** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
With Spring advancing, we will all be more willing to revisit walks on the heavy clay lands. Parish of the Month – Croydon cum Clopton, has some excellent walking, but also some heavy cross-field paths which are only recommended when the surface has dried. Most of the paths are in good order, but two or three have a reputation for tardy cross-field reinstatement, so should you find these out of order, please report your findings (with date of observation) to Kate Day, Head of Countryside Access Team, Cambridgeshire County Council, or just send an e-mail to me.
Croydon cum Clopton
Landranger Sheet 153 (Bedford & Hunts.) Pathfinder Sheets 1026 (Royston), 1003. Explorer Sheet 208 (Bedford & St Neots)
There were originally 2 medieval parishes, which were united in 1561. Enclosure of the open field system was complete by 1600. Evidence exists of prehistoric settlement, and more abundant traces of Roman occupation. Valley Farm excavations found Roman seal-ring, broach, and pottery. Signs of a small riverside Roman villa amounted to not only bricks & roof tiles but also a sandstone pillar, painted wall-plaster, and mosaic fragments.
The sad story of Clopton
Excavations of the deserted village at Clopton also found traces of Roman occupation, followed by early and late Anglo-Saxon settlements. Pocot, the Norman Sherrif, cultivated his garden here in 1086. The village expanded in the C12th, and by the C13th growth was such that the hill above the site was terraced to allow for expansion. The road to Croydon was improved with side-drainage, and the High Street cobbled and re-aligned round the church.
One Manor House, Clopton Bury, owned by Robert Hoo in late C13th, is now only visible as an approximately circular moat in the NE of the site. From the late C14th, Bury Manor passed to owners outside the village. The other manor, Rowses, (located S of Rowses Wood) was held by the Bishop of Winchester until the mid-C12th, when it passed to the Crown. Both manors were held by the Haselden family in the C14th, and passed to the Cloptons in the C15th.
Clopton reached its peak of importance in the C14th. There was a Friday market from the C13th, and a new church dated from 1352. About 1490, the land was bought by the Fisher family, who converted the ridge and furrow agriculture to sheep-pasture. By use of lawsuits of dubious legality, they forced their neighbours, including the rector, from their land. In 1525, only 5 labourers remained in Clopton, and in 1561, when only 2 houses remained and the church lay in ruins, the village was declared extinct, and the parish combined with Croydon.
Tailboys Manor, well documented before C16th, may have stood S of the village, between moats which were destroyed in 1968. Frances Manor was sold in C16th to Anthony Cage of Longstowe. His son built Croydon Wilds (named on some old maps), but this house with a brick tower was demolished in the 1950s. In all there are 5 deserted moated sites. Croydon shrank in the C15th, and earthworks of house-platforms can be seen SW of the church. The church itself, of the decorated period, stands up the lane leading to Manor Farm. The interior arcades & walls all lean outwards. The Norman font and Jacobean pulpit remain. Red-brick rebuilding of the chancel and part of the south transept are attributal to Sir George Downing (buried here in 1684). By this period, Croydon had become part of the estate of the Downing family, so interesting maps and records survive in Downing College, Cambridge.
In 1996, the population of the combined parish was about 200 people.
Walking the paths
Walking is on clay 25m above sea level by the R.Cam or Rhee, but going up to 75 m on the steep chalk slope above the village. The parish has 23 rights of way, a majority in good order.
The Clopton Way, named after the deserted village, runs for 11 miles between Gamlingay and Wimpole. It enters the parish from the E along fp 7 from Arrington, turns briefly S down the lane from Manor Farm, and follows Croydon High Street, past the “Queen Adelaide” public house. Crossing Larkins Road, the route continues along bp 13, to visit the medieval site of Clopton (which has an information panel at the entrance to the site). The path continues W, with good views of the Rhee Valley, and of the high land in Hertfordshire to the S. The path crosses a drive (to Top Farm and the B1042), soon leaving Croydon parish, before continuing to New England Farm, Cockayne Hatley, Potton Wood, and Gamlingay.
Recommended circuits from Croydon.
There is a small carpark at the junction of High Street with Larkins Road, otherwise suggested parking (not Sundays) is on the verge near the church. Very limited space exists along the narrow street in the village. For some circuits, parking at Wimpole or Hatley may be preferred.
(1) Old moats. 1.5 miles
From Croydon, go SSE on fp 21 from the village noticeboard on High Street, at TL 313493 to the B1042, where turn right (W), and return on fp 20 to the High Street.
Fp 21, starts down a field edge, but soon launches out across a large arable field, continuing through 2 more little fields to the road. (This route is best in dry conditions!) The return fp 20 follows field edges, giving good views of old moats, and returns to the village up an old wooded lane, emerging beside a garden. Time to visit the pub!
(2) Croydon, Wendy, Wimpole, Arrington ca. 7 miles
From Croydon High Street, take the signed fp 20 down the wooded lane, then following field edges to the B1042. Turn left along the road verge to find the signed fp 18 going SSE along a grass baulk towards the R Rhee. It continues across a short stretch of field to the river bank, where the path turns right, crossing a footbridge over a side-stream, and then a second bridge over the river. It enters a paddock behind the Church Farm complex, Wendy. Follow waymarks past the farmyard & out down the drive. You have now left Croydon behind, since the river forms the parish boundary, but walk left (E) along the road. Beyond the church, find a signpost for a path on the right crossing a short piece of arable, before zig-zagging round grass headlands to the edge of Road Farm, on the Old North Road. Turn N up the verge, and cross with care to use the bridleway E along the North Road farm-drive. Beyond the farm, turn left (N) up the Avenue, skirting an overgrown lake, and continuing to cross the A603 near the transport café. Continue over a stile opposite, and through kissing-gates to the Wimpole drive. Turn left (W) along the drive. Cross Old North Road, and walk through Arrington to the Church. Turn right up Church Lane, and follow the Clopton Way markers up steps into & through a pasture, joining a route running along by a belt of trees. This skirts a modern (fortified?) farmhouse, and becomes fp 7 in Croydon. At TL 313499, the path does a sharp turn SE by a tall hedge, and leads down past the church back to Croydon.
(3) Hill climbing!
Three paths fps 8, 10, and 12 lead from High street onto the ridge, and give access to some fine walking towards Hatley.
Fp 8 starts up the drive beside the Queen Adelaide pub, and goes up steeply through paddocks, crossing 2 stiles. It skirts the garden of a house on the hill and continues N in a narrow hedged way, to join bp 6 from Manor Farm, at the corner of farm buildings.
Fp 10 starts up the side of a house, signed on High Street, crosses a stile, and goes a little less steeply up a grassy field. Fp 12 goes over a stile beyond the last house in the village, again up the field. All join the ridge-route, fp 9, at the top, leading to Croydon Hill Road. (Note fp 11, nominally joining fps 8 & 10 is blocked by an electricity sub-station, at ca. TL 312 494).
(4) Three options N from Croydon – an easy circuit; or towards Hatley; or Old North Road: 3.5 miles; 10 miles plus; or 8 miles.
From High Street, take one of the routes described in Section (3) up the hill, and emerge on Croydon Hill Road at TL 305494. Turn right on the road, and soon right again to join Croydon fp 5, which follows a field-edge by a decayed belt of trees to TL 299508.* Here turn right following the track by the hedge, and right again at TL 303510.** Follow bp 6 back through Manor farmyard, past the church to the village. This bridleway is lined with daffodils in March.
For a longer circuit, from *, turn left through a gate, and follow the bp back to the road.
Turn right, and soon you pass into Hatley parish. Visit East Hatley Church, whose structure has recently been wonderfully restored. Take good bridleways to the N of the Hatleys over to Hayley Wood, returning to **, thence back to Croydon via Manor Farm.
A third option, turns left at **, and takes bridleways along firm farmtracks (bps 3, 2) to the site of Croydon Wilds at TL 304515. Continue to TL 300 522, to turn right, NE along the attractive, wooded Croydon Old Lane (br 1). This continues in the parish of Longstowe, to meet the Old North Road. Walk S down the verge, turning back towards Croydon on a path starting just beyond the woodland at TL 322522. This path becomes Croydon bp 3, and joins bp 6, leading back to Manor Farm. (Of the little stub of path, Croydon fp 23, at TL 307 515, there is no trace on the ground. At one time, this joined the dead-end path in Arrington, but the centre portion was extinguished, thus depriving walkers of a valuable circuit).
(5) A circuit W and S of Croydon. 6 miles.
Warning! This route is not for the faint-hearted! The routes of the rights of way in Shingay are not easy to find, and may be in long vegetation.
Walk W along High Street, to find fp 19, at TL 311 492, with its sign pointing S across an arable field, the path often not reinstated. Go diagonally across the field to a footbridge, and then an easy field edge, and lane lead to Larkins Road. Go S and cross the B1042, to find fp 17 signed over a stile. Cross a grass field, looking for a bridge over a ditch hidden in the hedge opposite. Cross the next field, to a high bridge over the Rhee. A path continues in Shingay, sometimes nettly, beside the moats of the site of the medieval Knights Templar hospice. Emerge onto the minor road; turn right (W) and re-enter the field adjacent to the Manor Farm drive. The route of the bridleway crosses the river on a wide bridge , becoming bp 16 in Croydon. This continues pleasantly in the river meadows, emerging through a gate onto the B1042 by a large house (formerly the Downing Arms pub, then known as the “scratching cat”). Walk W along the road verge, cross, and go up the drive towards Top Farm, turning right at the path junction to return to Croydon on the Clopton Way, bp 13.
Archaeology of Cambridgeshire – Vol 1.
SW Cambridgeshire by Alison Taylor
Cambs. C.C. 1997. pp. 36 – 37.
ISBN 1 870724 84 4
Cambridgeshire, a Shell Guide by Norman Scarfe Faber & Faber, 1983. p.118
ISBN 0 571 09817 7
Clopton Way – leaflet publ. by Cambs.CC (undated) 40p.
A bit of Culture?
Until 1 July this year, the University Library has a (free) exhibition, entitled, “Visible Language” It celebrates ways in which the poet Dante (1265 – 1321) has been interpreted in text & image over seven centuries.
On a damp day, we took a walk along The Backs, and looked for snowdrops in Burrell’s Walk, before seeking shelter in the exhibition. Here was an unexpected feast for the eyes..
I noted a suitable quotation, too:
“In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray. Gone from the path direct…”
Inferno, 1 -3, trans. H.F.Cary
More about Bassingbourn Barracks – Letter to the Editor…
“As you know I walked thru BB with the RR (Royston Ramblers) on Sunday 15th Jan.
Just to let you know outcome. I called into G Room on Sat to remind them we were coming. A kindly guard gave me his mobile no. in case the ‘phones were down again.
There were 26 of us on Sunday…Gulp. I rang ahead, 10 mins notice but no-one was at the gate. After 5 mins I rang again-somebody on way. Another delay & a member of the gp noticed a soldier gesticulating from a gate further N. I waved back but told gp we were not to use incorrect gate & called GR again. Apparently the wrong entrance had been listed in the ‘daily orders’ that reminded GR we were coming [!]
A very nice Sgt walked us through, gave us copies of 1945 aerial photo of site & talked about Memphis Belle. Said they always welcomed visitors ??[visitors????]
At one point path has been encroached on by a fence & is only 12 to 18 in wide. Probably why I was told on another occasion that path was built on & impassable as that soldier was rather portly. We squeezed through.
So we did it but it didn’t feel like an everyday ramble on a public R o W.
From Sue Hedges
Unrecorded Public paths
The Summer 2004 issue of “Open Space” contained a thoughtful article by Chris Beney on how unrecorded rights of way in town and countryside may be lost. Noting the “slow-motion” action in registering some “Lost Ways” by Cambs.C.C., I am disposed to ponder the issue afresh. The Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 imposed a cut-off date of January 2026, when all footpaths and bridleways that existed in England and Wales prior to 1949, but were not on the definitive map, would be extinguished, and have public rights removed. The Act went on to note exceptions, but, generally, we should assume that action needs to be taken now to collect evidence of such unrecorded paths, and to have them processed by Highway Authorities, and added to the County’s Definitive Map by means of a legal Order. The Act will not affect fresh dedications of paths based on evidence of a recent 20 year periods of unchallenged public usage.
The Countryside Agency and DEFRA are working with other organisations to record “Lost Ways”, and Cambs. C.C. has a “Lost Ways” project, looking at a few dozen candidates within the county. The legal searches seem to take a very long time for each path, and only a very few paths seem to be added to the Definitive Map annually. We are concerned that many of those paths for which evidence has been collected will not have been processed by 2026, both in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere. DEFRA has indicated the government’s intention to amend the law by Statutory Instrument to exempt paths for which claims had been registered, but not processed by 2026. But we would be unwise to rely on this, as governments and their attitudes can change (several times!) in the intervening years.
Chris Beney lists categories of paths he considers most at risk: (a) alleyways & short links between other ways; (b) farmtracks, paths & lanes, perhaps unsurfaced, which may or may not be on the County’s “list of streets”; (c) short cuts across corners; and (d) the numerous errors on the definitive map, where the path stops just short of its destination. Chris Beney gives the example that a locked gate across a track on 2 Jan 2026 could destroy the through route!
Action? Local knowledge is vital. E.G.
Residents of Little Shelford have recently claimed two “Lost Ways” for which Cambs.C.C. is considering the evidence (slowly). Can you help? Think about it.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post: Issue 35.
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© Janet Moreton, 2006.