Sunday, 23 September 2012

Further Thoughts On "Baulk And Grind"

 Explorations Of Village Footpaths (part the second)

If you haven't read yesterday's post then you really should; otherwise you won't have a clue what I'm talking about!

We'll set out first on a little side road called the Bridle Way. That's exactly what it is nowadays, a route open to horse-riders, but also to walkers and cyclists. At this end, as you can see above, it's also open to cars though it only leads to a handful of houses that have been built alongside. But it was once the road which led from Grantchester to the neighbouring village of Barton. After the Enclosure Acts it was decided not to maintain this track as a proper road. But the right of way was preserved as a bridleway.

While we're here it's worth peering into some of the little paddocks where horses graze. For here is evidence of the old medieval field pattern in the form of ridges and furrows. As the land was ploughed, year after year, the soil became heaped up towards the centre of the strips to form parallel ridges. If you look at the base of the hedge behind the pony you can make out the gentle undulations which are preserved to this day.

Now a medieval horse- or ox-drawn plough is a long and cumbersome piece of equipment which can't be easily turned at the end of each strip; the ploughman had to steer out and then cut in to get the plough around. This practice caused the strips to take on a slightly curved, reverse-S shape. Look at the photo above - the shape of the edge of the old strips has been maintained by the farm track. The strips actually ended in front of the wooden shed; you can just make out a grassy slope where a track used to run at the edge of the old open field system.

When the fields were enclosed at the beginning of the nineteenth century a new road was planned to run towards Coton. That's it above - can you see the gentle undulations in the road surface as it crosses the old ridge and furrow of the open field? Well, I did warn you that these clues were subtle! 

Nearby is another track between fields which isn't a right of way at all though many people treat it as if it were. It's called "The Baulk", as in the title of this post. The name gives away its origin for a baulk was simply the path that existed to give access to the strips in the open fields.

Sometimes these curving baulks have been straightened by modern farming. In the picture above you can just make out a raised hump where the baulk swung off towards the right. 

The path I've just shown you forms a sort of crossroads with a modern-looking farm road. It comes from nearby Barton with a directness which seems to indicate that it's heading somewhere important. Yes, I know I said that the Bridle Way was the road from Barton, well this is another one! The economics of road maintenance has changed somewhat. Nowadays it would be wasteful to have two roads running parallel to one another but in the past when little was spent on the upkeep of roads it was handy to have two tracks; if one became muddy and impassable you simply swapped to the other! Now, where is that track heading?

The concrete road comes to an end but behind the hay-cutte another path continues on the same line. It dives between two thick hedges.

A little further along the village road maintains the same line.

And then it passes through a gap between walls. Modern gardens have encroached on the old road from either side but the right of way is preserved by law so they can't pinch all the land! And where is this track leading us?

To the Millpool, that's where. The route we've been tracing was the old waggon road which brought corn to be ground at the water-powered mill. At some time there must have been a waggoner sitting atop his cart whistling away and little realising that he was on the last waggon that would ever pass this way. 

Oh, yes. "Baulk And Grind". I've still got some explaining to do. The "grind" is "The Grantchester Grind", the footpath that runs from Cambridge through picturesque meadows to Grantchester. It's much favoured by students and tourists - few of whom incidentally notice that they are walking through a well-preserved medieval field system - but that's not who caused the path to be there originally. Newnham, which is now part of Cambridge, was once part of the parish of Grantchester and people would have walked along the path to attend church; it heads straight for the church, in fact.

And many people must stop to gaze down towards the river at this point. And many wander down to the riverbank. But do they realise that they are walking down a path whose original duty was to bear carts carrying milk-churns down to the river where they were stood in the shallows to keep cool till they could be transported down to Cambridge by boat?

Take care.


  1. I don't remember being good ... but thanx for telling the fascinating history of 'Baulk & Grind' anyway!! Downunder, the colonial heritage is so much younger it's hardly historical by comparison, but we've managed to wipe out a lot of the Indigenous heritage by 'civilising' the lands.

    Hope your weekend was/is great! (Sunday night down here, so weekend is done!)

  2. Fascinating history, John. And you told it with enough suspense to make a mystery novel proud. Good job, and thanks. Jim

  3. You can read a landscape like a book if you know what you're looking for. How fascinating. Let's hope we never succeed in eradicating these links with the past - and that people like you continue to pass on the meaning.

  4. John, as usual, your photographs and the commentary are brilliant. I can really see the old medieval landscape from your explanation.

  5. A very interesting post. I do like to be able to see remnants of the past and we usually notice when we're out walking and you can see the ridges and furrows in fields. It's fascinating to think/learn about times gone by but as you say, I'm sure many people have no idea about how the land used to be and wouldn't notice anything like this.

  6. Most excellent posts, John. There's a book, well-known among New England (USA) naturalists, called "Reading the Forested Landscape" by Tom Wessels. Wessels does much sleuthing (and explaining) like you have done in your posts, but he focuses on the New England landscapes that have regrown to forest after having been in agriculture.

  7. I love all the curvy paths and up-and-down fields, and, surprise!, the road is now a narrow, pixie path. Wonderful to think of the hundreds of times those fields have been cultivated and they are still productive. The historical background is very interesting.

  8. What a beautiful area to explore. I love the second photograph.

  9. Fascinating, John. You need to figure out a way to capture all of this for posterity.

  10. I love exploring a quirky, windy walk, especially through a village area- such a mixture of interesting sights. Jane xx

  11. There's just something about a mill pool that connects you to your past isn't there John. Lovely, all of it, even though I didn't read yesterday's post and haven't a clue what you are talking about!

  12. You live at very nice place where has great nature things and large field.
    I like such place. :)

  13. you must somehow preserve all this history that you are gathering--
    I am almost certain we walked in that meadow of your last photo--must dig out the old photos.

    1. You almost certainly did walk through that meadow if you walked from Cambridge to Grantchester, or if you walked in Grantchester Meadows at all.

  14. An interesting history lesson and a delightful walk thanks John. The "Baulk And Grind" could've been a great dance too, I'm sure (only joking).

  15. Well I have a better appreciation of what you have shown us, thank you John. Fascinating stories behind these inviting pathways. There is something about your descriptions and your images that remind me of the settings in Alan Bradley's mysteries, featuring Flavia de Luce, ones which I enjoy thoroughly.

  16. Looking at your photos that preserve the traces of this ancient way of plowing, I'm reminded suddenly of standing in the dusty sunken wheel ruts made by 'pioneers' headed west [USA] on the Oregon Trail. Sometimes its possible in such a setting to fleetingly imagine a spot as it might have been years before.

  17. Wow. I enjoyed this and learned a lot. I'm in the US, mid-continent, and the historical trail in our area is The Morman Trail, the route the Later Day Saints took to Salt Lake City, Utah. It is not nearly as old nor well traveled. I'm sad that I just found your blog and you aren't writing now . . . but I'll go back and read it all. Thanks for sharing this.


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