** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
This winter, may you never be benighted, lose a boot in the mud, or find that your waterproofs have started to leak! May all your (footpath) problems be little ones, but be sure to report them!Janet Moreton
Quotation of the Month “Sprouting up like cockles among the wheat” Ethelred the Unready describing the Danes.(With thanks to Lisa Woodburn)
Parish of the Month – Bedford
OS Explorer Sheet 208
The X5 bus runs from Parkers Piece in Cambridge to Oxford, free for holders of senior bus passes. Forget the well-advertised delights of Christmas shopping in Milton Keynes, but instead catch this half-hourly service as far as Bedford.
A previous ‘Cantab Rambler’ (No 42, July 2007), noted the availability of leaflets on The Bunyan Trail. Leaflets are also produced for the upper reaches of the Ouse Valley Way. Both of these, as well as town guides, and much else are available in the Tourist Information Office, by the Town Hall, off St Pauls Square (tel 01234 215226). Make your way there from the ‘bus station, going south towards the river.
As December is perhaps not the best month for starting a long distance path, why not spend the day exploring places of interest in and around Bedford?
On leaving the TiC, visit the impressive St Pauls Church, opposite. It was here, from “The Wesley Pulpit”, that John Wesley preached the Assize Sermon in 1758, on the theme “We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ”. But let us go back a further 100 years, to remember Bedford’s most famous son.
John Bunyan’s Bedford. Bunyan, 1628 -88, lived most of his life in and around Bedford. He was born in Elstow, over the river from Bedford, and followed his father’s trade as a tinker. He was a member of the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. On returning, he became friends with a pastor, John Gifford, within a simple independent congregation. In 1655, Bunyan moved to St Cuthbert’s Street, Bedford, and discovered a gift for preaching. In 1660, the Monarchy was restored, and the State sought religious uniformity, imprisoning influential nonconformists. Aged 32, Bunyan was imprisoned in the County Gaol, for 12 years. During this time, he wrote books and treatises, including his masterpiece, Pilgrims Progress.
Within Bedford, one can visit the site of Bunyan’s house, noting a plaque on 17 Cuthbert Street. Outside the former County Gaol is a plaque in the pavement. Much more interesting is the Bunyan Meeting House open Tues – Sat, 10 – 4. Bunyan’s statue stands on St Peter’s Green. It is possible to make an in-depth study of the life and work of Bunyan using facilities at the Bedford Central Library, and the County Library. The Bedford Museum is also interesting to students of natural history.
Cross the River Great Ouse, and walk (or catch a local bus) to Elstow, to visit The Abbey Church of St Helena & St Mary, C13th, restored 1880. Elstow Green, Elstow Cottages, and The Moot Hall have display panels which note connections with Bunyan.
A short circuit from Oakley, 6 miles. On arriving at Bedford Bus Station, go to Bay 10 for the half-hourly Service 51. Alight at Oakley Station Road. Visit the church, and take a pleasant footpath by the riverside and Stevington Belt to Stevington, detouring to visit the fine windmill. Take the Ouse Valley Way path to Pavenham, going into the village to admire the fine stone cottages, and perhaps visit the pub. Continue on the waymarked route to Boswell’s Holme. Here, note that there is a permissive path starting from a little bridge over a side ditch, to continue by the riverside in pasture to reach the road at Stafford Bridge. This avoids half-a-mile of road walking. Walk back into Oakley, to find a bus stop at TL 011 540.
Riverside & Priory Country Park. From St Paul’s Church, turn towards the river, and walk east along The Embankment, on a pleasant tree-lined avenue with flowerbeds. The Embankment gives onto a well-signed cycleway /pedestrian route leading to Priory Country Park. Within the park are toilets and a further information centre. It is possible to have an hour or two’s walk around the lake, in the meadows, and along the cycle track to Willington (which leads eventually to Sandy). Returning to Bedford, it is suggested that the Mill Meadows paths on the opposite side of the Great Ouse be used, crossing the river to return to High Street.
Bedford& Milton Keynes Waterways Trust. A display board on the Embankment near the High Street bridge describes the ambitious project of the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterways Trust to “close the gap” in the canal network and create a new waterway.
The original idea in 1811 came from Samuel Whitbread, a local brewer, who with other businessmen discussed the trade benefits of a link between The Great Ouse and what is now The Grand Union Canal. In 1994, a Bedford resident, Brian Young, founded The Trust, with the aim of implementing Whitbread’s ideas. As well as being a high priority link for the boating fraternity, the towpath of such a canal would provide new walking and cycling routes.
Between 2000 & 2006, British Waterways selected and completed technical studies on one of 9 possible routes. In 2007, planning permission was granted, and Lottery funding was secured for 6km of waterway between Grand Union and Willen Lake / M1. In 2008, planning permission from Stewartby to Wootton was granted, and land was acquired at Wootton in 2009, a new underpass being constructed under the A421 to accommodate the canal.
Here the story on the display board finishes, and one is invited to visit the website for up-to-date news. However, it seems likely that it will be some years before this canal towpath can be part of a guidebook route from Ouse to Severn! See: www.b-mkwaterway.co.uk
The Canal and River Trust. Continuing the general subject of canals, on 6 October 2011, a new charity of the above name was established, to tend 2000 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales (where it is called Glandwr Cymru).
The now-retiring Chief Executive of the Ramblers’ Association, Tom Franklin, is one of the transition trustees of this new organisation, reflecting the importance of waterway towpaths and riverbanks as part of the walkers’ inheritance.
Flora of Bedfordshire. A new 700pp volume is to be published by Bedfordshire Natural History Society in December at £42.50, prepublication price £35 incl. p/p before December. Cheques should be payable to the above Society, and sent to David Withers, 9 Lammas Way, Ampthill, Beds MK45 2TR
Old guide books, like old maps, are often historically fascinating, and can be very valuable as evidence of use of routes not recorded on County Councils’ definitive maps. However, out-of-date guidebooks are often dangerous companions on a walk, unless also possessed of an up-to-date map. Thus one of the guides to the Icknield Way Path unwisely stated beyond Burrough Green, “Turn right at the pink cottage”. Within two years of this having been written, the householder painted his cottage a cream-colour!
Immediately post WWII, I am aware of very few prescriptive walking guides for the Cambridge area. More popular were general descriptive tourist guides, with small sections on walking opportunities. Olive Cook, “Cambridgeshire” (Blackie & Son Ltd, 1955) is typical of this genre.
1970 saw the first publication by Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) of a set of leaflets “Walks and Rides around Cambridge” intended to be used to guide a walker around a recommended route. Costing 35p, there were 21 folded black / white A4 sheets at a 1:25 000 scale in a green cardboard packet. The routes were 3 to 6 miles long, with possible variants, and included Grantchester, Burwell, Longstanton, Boxworth, Kingston, Shepreth, Whittlesford, Linton and The Wilbrahams. The text gave public transport details, a few nature notes and points of interest. It is enlightening, that, without exception, not a single cross-field path in an arable field is used, for the simple reason that in 1970, hardly one cross-field path over an arable field would have been reinstated. The walks “around Cambridge” go as far away as Woodditton because so many paths were in poor condition that the number of reliable circuits was limited. We have so many more walks now, not because more rights-of-way have been added to the Definitive Map (although there has been a modest number of additions) but because nowadays, a majority of paths are usable, whereas in 1970, the majority were not. For example, on Babraham footpath 11, the bridge over the Cam at TL 499 513 was blown up during a WWII army exercise, and in spite of Ramblers’Association regular protestations, was not replaced until October 1987. Without this bridge, one of CCC’s routes, described in a later leaflet “Walks from the Roman Road – Wandlebury”, 1989 (30p) would not have been possible.
Meanwhile, back in 1970 among local enthusiast groups, The Linton District Amenity Society produced a little booklet, “The Footpaths of Linton District” (2.5p or 6d). Such paths in Linton as were usable were described, as were 4 walks into Hadstock parish. And Cambridge City Council took steps to offer walks guidebooks for the tourist. In 1979, it published “Country Walks around Cambridge”, followed in 1980, by “More Country Walks around Cambridge” (50p). The routes and walks descriptions were sourced by RA Cambridge Group. These walks of 4 – 17 miles are more ambitious and clearly include some cross field routes.
By 1980, most counties were publishing linear recreational walking routes. CCC’s first venture was with “The Wimpole Way”, the 11 mile waymarked route from Cambridge to Wimpole, in a leaflet (1st edition 1980, free, subsequent more colourful editions, 30p).
Meanwhile, Freddie Matthews and Harry Bitten from Essex RA had researched and published details of a “real” long distance path, “The Harcamlow Way” (1980, £1.20) forming a figure-of-eight from Harlow to Cambridge and back. For a few years, walkers joked that Freddie had sat down on Winter evenings and designed the route from his armchair! Certainly, these two hard-bitten Essex walkers pulled no punches – if they wanted to use a path, they put it in the guide, whether passable or not. But over the years, this (and the routes in their many other guides) were sorted out by Essex C.C. and CCC, and the Harcamlow Way is today on our Ordnance Survey sheets as a classic walk.
A guide to the walkers’ route for The Icknield Way, from Ivinghoe Beacon to Knettishall Heath, appeared first in 1984, following a couple of years’ intensive work by a committee of volunteers drawn from all the six counties involved.
Meanwhile, an historian Bruce Galloway completed a two volume survey of Walks in East Anglia, published by the St Edmundsbury Press in 1982. He felt it necessary to offer a disclaimer – “The author has gone to great lengths to ensure that the paths included on the maps in the book are open to public use, and that the route directions are accurate…” Even armed with an OS sheet of an unfamiliar area, walkers could still feel they were stepping out into a potentially hostile unknown.
Then, following a case before the Local Government Ombudsman in 1984, there was an upheaval in CCC, and a separate section was created for Rights of Way as opposed to there being a couple of staff in the Council’s Transportation Department. From that time forward, country walking was actively promoted by CCC.
With an improving path network, Cambridge RA group felt able to produce its first walking guide, “Walks in South Cambridgeshire” 1987 (23 walks of varying length), still in print in later editions, and a source of useful funding to the Group. Four other walks guides have been produced in later years.
Meanwhile, CCC’s Clopton Way leaflet (40p) appeared in 1990, and a number of circular walks were produced in 1989, including Devils Dyke Walks, Quy Fen Walks, Wicken, and several others, all over the county. A free County Council booklet, promoting public transport “Enjoying the Cambridgeshire Countryside” appeared in 1988, 1989, and a third edition in 1992, to be superseded by “Footloose and Carfree” in 1994. Meanwhile, the Council had promoted the local “P3” (Parish Paths Partnership) schemes, in which individual parishes were encouraged to improve their paths, and produce (free) walks leaflets. Such leaflets were produced for several parishes, including Cottenham (1990), Fulbourn, Teversham, The Wilbrahams. The “Beating the Bounds” series (ca 1994) came out in a cheaper monochrome format for e.g. Histon, Kirtling, Ely and many Huntingdon-shire parishes, but were difficult to hear of and obtain unless resident locally.
The Green Belt Project, operating under the aegis of CCC, did site work and produced leaflets price £1.50, with titles “Valley in the Chalk” (Shepreth& Barrington) in 1992; Fulbourn to Balsham (1995); Wilbraham Fen; Hobson’s Brook and Nine Wells.
CCC produced a guide to the Fen Rivers Way in 1995, over the limited route from Cambridge to Ely. This was extended by the Fen Rivers Way Association to Kings Lynn, and subsequent guides covering the whole route were produced by volunteers, a sign of increased liaison with CCC.
By 1995, the floodgates had opened in the bookshops, reflecting the degree of interest in countryside walking, and the realisation by many that pleasant rambling could be had in the flattest of counties. So we have a Cambs & Beds. volume in the Crowood Press “100 Walks” series ,1998 (£8.99), and Pub Walks in Cambridgeshire by G & J Pratt, Countryside Books, 1995. Niche markets have opened, so there are series on “Teashop Walks”, “Walks for Motorists” etc. The publishers of walking guidebooks discovered a profitable business, with only the Internet producing a little cloud on their horizon.
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