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CANTAB30 May 2005

CANTAB30 May 2005 published on

** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **


Following the November 2004 issue of “Cantab“, which was given over almost entirely to Balsham, as parish of the month, I received a modest amount of feedback.  Some folk said that, while they had enjoyed reading of the history of Balsham, and suggestions for less obvious walks, they would have liked the usual additional “snippets” of local walking information.

One other comment was to the effect that a comprehensive discourse on a parish was appreciated, but enlarging the magazine would allow for other topics to be covered!  For reasons of time and economy of paper, there are no plans to increase the size of “Cantab” at present, so I resolved to keep the popular “Parish of the Month” series within bounds. However, in this issue, there seemed much to say about Gamlingay, so the resolve has, once again, been stretched.  So I hope you will find something of interest in the discussion of South Camb’s most outlying parish!

Janet Moreton

Parish of the Month – Gamlingay
(OS Landranger Sheet 153, Explorer 208)
Normally, I would chose the month’s parish for its paths – either a dense network allowing a wide variety of walks, or at least a set or well-maintained or interesting paths which allow circuits.  Gamlingay has neither of these things!  It has 13 rights of way, but these constitute a rather fragmentary network. Note, however, that waymarks on local paths were recently renewed by Ramblers’ Association volunteers from Cambridge Group.  The parish does have mostly a dry sandy soil, giving good walking in damp weather; it lies at the ends of two long distance paths; and it has three nature reserves, of which one, Gamlingay Wood, allows particularly pleasant walking.

Buildings and history (1, 2)
Gamlingay is an interesting place, with the atmosphere of a little town.  Although just within South Cambs. District, its red-brick buildings in the old quarter have more the atmosphere of Bedfordshire and the Midlands.

Gamlingay, “the land of Gamlea’s people”, grew up on the N side of the valley of the Millbridge Brook. Domesday records give the name as Gamelinge or Gamelingei. From medieval times, it was always the largest settlement in the locality, and retained its traders and craftsmen after the loss of its market, following a devastating fire in 1600. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin is in the Decorated & Perpendicular style, the interior containing some C15th woodwork.  The almshouses in Church Street were built 65 years after the fire.

Merton Manor Farm had connections with Merton College, Oxford, from 1268, when Walter de Merton bought the estate, and passed it to his house of scholars. Parts of the present farm date from the C15th.

A manor house belonging to the Avenel family is recorded from the C12th to the C14th at Dutter End.  The house is gone but the hedged bank of its deer park is still visible in places. In 1712, Sir George Downing bought the old deer park, and used material from his manor house in East Hatley to build a mansion in formal gardens.  Sadly, this house was demolished only 50 years after its building, following family feuds, after Sir George Downing’s fortune went to the founding of Downing College, Cambridge in 1800.

Natural History
Gamlingay is a very large parish, at a height of 25 – 75 m,  mostly on the greensand, but with patches of clay in the far north & south of the parish, and also to the east of the village itself. Very poor drainage in some places has created acidic bogs.

The Wildlife Trust guide (3) describes 3 nature reserves within the parish.

Gamlingay Meadow, TL 222 510, is approached from the road to Gamlingay Great Heath & Sandy.  After 1.5 miles a track leads to the reserve accessible through a kissing-gate, and one is advised to park on the verge.  The meadow is a residual fragment of the heath on acidic greensand which once covered this area. It is adjacent to an attractive wood of birch and beech (inaccessible).  The meadow comprises an area where the sand is thin, and the underlying gault clay produces boggy grassland. Plants noted in season are marsh willowherb, and marsh birds-foot trefoil.

The other end of the meadow lies on Footpath 4,an earlier turning off the same road, and which is part of a through route to Potton, and can be incorporated into a wider walk.

Gamlingay Cinques, TL 226 529, is a small area of gorse, rough grass and trees.  It was once quarried for sand, creating hollows which expose the underlying neutral gault clay, thus creating unique botanical habitats. At suitable seasons expect heather, heath bedstraw, ladies smocks and slender St John’s wort.
Adjacent to the reserve is a most useful car park, regularly frequenterd by walkers on the Clopton Way (4), and the Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge walks (5).

Gamlingay Wood an SSSI, has car-parking at TL 241 537, off the B1040 to Waresley.  It consists of 120 acres of ancient mixed wood-land, parts of which belonged to Merton College, Oxford from 1268 to 1959, and is one of the best documented woods in the UK. The ancient wood grows on a mixture of soils, and is especially good for wildflowers in April and May, with oxlip, dog’s mercury, bluebell, yellow archangel, violets and wood anemone. A circuit of the woodland, making about 2 miles, is highly recommended. There are clear paths, punctuated with benches, and  several rides cross the wood.

More recently has been added a substantial area (Sugley “Wood”) to the east, which is being allowed to revert to scrub and natural woodland, encouraged by deliberate seeding from the adjacent old trees.

Do not attempt to walk to the wood along the B1040 from either Gamlingay or Waresley – there is no footway and the road is busy.  Instead, take Footpath 1 from Dutter End at TL 246 525.  Where the right of way turns left on a track at TL 244 527, instead turn right on a permitted path, courtesy of Merton College, Oxford.  At ca. TL 245 530, turn left on a newly planted avenue, and walk up to the rear of the wood, where a kissing-gate gives access at TL 243 533.

Walking opportunities
The Clopton Way(4)  is an 11 mile linear walk to Wimpole, starting from Gamlingay Cinques carpark. It traverses Potton Wood, and visits the interesting church at Cockayne Hatley, Beds.  Passing back into Cambs. at Hatley Gate, the path runs along the ridge above the B1042, going through the site of Clopton medieval village. The route continues through Croydon (perhaps with a refreshment break at The Queen Adelaide?), before using paths into Arrington, and finishes in style down the driveway to Wimpole Hall.

The Clopton Way is covered by OS Landranger Sheets 153, 154.  A leaflet is available from Cambridgeshire County Council (tel.01223 717450).  Note that waymarks along the route are presently rather faded or decayed, but there should be no route-finding problems.

The Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge Walk(5) is a 40 mile linear route, which starts over the Cambs. border at Gamlingay Cinques carpark. It follows a prominent line of hills across Bedfordshire, in attractive scenery, and on mostly dry soils of the lower greensand geological deposit.  From Gamlingay, the well-waymarked route runs SW very pleasantly through parkland, passing Woodbury Hall, to Everton, where there is a pub. The line continues on a bridleway through the RSPB reserve at Sandy Warren, and descends to lower ground through Beeston, and Northill.  Trending S, then W, the route passes through Haynes, then makes for Clophill. The path passes Houghton House (John Bunyan’s “Palace Beautiful”), and reaches its half-way mark in Ampthill. The walk goes through Eversholt and Woburn, and finishes in Leighton Buzzard.

A leaflet is available from Bedfordshire Leisure Services Tourist Info Office, Bedford, 10 St Pauls Square, MK40 1SL, 01234 215226,  Landranger Sheets 153 and 165 cover the route.

Local walks round Gamlingay
The shortage of paths in the wider locality (and especially in the adjacent Waresley parish) makes it difficult to arrange longer circular routes based on Gamlingay, but the following short circuit of 3.5miles within the village gives an impression of the area.  If combined with a visit to Gamlingay Cinques reserve and there-and-back visits to Gamlingay Wood from Dutter End, and Gamlingay meadow from Dennis Green, the route could be extended to up to 9 miles.

From the church, walk E up Church End to Dutter End.  At TL 246 526, turn NW on Footpath 1 on a track between fields. At TL 244 528, optionally  turn right for Gamlingay Wood, but to continue the circuit, turn left here, trending W to exit on Arenells Way.  Turn left, and walk to Church Street. (Note the almshouses on the left). Turn right to the cross-roads in the village. Continue ahead to Green End, to find a “Public Footpath ” sign in front of the Wale Group Building.  Footpath 10 wends its way, mostly in a fenced defile, between industry and housing onto Gamlingay Cinques Road.  Turn left to walk down the road to Gamlingay Cinques carpark. (Visit the reserve, if desired, via a kissing gate at rear of car-park). To continue the circuit turn left in front of the carpark, across rough grass, and onto a grassy access track between houses.  The track (Footpath 9) passes between properties, and continues between fenced paddocks.  At TL 226 526, turn left onto Footpath 8.  This goes SE as a grass/earth track between fences and hedges, emerging on a gravel access drive onto Heath Road at TL 231 520. (Optionally, turn right on the road for an out-and-back visit Gamlingay Meadow, turning left at the sign, TL 227 517). Otherwise, turn left along the road, then turn right (S) down Dennis Green, which veers E, and leads you back towards the village.Emerging from West Road, turn left on Mill Street.

Next to house 19A, cycle barriers control access to Footpath 3,  a passage running E between garden boundaries onto Stocks Lane.  Continue in the same direction along what becomes Station Road, passing the Village College on the right, and Merton Manor House and its dovecote on the left.. Footpath 2 turns off NE at TL 244 521, signed up a tarmac drive, at the end of which the RoW turns left, to continue as a well-used path in grass.  A bridge crosses a stream and the path continues WNW across a small grass field to exit into St Mary’s Road, near the church.

Other Paths
Of the other rights of way in the parish, Footpath 4 to Potton via Potton Bridleway 11.  Presently two of its stiles are in poor condition – take care!
Footpath 5 runs from Potton Road to Potton Wood, continuing as a permissive path in Potton Wood.
Footpath 7 is a somewhat obscure path between Potton Road (where it starts through the gate of Alicattery of Everton) and emerging through the garden of ‘Bladen’, house no. 25, Everton Road.
Footpath 13 is a short cut in the village between Stocks Lane and Mill Street.
Bridleway 11, off Long Lane, (TL 267 531 – 270 523) is well-used, being part of a route between Hatley St George & Little Gransden.  Bridleway 6 needs good nerves, and careful observation of approaching aircraft, as it crosses the Fullers Hill airfield.
Bridleway 12 is an extension of this path, at TL 263 540 joining Bridleway 6 in Little Gransden.

Janet Moreton

Further Reading

1. South Cambridgeshire Official Guide, Publ. South Cambridgeshire District Council.

2. Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Vol. 1, South West Cambridgeshire, by Alison Taylor
Publ. Cambridgeshire County Council, 1997. ISBN 1 870724 84 4. pp. 51 – 52.

3. Your Guide to Nature Reserves in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
Ed. Sarah Wroot, Publ. The Wildlife Trust, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, 1993. ISBN 0 9520788 0 5. pp. 80 – 85.

4. Clopton Way – Gamlingay to Wimpole.
Folded, illustrated leaflet, with sketch map. Publ. Cambridgeshire County Council, Rural Management Division, undated.  40p.

5. The Greensand Ridge Walk.
A3 folded, illustrated leaflet, with sketch map. Publ. Beds. Leisure Services Dept. (see page 2).

Quotation of the Month
“Landscape is silent until you unlock the codes.  The English landscape with its fields and hedges is just an agreeable and apparently arbitrary patchwork of shape and colour until you know something of its private language.  But when these undulations become ridge and furrow, when that die-straight hedgerow is an enclosure boundary, when those lumps and bumps are a deserted medieval village, then the whole place speaks…”

Penelope Lively, “A house unlocked”. Penguin 2002

Preserving our interests – Some Outdoor Charities
The Open Spaces Society
This Society, formally The Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, was founded in 1865, and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and the public’s right to enjoy them. It advises local authorities and the public, and manages and preserves open spaces acquired by gift or purchase. A registered charity (214753), it relies on voluntary support from subscriptions, donations and legacies. Local problems are handled via voluntary “local correspondents”. There is a small paid staff at its office:
25A Bell Street, Henley on Thames, Oxon, RG9 2BA. Tel 01491 573535
e-mail   web:

Whilst nearly everyone will have heard of the RSPB, which of you knows of the charity specifically to save our wildflowers?

Plantlife was set up as a registered charity  (No.1959557) in 1989 to protect and save wild plants in their natural habitats. Plantlife now owns 22 nature reserves covering 5000 acres. By purchasing some of the most endangered habitats to create protected reserves, a proportion of the most vulnerable species have been saved. Founded by botanists, a key aspect has been assembling and analysing data on plants at risk.  Reports & recommendations are published regularly. Members (who are invited to name their own subscription) may become local Flora Guardians, support the management of reserves, or help with conservation work in important habitats. Others take part in the Annual Common Plants Survey, or campaign for change through writing letters to policy-makers and the Government.

For more details, contact: Plantlife, The Wild Plant Conservation Charity, 21, Elizabeth Street, London SW1W 9RP.

Information on temporary path works in Cambridgeshire
From time to time, Cambridgeshire County felling, or repairs to a bridge.  Details are published in the local paper (both the Cambridge Evening News, and the Cambridge Weekly News), but it is easy to miss these announcements. You can also find this information on the web at:
(Traffic Delays and Streetworks Information – Current Temporary Road Closures and other Orders).

For example between 21 April and 23 May this year, Godmanchester Footpath No.3 will be closed for weir repairs, affecting access to Portholme.  It is not the intention to report such closures in “Cantab” as they are usually of fairly short duration, and the date could be past before an issue comes into circulation!

Roger Moreton

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, 10p is appreciated towards the cost of paper and ink.  If you would like to receive an issue by post, please send a large SAE, and a 10p 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


Issue 30; Price 10 pence where sold

© Janet Moreton, 2005.