Saturday, 18 August 2012

Gaily Gambolling To Gamlingay

We have a scattering of remarkable village names in these parts - Snailwell, Helions Bumpstead or Matching Green make you wonder what on earth goes on in these places. And as for Six Mile Bottom..... But only a handful of locations lure you with the sheer beauty and poetry of their names and foremost among these must be Gamlingay.  And that's where I'm heading today. Will you come along?

A fine day is forecast so lets take the bicycle. It's early morning and there are just a few car drivers making their way to work, but already in the fields men are checking the combine in readiness for a long day. 

A mile or so is along one of those "green roads", a little used grassy track between fields, but mostly today we'll be on minor roads leading from one village to the next. With any luck there'll be hardly any traffic to bother us and we can take our time, take in the scenery and maybe search out some interesting features. 

As I cycled along I could see birds lined up along the overhead wires. At first I thought they were swallows thinking of migrating back to Africa, but when I got closer I found they were young starlings who form teenage gangs like this to cruise around the neighbourhood.

That green hummocky hill you can see above may just look like a piece of waste ground but in fact it's a relic from medieval times: it's the site of the old village of Clopton which was deserted  back in the 15th century. I wrote about it in a very early post on "By Stargoose And Hanglands".
If you're from Cambridgeshire, as unfit as I am and have a good imagination you can call the next bit of the route "a steep hill". It's called Croydon Hill and has a 10% gradient which is sufficient to warrant getting off the bike and walking!

Once over the brow there's a nice bit of freewheeling down to East Hatley, a row of houses masquerading as a village. But it did have a church, though it hasn't been used for many years  and, although the churchyard is still consecrated land and occasional burials take place, it's now managed as a nature reserve.

Old moats still exist behind the church as well as around other old buildings in the hamlet, though there was too much vegetation to get a decent photo or even a decent view. These moats were apparently for drainage purposes as the heavy clay soil is easily waterlogged. The difficulty of cultivating this land led to the name "Hungry Hatley" being applied in the past.

Onwards to Hatley St George where this large mansion, Hatley Park, stands in parkland at the centre of a big agricultural estate. Everything looks so neat and well-managed that it seems inconceivable that anyone could have been hungry here in the past; a testimony to the advances in agricultural methods during the last couple of centuries.

The estate has a herd of Shorthorn cattle but they were off sheltering under the spreading boughs of an oak tree so I contented myself with photographing some of the horses occupying paddocks by the roadside. There must be more horses in some villages now than there were when they formed the only means of transport (and traction) on the farms.

There were still plenty of fields that needed harvesting; the barley and oil-seed rape is all in but the wheat is still ripening - it won't be long though. As I neared Gamlingay the countryside changed slightly; the reason was a subtle change in the geology. The farming seemed to be small scale and less prosperous - we were nearing the heathlands that form a unique landscape in this borderland between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. I tried to find a photo to sum up the land and came up with this:

And so to Gamlingay. Entering the village I soon came to a fine dwelling calling itself The Manor House.....

.....and Manor House it certainly was for close by stood a fine brick-built do'cott or dove house....

This one is unusual in that the top part of the roof has entrances for the pigeons or doves on all four sides, the usual pattern having just two entrances. The keeping of doves was a privilege only allowed to lords of the manor and, since lords of the manor were also the local magistrates, it was a privilege which was strictly protected. The doves formed an important supply of fresh meat during the winter months in the days before refrigeration.

And of course there is a fine church in Gamlingay which was my chief reason for visiting. You'll see that this was the communications hub of the village - a postbox and a telephone box as well as a centre for the sending of heavenly messages. So lets lean the bike against the porch, take off the cycle helmet and go and investigate....(in my next post)

Take care.


  1. I am enjoying this cycle ride John though I am pleased that we have now reached Gamlingway as my legs could do with a rest.;-)

    Loving all of the images and info!

  2. Sorry typo: I meant Gamlingay

  3. The photo with most birds filling up the frame was the best one for me. You took good perspective to shoot the images from ground level almost. Very good series.

  4. I love the photo of the golden harvest fields. The Manor House at Gamlingay is beautiful too,I'd love to see inside it. I'm looking forward to your post about the church now.

    1. It's privately owned so it would be difficult to get to look around the Manor House, Rowan.

  5. I'm ready to go …to Gamlingay; it's a bicycle built for two …? That's a decent combine ready to start the day in earnest. Oh, so we make it to Croydon Hill and it's time to start walking already! Hatley Park is grand indeed; does anyone live in there nowadays? My, the Manor House is interesting construction and the dove-cote is amazing! I never did know that the doves were kept as a food source. Looking forward to our stroll into the old church, hopefully we can take photos in there….

  6. The unusual names remind me of the colourful names of Newfoundland. Since most of the early fishermen in that area were English, I guess it's not too surprising. The manor house at Hatley Park is very attractive, simple but well-proportioned. Sad to see the abandoned church in East Hatley. A place meant to be a source of comfort, support, and direction probably didn't fulfill its mandate, so now it's empty.

    1. The church closed because less and less people used it; the village was always small and eventually there were simply not enough parishioners to justify keeping it open.

  7. Amazing starling alignment. It should be possible to calculate within a millimeter their personal space from your image.

    I think that the strangest name of a community/crossroads near me (left over from English colonial times, I'm sure) is Three Tuns. Perhaps that's not such a strange name in Britain, though.

    1. The Three Tuns is a common English pub name, Scott, maybe there was some kind of inn on the spot in times past.

  8. I know someone who lives in Gamlingay though I've never visited. Maybe I should, it looks lovely.


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