Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Coton Countryside Reserve

It was bright and frosty this morning. Just the kind of weather to make me feel like tramping down lanes, over meadows and around fields. As luck would have it I chanced upon a leaflet about Coton Countryside Reserve which promised to provide just the kind of walks that I desired.

The reserve is managed by Cambridge: Past, Present & Future, which used to be known as The Cambridge Preservation Society. The change of name seems to reflect a subtle shift of emphasis from trying to maintain things exactly as they were in some past golden age (which probably never existed anyway) to an attempt to create a sustainable, wildlife-friendly agriculture for the future. I wanted to see how they were moving towards that goal.

I started off my walk alongside the military rifle range. The red flag was flying but I think they must have been taking a break because I didn't hear any bangs or have to dodge any flying bullets! All was very quiet, thank goodness. I also passed the interestingly-named Haggis Farm - visions of fields of free-range haggis! - there's a Dumpling Farm nearby too! Honest!

I was soon climbing up the slight rise known as Red Meadow Hill which in this flat landscape afforded quite extensive views towards the city of Cambridge. Flocks of Fieldfares were feeding on the hedgerow berries and Kestrels hovered over the meadow. 

There are wide field margins, some of which double as footpaths.

In the hedges there are plenty of bird-boxes of various shapes to suit different bird species.

The old barn known as Wheatcases stands next to the main visitor car park and seems to serve as a gathering point for school parties; a stack of plastic chairs in one corner anyway. A wildlife pond had been created nearby and a rather smart notice board informed me that some 10,000 trees have been planted including woods, hedgerows and orchards.

The concrete road, which makes part of the reserve suitable for wheelchair-users, leads down to the bridge over Bin Brook and to the meadow area called Middle Green.

Middle Green is one of those wonderful bits of country where the evidence of the past is all laid out for anyone observant enough to interpret the signs. The land had been ploughed at some time but must have been meadow for a hundred years or so. The ridge-and-furrow pattern (which I hope you can see, running horizontally across the grassland, on the photo above) is a sure sign that it was ploughed by oxen. The land was divided up into strips, each one as much as a man could plough in a day. Constant ploughing up and down the strip, the plough turning the soil in towards the centre, caused the ridges to form over the centuries. If the ground had ever been ploughed with a tractor the whole thing would have been levelled. So there you have it; the old strips preserved in this little meadow.

I carried on through some rough grazing land where a good crop of teasels was being enjoyed by a flock of Goldfinch. A Green Woodpecker loped off into the adjacent Rowan's Wood with a flash of bright yellow.

I enjoyed my visit. Nothing too spectacular, but the kind of rich and varied landscape which existed here before agri-business moved in.

Take care.


  1. Most informative, John. I'd never seen the ridges created by plowing with oxen. And I can only imagine a field of grazing Haggis!

  2. Especially love that last shot of the oak tree leaves...

  3. Most interesting post John, and I agree that trying to 'preserve' such a substantial piece of land would probably take away from the pleasure of just enjoying it, exactly like you did on this walk that we got to take with you! Thanks for that and I'm glad I cheered you up with my miserable picture this morning haha!

  4. Thank you for the wander around the Cambridge countryside and the habitat improvement efforts there. I really miss the area.

  5. How I enjoyed your walk - from the comfort of my armchair!

  6. I enjoyed walking along beside you for this walk, John.

  7. Thanks, everybody.
    The ridge-and-furrow patterns are quite comonly found in the midland counties of England but here in the east the land has mostly been ploughed and the old patterns of land-use have disappeared.

  8. John,
    I never fail to learn something from your blog. The ridge and farrow pattern is something I am going to look for here in US. That is very interesting. Thanks for the walk in the lovely countryside.

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your walk John and viewing your super images to compliment your post.
    I have learnt something new, I shall look out for ridges in meadows from now on, fascinating and informative! The reserve looks and sounds good! Thanks for sharing your delightful day.


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