfortable, and very well fed.
Our first (afternoon only) walk was centred on nearby Blickling Park. All went well within the park, but on venturing down a signed path towards the R. Bure, the boardwalk gave out abruptly some 100m before the river bank, and the innocent-looking grass beyond was found to be some 4 inches or more deep in water! Having survived this hazard, the walking for the remainder of the week was dry underfoot on predominantly sandy soils.
On 3 subsequent days, we enjoyed a mixture of country and coast each day with 10 – 12 mile walks based on Sheringham, Wells and Cromer. The walk along the sand at Wells on a falling tide, on a day of quiet clear beauty was voted the top experience of the week. On the last day, some of the party lingered for a morning walk round The Walsinghams and Great Snoring.
Whilst Norfolk walking is within 1.5 – 2 hours driving from Cambridge, taking a few days away with friends provides a much more relaxing break, and the opportunity to share knowledge of attractive venues beyond the scope of the normal weekly walking programme.
Claiming old paths in Little Shelford
We were sorry to learn recently that two paths claimed as rights of way at Little Shelford on the basis of 20 years uninterrupted use by local people had failed to satisfy Cambridgeshire County Council’s criteria for a Modification Order under The Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981. In this case the relevant 20 year period was between ca 1950 and 1970, which means that many former users are now dead, and others, obviously, have less-than-clear memories of the exact situation. While some County Councils insist on a minimum number of witnesses (six seems to be a common minimum), this does not seem to have been the problem in this case.
However, the organiser of the campaign, Peter Dean, (tel. 01223 846343) would like to hear from any older readers who used the footpath from Garden Fields, to the end of Bradmore Lane, or Cow Walk and a footpath through the woods to The Wale Recreation Ground.
Cut the Clutter!
The Open Spaces Society has just produced a new information sheet, C18, “Removing and Improving Path – paraphernalia“. Written by Chris Beney, the document is available at £5 from the Open Spaces Society, 25A, Bell St., Henley-on-Thames, Oxon, RG9 2BA.
Methods of reducing unnecessary and undesirable structures on public paths, such as gates and stiles are outlined. We are told how to identify such structures, establishing their legality, and, where appropriate, getting them removed or altered. For most people, the need to open (and close) a gate, or climb a stile is an inconvenience on a path, but if one is less-able, then such footpath furniture might prove an insurmountable obstacle.
Chris Beney states “Government is committed to the rule of using the least-restrictive option on paths, but this is not often followed in practice, despite there being a British Standard, BS5709:2006, which gives clear guidance on how to achieve it.”
Stop Linton Wind Farm
RA Cambridge Group’s Committee has been approached by the Stop Linton Wind Farm Group about the implications for walkers and other “users”, and the impact of a proposed wind farm both on routes and on the landscape. The proposal is for eight turbines some 125 metres high stretching down the ridge from Catley Park to the Cam Grain silos near the Cambridge to Linton Road. There are fears that if one such development is approved, other landowners might be tempted to make similar proposals.
If readers of Cantab Rambler wish to know more about the proposal, please visit
Falling off a gate…
It was reported in the last issue of Cantab that Roger injured himself falling from a locked gate obstructing a public path from Stretham to Wilburton, East Cambs.
It was found later that Roger had broken his collar bone. After 10 weeks, there is some improvement, but he is still wearing a sling much of the time, and is not yet driving. Many thanks to all who have offered sympathy and help. Although we reported the incident promptly to Cambs.C.C, it was over 3 weeks before a Council Officer inspected the site, and longer before we learned that the farmer disclaimed knowledge of the correct line of the path. Roger has yet to receive an apology.
The December Quotation
“I have finished another year, said God,
In grey, green, white, and brown;
I have strewn the leaf upon the sod,
Sealed up the worm within the clod,
And let the last sun down.”
Thomas Hardy, “New Year’s Eve“
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Cantab44 © Janet Moreton, 2007.