** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
Thank you for all the Christmas messages from Cantab readers, and welcome to the 50th edition. The first one appeared in November 1999. Since then, the format has swollen, and shrunk again to a regular 4 sides of A4. Contents have varied, but the most popular item by far seems to be “Parish of the Month” Most of these have been in South Cambs, which I know best, but a few have been as far away as Paston in Norfolk, Elmdon in Essex, and West Stow in Suffolk.
I aim to bring you information on walking in East Anglia, and especially data on any changes in the path network that come to my knowledge. No one is more surprised than myself to find that Cantab is still going strong after 10 years. I have much enjoyed producing it, although there have been some occasions, when there has been a 3 month gap between editions, rather than the usual two, mostly due to pressure of other things. Sometimes “copy” runs rather low, and I can’t emphasise enough how much I appreciate feedback and short articles from readers.
Thank you for your continuing loyalty – it’s been fun researching the facts, and arranging them on the page, and I have enjoyed making many new friends along the way.
Parish of the Month – Whittlesford
As with most Cambridgeshire parishes, evidence exists of prehistoric, Roman, and Saxon occupation, but generally leaving little on the ground to note in passing during a walk.
In the case of Whittlesford, once there were spectacular evidences of Roman occupation.
Slight ring-ditches close to Great and Little Nine Wells Springs include remains of the Chronicle Hills, which were 3 prominent
Roman Burial mounds, deliberately levelled in 1818 for convenience of cultivation. (Some four skeletons were found; the largest mound was 8 ft high and 27 ft dia.) The barrows were part of an important Roman site, including a large villa & associated buildings.
At Domesday, Whittlesford (with 33 residents) gave its name to the Hundred which encompassed the lands of Whittlesford, Sawston, Hinxton, Ickleton and Duxford. At that time, Ickleton and Duxford were the richest places, and Sawston a poor relation! In Domesday Book, Whittlesford is Witelsforda or Witel’s Ford.
The original village lay at a crossing place of the Cam near the point where two separate routes running E from Thriplow converged before reaching the ford. The village consisted then of Church Lane, with the Manor House and church at the east end. Gradual expansion of the village through the C13th & C14th led to first an extension into High Street, and then west to West End, with sites of various village greens being progressively built over. In 1306, the Lord of The Manor obtained permission to hold a market, and laid out a new green at West End.
The parish boundary with Little Shelford was not fixed until Enclosure in 1815. The southern parish boundary is now the A505, a line of the Icknield Way that crosses the Cam at Whittlesford bridge.
Whittlesford today has over 1500 residents, most of whom work outside the parish. In the C19th (with a population of 891 in 1891) there was some industry, such as Maynards Agricultural Machinery Factory, vinegar brewing, and artificial manure works.
The parish has nine public paths, leading round the village, and over the Cam to Sawston, and towards Thriplow and Duxford. It is hoped that the following notes on points of interest round the village will enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the path network.
Sites of Interest
The parish church of St Andrew has a C14th tower and nave, some Norman windows, an ancient font, Jacobean panelling, medieval chest, and paintings on oak panels of the church as it was in C11th & C12th.
The stonework round the Norman S tower is carved with primitive half-human figures, perhaps Saxon. The attractive rustic timbered porch, was given by Henry Cyprian c. 1350. The S chapel was dedicated to St John the Baptist, whose C14th guild raised money for the church, and for the jettied, early tudor Guildhall at the village cross-roads.
Whittlesford Guildhall at the junction of North Road and West End, was built cooperatively by villagers, to provide charitable, religious and social services. In later years, it served as poor house and school room. Its roof is supported by a crown post from a tree felled in 1489.
The village sign, on North Road, made by Harry Carter of Swaffham, was erected to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. The centre panel depicts travellers from early times using the ford. Archaeological finds confirmed the Icknield Way crossing was used by stone-age man, and the crossing near Moat House yielded Roman artefacts. The medieval bridge emphasises Whittlesford’s important position on the R.Cam. The left hand figure on the sign depicts Nicholas Swallow, a local benefactor, and the right hand figure shows a charity schoolgirl, reminding of the gift of William Wesley, a Cambridge grocer, whose land provided funds for schooling Whittlesford children. The shield forms part of the armorial bearing of the Lord of the Manor. The motto is “Stick to the trothe”
Rayners Farm, at the junction of Middlemoor and North Road, was built in 1472, from the evidence of tree rings in the floor joists.
Duxford Chapel (reached over the footbridge from Whittlesford railway station) used to lie in the parish, but is now in Duxford. Originally a hospital of St John, founded before 1230, it was run by a prior and monks, to give medical assistance to the poor, and provide hospitality to travellers on the Icknield Way. In C14th it was rebuilt as a chapel, in use until after the Dissolution. Later used as a barn, it was restored in 1947.
Since then, the functions of hospitality have been maintained by the half-timbered Red Lion Inn (which keeps a key to the chapel). One room has richly carved beams, early Tudor.
Features of the land
The parish lies on chalk, excepting alluvium along the river valley of the Cam. The parish is low-lying, being generally 20-30m above sea-level. The most low-lying areas of poor soil in the parish were kept as common grazing, and known as The Moor (now skirted by Footpath 6, and part used as a landing strip). Old moats exist N of the church, and on the W side of North Rd, and traces of a third lie in West End.
Stanmoor Hall Farm, now cut off from most of the parish by the M11, has a Countryside Stewardship permissive footpath waymarked alongside the M11 fence, then veering towards Little and Great Nine Wells. A Display board at the road bridge proclaims the enhanced wildlife habitat, including a beetle bank, and some attractive young tree planting. Thriplow Peat Holes, an SSSI on Hoffer Brook shown on the Display Board, as being not far from Great Nine Wells, is in fact inaccessible from the permissive path.
The Path Network: see Explorer 209
Whittlesford has 9 public rights of way. The following three routes using these paths simply take the reader around and out of the parish – clearly, they may be used as parts of longer walks. In all cases, it is suggested that parking is available near the recreation ground, eg in laybys off Mill Lane.
Circuit 1. To Sawston and back, 3 miles
Cross the rec diagonally towards the road junction, where admire The Guildhall. Go down Church Lane, and turn off left down a passage (Fp 9) between high walls. This leads into the church drive (Fp1). After visiting the Church, follow Fp 1 between fences, going N, then NE at a spinney. Beyond an avenue, the hard path goes over cultivated land, and crosses the Cam on a high bridge. Here it joins Sawston Fp 15, which follow across a railway crossing, and the Sawston Bypass. The shortest route into Sawston is down a long passage between fences, starting at the junction of New Road & Mill Lane. Having visited the various amenities of Sawston, continue S through the village, passing Church Lane, and finding a narrow passage beside Kingfisher Close. Sawston Fp 9 leads back to the bypass, and over the railway, and river. Here it joins Whittlesford Fp 2, over a bridge. The hard path continues over a second bridge over a tributory, and leads back to Mill Lane. Note the attractive building housing the Hamilton-Kerr Institute, an out-station of the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Circuit 2 Towards Thriplow: 5 miles
Cross the rec, towards the pavilion, and veer right along “The Lawn”, passing bungalows. At a gap, go forward, NW, to join a path into the churchyard. Beyond the church, at a junction of signposts, take the church drive (Fp1) going W onto North Road. Turn right, and pass The Village Sign. A little further is the Bees in the Wall pub, where bees issue from a hole at first-floor level. Continue to the road-junction with Middlemoor, to admire Rayners Farm. Turn back a few metres, to take the stile into the field for Fp 4. This enters a pleasant open-access area, with young trees. Continue forward (SW) to join Fp 3 into a hedged defile, emerging past quaint cottages onto Whippletree Road.(Another branch of Fp3 leads to Vicarage Lane). Turn left (S) cautiously along the road. In early Spring, there are plants of spurge laurel and the stinking hellebore in flower. At a signpost, climb a stile into Fp 6, The Moor. This pleasant path winds through woodlands, past arable, then fenced alongside an airstrip, then near the M11, emerging by a seat not far from the bridge carrying Newton Rd over the M11. Cross the bridge, and see immediately a display board for the permissive path on land of Stanmoor Hall Farm. Descend steps, and follow this waymarked path, first by the M11 fence, past young woodland, then turning W to reach older woodland near Little Nine Wells. Go through a waymarked gap in the hedge, and follow the path to join Whittlesford Bp7. (It is easy to turn right here, and walk into Thriplow for a longer ramble.) To continue, turn left, and follow Bp 7 (a potholed trackway) back over the M11 to Hill Farm Rd. Turn left, and walk through to High Street, where the post office has a couple of tea tables. Beyond the Guildhall, make across the rec to the start.
Circuit 3. Towards Duxford. 5 miles.
Set off from the rec, and visit the Church, Village Sign, and use Fp 4 and part of Fp3 to Whippletree Rd, as in Circuit 2. This time, turn right on Whippletree Rd, cross over, and take Fp5 left, over a bridge, and through allotment gardens. Emerging onto Newton Rd, walk left towards a seat and signpost. Here take Fp6 to The Moor (going the opposite way round to Circuit 2). Emerge on the road near West End, which follow back towards the village cross roads. Continue as far as Stud Farm, where a sign indicates Fp8 turning off right up a drive and through a garden. Follow this excellent grassy path towards the A505. On reaching the major road, an old road branches off, running parallel E towards the station. Go down Station Road West, cross the railway by steps, and visit the Red Lion and Old Duxford Chapel. Retrace one’s steps up Station Road West, and turn right (N) to follow the footway back to the rec.
This route may be extended to Duxford and Hinxton, by crossing the A505, which, while needing care, is not too difficult.
Fred Matthews – an obituary
It is with sadness we record the death on 1 January 2009 of the octogenarian Freddie Matthews, a long-time volunteer path worker for the Essex Ramblers’ Association. He was for many years Secretary to the West Essex Group of the RA, and later served in several other capacities. At the time of his death, he was Essex Area President.
We knew Freddie first as author (either alone or with Harry Bitten) of several walks guides for his patch including: Walks with the West Essex (ca. 1973); The Three Forests Way (1977); The St Peters Way (1978). We were first in touch with him personally in the preparation of The Harcamlow Way (1980), when we were able to advise on the Cambridgeshire section of the route. These routes are now part of the “classic” walks in our region, and marked on Ordnance Survey maps. From 1985, Freddie was the initiator and co-ordinator of the county-wide Essex 100 Mile Walks, as an annual event, which served not only to introduce more people to walking, and to draw members of the various groups together, but also, through route selection, persuaded Essex County Council to make improvements on the route of the year.
When lameness stopped Freddie walking, his work for the RA continued through postal and e-mail campaigning. “39 Steps to the Future” was a paper he produced in 2001 seeking a standard of safe road crossings for paths nation-wide. In the period 1999-2001, he was tireless in obtaining safe crossings over the newly built A120. His last e-mail reached us in Dec.2003, and some time later we learnt he had moved to a rest home.
Physically Freddie was not a big chap, but he was a giant in the Essex path scene. We remember Freddie with affection and great respect for his tireless pursuit of improvements to walking opportunities in East Anglia, which will stand as his lasting memorial.
Freddie and his wife Kathleen dreamed of having some land for a nature reserve. His niece, Daphne Mair, 6 Harewood Gardens, Peterborough, PE3 9NF, would welcome contributions to “Essex Wildlife Trust” on Freddie’s behalf.
Fen Rivers Way revisited…
We are revisiting the whole length of the Fen Rivers Way, walking it “backwards”, from Kings Lynn to Cambridge. In the last issue, we described changes between Kings Lynn and Watlington. On 16 January, (before the present Arctic conditions) we walked from Watlington Station to Downham Market.
Leaving the station, we did a detour along a footpath, and minor road, cutting off some of the surprisingly busy road directly towards the bridge over the Great Ouse. We set off along the east bank, finding cleanly mown turf on the bank all the way to Stowbridge. New features along the route are owl boxes, on long poles, but we saw no occupants. At Stowbridge, the pub is still open, and a display board for the FRW is in good order. A short section of wall served as a place to perch for a snack.
We continued south, finding the path in good order. Downham Market has grown considerably since 2002, with an estate of new houses visible from the flood bank. Good news is that the station has opened a delightful, characterful café, with an open fire, and railway memorabilia, highly recommended!
In the morning, while waiting on Platform 4 of Cambridge station, we had enjoyed the mural “A Fen Journey” seen across the line, on the wall behind Platform 6. This evocative panorama from Cambridge to Kings Lynn, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Cambridge to Ely line in July 1995, and was executed by Guy Davies and fellow students at Hills Road Sixth Form College.
Quotation of the Month
“In May 1900, the arrival of a car in Huntingdon, en route from London to Peterborough, was of sufficient note to warrant a substantial paragraph in the Hunts Post. Within a very few years, the novelty had become commonplace, and the seemingly inexorable rise of road transport had begun.”
(from An Atlas of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire History. Editors, Tony Kirby & Susan Oosthuizen).
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
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© Janet Moreton, 2009