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!
(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).