Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Travelling On

As explained in my previous post having visited Rampton I then walked on to the next village on the fen edge, namely Willingham - just to see what I might see. I left along the village road searching for remnants from the past, but very nearly made an unwanted connection with the present day as I was forced to hop into the hedge to avoid a speeding car. I may be interested in hedges but did not yearn for so intimate an entanglement with a hawthorn bush!

Although much of the farming is modern and large-scale there are still plenty of people eking out a living on smaller plots and using antiquated equipment.

Thankfully I was soon able to turn off down a green lane, a drove as they call them around here. This one had the pleasing name of Haven Drove and was indeed a haven for peace, quiet and wildlife; a pair of Turtle Doves flew along the path in front of me. It was once a medieval track called the Port Way.

The way soon led beside yellow fields of oil-seed rape which stained the air with its pungent cabbagey smell. You can't deny that it looks pretty though. Then I crossed a minor road and entered a wide grassy road known as Aldreth Causeway.

The exact history of the causeway is in doubt but something like this is the usual story told:
It's old. At least dating back to Norman times, that is eleventh century. At that time Hereward The Wake led his loyal band of fenmen in a guerrilla war against William and his occupying troops. Because of his knowledge of the waterways and marshes Hereward led William a merry dance. The Normans built a causeway, which may or may not be Aldreth Causeway, in order to invade the Isle of Ely which was at that time surrounded by swampland. Legend has it that the causeway sank under the weight of the troops and many of the Norman soldiers met a watery and untimely end.

But the way may be older still because here at the southern end is an earthworks, similar in shape and scale to the Iron Age fort at Wandlebury, which seems to guard the causeway. That would suggest that the causeway itself could be older; perhaps the Normans simply repaired (though not very well!) an existing raised route across the fens. The fort is known as Belsar's Hill and the defensive ditch can be seen in the above shot with the raised rampart to the left, with the bushes on it. The whole structure would have been much more formidable when it was built, the ditch deeper and the bank higher, possibly with a wooden pallisade on top. 

The grassland which now covers the site is grazed by horses many of which have the brown and white patches which are so favoured by the travelling community, gypsies as we used to call them. Many travellers find these fen-edge villages to their liking and have settled semi-permanently in the area.

I wandered on to Willingham and found this magnificent waterpump standing on the village green. It looks as though it is high enough to pump water into a tank on a cart. A similar pump exists in nearby Cottenham.

A little further along I spied a cottage that had become rather lop-sided with the passage of time and now looked downright dangerous!

And then there was another of those nineteenth-century chapels which are so common in this area. But long ago I heard about Willingham church, it's supposed to be a bit special. But I'll have to leave that for another time.

Take care.


  1. Those old hedgerows look so attractive at this time of year. Our hawthorn blossom isn't out yet - I'm not casting clouts!

  2. Yet another wonderful tour, John. Thanks. Jim

  3. No wonder people in England love to walk - so many beautiful places to walk to, and inviting grassy paths to mosey along. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. So much history in your land. Very interesting even if I am not familiar with all the players and scenes.

  5. Another fine trip with our friend John as the tourguide.

  6. Glad you escaped the wrath of a speeding car John! How nice that you can walk through green pathways like you do; it is hard to imagine it was a medieval track in it's day. I love the rape seed flowers happening; yellow lifts the soul. Beautiful draught-horse; looking in need of a little tlc. Interesting stairway …not stairway to heaven, but stairway to a waterpump. Did you see what the sign on the door of the lop-sided cottage said? Maybe something like 'if you can read this, then you're too close"?

  7. Lovely post John, I enjoyed seeing and reading about the ancient trackways and that cottage is perfect - I'd love to live there. Interesting to see the horse too, I imagine that the travelling people liked the fen edge area because it stayed so rural and the country people probably were more tolerant of their presence than the NIMBY urban types.

  8. This post gave its reader a feeling of "tour." Greetings!

    Puerto Azul

  9. Hard to imagine all the history that came before...ancient paths and earthworks. I love reading about them--it seems every inch has significance. I once read Fairy Paths and Spirit Roads which told stories of ancient and mysterious routes thru Europe. It was fascinating.

  10. Thanks again. Enjoyed the peaceful walk despite the speeding car :)

  11. Thank you for this lovely tour. My goodness, what a scare you had caused by the speeding car!

  12. I love the photo of the rape--great shot. I think I'd be scared to live in that cottage, though!


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