Sunday, 17 November 2019

Beside The Shep

The River Mel, which flows quietly through my home village, has a sister, the River Shep, who trickles equally daintily through Shepreth, a little to the north and east. 



As you can see, it's not a very big river. There are those who might scoff that it's not a river at all; but we are generous folk hereabouts and willingly extend the status of "riverhood" even to this glistening thread of moisture. 

We walked a small section of this river recently in the post "Pictures From An Expedition".



But just upstream from the village church and Manor Farm there's another grassy path that follows the river as far as the A10 road where stood a watermill, marked on old maps as Burnt Mill suggesting that it may have been victim of a fire at some time in the distant past. Perhaps this path was once the way the miller and his family made their way to church, or farmers from the village may have wandered along here to discuss some business with the miller.



Almost certainly these fields along the floodplain would have been meadows in those days, mainly used during the summer months, perhaps as grazing for the sheep that lend the River Shep their name.



And on the other bank there are still sheep to be seen, going about the unhurried routine of their lives. It looks as though a shallow, gravelly slope has been constructed to allow them access to drinking water. In times past there was a sheepwash on the river too, to wash their fleeces prior to shearing or perhaps selling them on.



A glance at the old maps, dating back 100 to 200 years, shows this whole area to have been dotted with watermills. Other historical evidence proves the existence of many additional mills. Surely such tiny streams could not have powered so many waterwheels and millstones?



These little rivers, the Shep and the Mel, along with other miniature watercourses like Guilden Brook, Hoffer's Brook and Wardington Bottom, have their sources at the foot of the chalk hills just a few miles to the south. The chalk holds water like a sponge and the springs trickle out from the base of the slope. Passing through the chalk has the effect of filtering and purifying the water, meaning that these chalk-streams are an important sites for wildlife.



But mankind has also seen the chalk as an important source of fresh water and has exploited it through wells and boreholes. Hard evidence is hard to come by, but there's much to suggest that this whole area was a much more watery place with faster-flowing streams, before we got busy extracting water from the hills and draining the lower country.



A map from 1808 marks a large area as "Wright's Moor", and "moor", in south Cambridgeshire, usually refers to low-lying, soggy grassland which served as grazing land in summer and was often flooded during winter. It's now all well-drained arable fields apart from one little corner which is the L-Moor nature reserve. 



A few years ago I was walking across that reserve and met some researchers who were sinking a bore to check whether the water-levels were falling. It seemed a little unnecessary: you can usually walk across it in ordinary walking boots these days, whereas when I first moved here you needed your wellies all winter!



The decreased flow in the streams could quickly lead to them clogging up with debris if it were not for the efforts of the villagers from both places who put in many hours to keep their little rivers clear.



All the scenes shown here, as well as the thoughts expressed, presented themselves during just a third-of-a-mile (500 metres) of yesterday's walk. Actually, as the path doesn't lead you anywhere these days, except to the main road and a motel, it was twice as far as that as I had to retrace my steps. But during that return leg of the walk I was mostly thinking about what I'd have for my lunch!




Take care.

(If you'd like to see old maps of your home area you might be interested in this website https://www.oldmapsonline.org/  It has maps from all over the world).


19 comments:

  1. There is nothing like a good walk to stimulate an appetite for lunch.

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  2. I'd as soon wander with you through your damp pastures as here this weekend. Equally damp and not at all inviting to go out.

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  3. Lovely subdued colors of fall still on your walk...and I dare say keeping the channel clear of debris also helps keep the land a bit drier.

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  4. Interesting stroll. I really enjoyed the pictures and I especially liked the history you shared about the area. It gets the imagination wondering. I will check out that website to see if they have old maps from my area (Illinois, USA. Thanks so much!

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  5. How lovely that the locals keep the stream clear of fallen leaves and debris John, I can see by the glorious autumn foliage that there would a lot of leaf clearing. Gorgeous images from your walk, I'm off to check out that website now 💙

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  6. What a sweet spot! Love the views you chose to show...

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  7. Thanks for taking me along! It’s such a lovely area.

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  8. I love seeing these little rivers and reading about their history. I'm going to check out the link to see what our little neck of the woods was like long ago. We live in an area surrounded by rivers here. You remind me that we should hike their banks more often. Thank you for that.

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  9. I wish I could walk along pretty rivers like this but my mobility no longer allows it which makes looking where you have walked all the more interesting. How different the countryside is where you are to what it is like up here in the Yorkshire Dales.

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  10. Short but beautiful walk! I really enjoyed it.

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  11. Thanks for the wandering.

    We called those streams "criks/creeks". It is a regional thing.

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  12. Another wonderful walk. Thank you.

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  13. Lovely photos, as always. No doubt the waters must have been much more substantial in the past in order to support all those mills. You've seen the change in your time there, without the need for boring. I think it's wonderful that people are joining in to keep the rivers clear of debris. Demonstrates a love of the area by the locals.

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  14. Beautiful photos as usual. The little rivers look pretty and it is good of the villagers to keep them clear. I guess it happens everywhere, that the rivers dry up.

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  15. I enjoyed this river walk, John, as well as reading about the area. You seem to still have a lot of autumn colors shown in this walk. here, the leaves are mostly off the trees.

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  16. I just discovered your blog and have been busy looking at some of your beautiful photos. I enjoyed the fall colors in your current post. I have been trying to find some fall foliage in Nashville last week and in Atlanta this week and the colors are not the best this year, pretty drab.

    Wouldn’t you call that little river a ford, though?

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  17. A short but lovely walk, I enjoyed seeing the photos and the autumn colours and it's nice to hear that the local people take good care of the river.

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