** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
The Summer of the Nettles
Sometimes, they have been 9 feet high, tangled together with bindweed, brambles, or various arable weeds at the edge of a cereal field, making paths impassable.
Last year Cambridgeshire County Council made three cuts on selected field-edge paths, in May, July and again in the Autumn. This year, when weeks of Summer downpours after drought caused the vegetation to reach for the sky, there were only two such cuts, the second starting in September. Through the Summer, Cambridge RA Group advised walkers to wear long trousers, and if necessary to walk in the crop, such as down a spray line. The Highways Act, 1980, in case of an obstructed path, allows one to take the nearest reasonable alternative. The Group has been concerned about accidents: people falling over in the tangled weeds, or taking to the nearest, possibly hazardous road.
The Highways Act also gives the County Council the obligation to maintain public rights of way. This year, Cambs CC claimed there was no money available for more path maintenance. We note that the County cuts 25% of the network, although some of the other paths are maintained by local parishes, landowners, and other agencies. We also note that, after reorganisation, the County Council’s Countryside Services Team is now part of the Highways Department. There still seems to be plenty of money to cut the roadside verges every six weeks!
Some field edge paths are now being cut in September, although several paths which we have reported as being presently impassable, have been refused treatment, on the grounds that they are not on the list for cutting, and there is no money to include them this year.
Whilst everyone knows that local government spending is restricted, we think footpaths and bridleways should receive more priority. Walking is a very inexpensive form of recreation, open to most people, and the cost of maintenance is relatively small.
Now the harvest is in, and the problem is less acute, do not forget your sufferings in July and August. It is no use writing to the rights of way staff at the County Council, who are using all the resources available to them. Please address your concerns to your County Councillor. Do it soon, so that next year, footpaths may have a fairer share of the funding.
The Future of England’s Forests
The report of an independent panel on the future of forestry, was issued in July. The panel was set up following the furore over the government’s planned sell off of public forests last year.
— An adequately funded and staffed public forestry body, free from political intervention.
— Developing and investing in the services which are currently supplied
— Expanding our National Forest Estate
— Retaining GB –wide functions
— Recognising the continuing need for a forest research body.
In response, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman assured “Our Forests will stay in public hands”.
We hope so.
(Synopsis of an item in “Prospect” Aug 2012).
The Woodland Trust – 40 this year
The Woodland Trust Charity is celebrating its 40th year, since its founding in 1971 by retired agricultural machinery producer Kenneth Watkins. By 1981, the Trust owned 80 woods. After 30 years, it was caring for 1135 woods, and had planted 5 million trees. After 40 years, the Trust cares for 1276 woods, covering 23 580 ha (58 267 acres), and has planted 16 million trees. All the Trust’s woodlands are open freely to walkers and other quiet recreational users on foot.
Parish of the Month –
Walkers of the Peddars Way will have passed through this quiet parish, but may not have left the ancient trail to visit the village. Neither will users of the Pingo Trail, encouraged to use a small carpark off the A1075, have gained any impression of the wider landscape.
Pause a while to learn the history of Thompson, and vary your walks in this quiet area.
The Peddars Way ancient trackway runs NNW from Thompson Water, right across the parish. An old track, perhaps a few thousand years old, formed a basis for the Roman Road, built immediately after the Boudican revolt of AD 61. Although primarily of military importance in Roman times, communities sprung up beside the road. Large quantities of Roman material were found at Brettenham, and there may have been an Iceni/Roman town at Salham Toney.
Thompson is believed to have a Danish origin, at Tumi’s Tun, the homestead of Tumi. Thompson’s most important historical period could be dated 1350 – 1541, at the time of its Collegiate church. St Martin’s Church is claimed to be one of the finest examples of the decorated style in East Anglia, and is usually open for inspection. In 1350, the building was endowed as a Collegiate Church by brothers Thomas and John de Shardelowe. They established a community of 6 monks in a chantry building, the remains of which are still evident in College Farmhouse. After The Dissolution, the college became a manor house and farmhouse. The church was restored by the Lord of the Manor, Robert Futter in 1648, and again facing ruin in 1913, it was restored again by the Rev Kent at Merton, and his friend Duleep Singh.
The College Farmhouse and its very attractive grounds, can be seen from the roadside in the village. The Chequers Inn, an old thatched building, dates from the early C17th. Other points of interest include The Village Sign, unveiled in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Jubilee. Figures of a Roman Soldier, a monk & a goose-girl represent elements of Thompson’s history.
Forestry and Military Danger Areas
The parish is low-lying, with a sandy soil overlying chalk. Agriculture, forestry and military exercises account for the greatest land use.
Thetford Forest dates from 1922, and a substantial proportion of Thompson parish is under conifers. The military took over the Stanford Battle Area before WWII, after trees had been planted, and a proportion of the parish is still a “no-go” area, clearly marked with Ministry of Defence “Danger Area” notices. A glance at the map shows adjacent parishes such as Tottington, with its abandoned St Andrews Church, and Sturston, seemingly entirely within the military fence. Several villages were evacuated at the time, some 1000 persons being displaced. When you visit Thompson, spare a thought for these poor people, almost like latter-day victims of the Highland clearances.
Thompson Common is owned by Norfolk Naturalists Trust, and the artificial lake, Thompson Water is part of the reserve. The Common is known particularly for its pingos. Pingos derive from the freeze / thaw cycles of the glaciations during the Devonian period. Each circular pool was originally formed by freezing water on top of a groundwater spring. The repeated addition of ice caused a dome of surface gravels. When the ice melted, the middle of the pingo collapsed to form a hollow. Any sediment which flowed off formed an encircling rampart. Where a pingo is in open grass, it looks attractive with clear water and flowering vegetation. The pools of stagnant water under the trees are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so insect repellent is a must for Summer visitors.
In late Spring, the reserve is well-known for its interesting plants, including water violet and amphibious yellow-cress growing in the pingos, and Southern fen orchid, and pyramidal orchids flowering in the immediate locality. Some 70 to 80 species of bird are said to nest in the forest area, of which the rarest is the stone curlew, which chooses areas of open ground. Don’t get too hopeful about seeing one of these – they are said to be extremely shy.
The Peddars Way runs from Knettishall Heath to Holme next the Sea, where the path turns east, becoming the Norfolk Coast Path. Thompson is thus about 10 miles north of the start at Knettishall Heath, and a detour east from less than a mile north of Thompson Water at TL 908 961 would take the rambler to Thompson village, which has B & B accommodation:
College Farm 01953 483318
Thatched House 01953 483577
Lands End 01953 488070
Otherwise sections of The Peddars Way can be taken into circular walks, as described below.
The Pingo Trail, 8 miles
Walkers are advised to start the Pingo Trail at a small carpark off the A1075, at TL 940 966. This point is a few hundred yards N beyond the turning to Stow Bedon. A display board for the route describes the track of the old railway which forms one limb of the walk, and the special wildlife of the locality.
Set off SSW down the line of the former track of The Great Eastern Railway in a wooded setting, with shallow pools at intervals on both sides of the track. Duck-boards are provided over the damper areas. Continue on a more open stretch past Crow’s Farm, and back into the woodland as far as Hockham Heath where, at TL 927 925, one meets a minor road, which is followed NW for 400yd, to a junction where The Peddars Way is joined, going NNW along a road that later becomes a byway. Follow this former Roman Road to Thompson Water. At TL 912 950, a waymarked track turns off right through the undergrowth. The path, well signed, winds through the wood, later following beside a watercourse, then emerging into meadows at TL 926 953. It continues NE across the rough grassland, passing a couple of pingos, and reaches a lane at TL 928 956. Follow the fenced lane, which widens, becomes tarmaced and passes Butter’s Lodge. Just before a road junction, a waymark at TL 934 967 indicates a right turn into woodland , which is well-waymarked on a winding route through the woods, scrub and grassland of the reserve, back to the carpark.
Thompson Village circuit. 4 miles.
Drive to Thompson church, where some parking is possible at the rear. Walk through the village, passing the very attractive College Farm. At TL 935 968, turn NW up Drove Lane, which follow to the minor road at TL 927 976. Turn left along Griston Road for 200yd, to return to the church on a public footpath. Perhaps take a rest in the churchyard!
For the next loop, go SW along the road to Pockthorpe Green (which is a wonderful large open common and recreation area) and take the path at TL 923 966, going S from a road junction by the school. At a junction of tracks, turn left on a bridleway, first along a field edge, then across a field to Butter’s Lodge. Turn left and follow the road back to the church.
Thompson to Thompson Water
From Thompson Church, take the road SW to Pockthorpe Green, and go to the road junction at TL 919 961, then W on the dead-end road to join the Peddars Way. Turn left to go SSE to the turning to Thompson Water. Pick up the Pingo Trail, (as described above), and return to Butter’s Lodge, and thence by road to Thompson.
Thompson and Merton. 7.5 miles
From Thompson Church, follow quiet roads generally W to the Peddars Way at TL 908 961. Follow this long distance path N to near Merton at TL 901 991.
Here, turn right into Merton village. At TL 908 987, take the bridleway S then E to the B 1110 at TL 913 981. Turn left, then right at a crossroads, and follow the road generally E to a T-junction at TL 924 989.Turn right for nearly a mile, then right again and shortly left at TL 927 976 down Drove Lane. Cut through at TL 933 971, to return straight back to the church.
Note that this route is less scenic, but may be useful to those wishing to walk a section of the Peddars Way as part of a circuit.
Quotation of the Month
Come ye thankful people come,
Raise the song of harvest-home.
All is safely gathered in
Ere the Winter storms begin;
George J Elvey (1816 – 93)
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© Janet Moreton, 2012.