Wednesday 20 December 2023

Edge Of The Fens

Just a brief interlude in this rainiest of Decembers allowed us a trip to the familiar landscape of Fen Drayton Lakes; except it wasn't quite as familiar as usual.

All the lovely rain has returned this little area on the very edge of the Fens to something like its pre-drainage glory. It's easy to understand how medieval outlaws and rebels could hold out in a watery maze like this and how those without detailed local knowledge could soon get hopelessly lost.

It's all rather a long way from the summery days of freedom and fun which the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) promises on the welcoming sign. Water levels can rise quickly here and they'd taken the precaution of closing the car park which can get cut off. That was no surprise as the RSPB tends to be very safety conscious these days - signs recently seen include advice that muddy paths might be slippery,

We parked in a safe place on the approach road and walked from there, making sure to be careful on the muddy path. 

All the expected birds were present, but none of those occasional rarities that add a little spice to the day's observations. It soon began to drizzle and the camera was cradled inside my jacket like a spoilt little dog!

Just a faint blush of sunlight lit the land (and water) as we got back to the car, but we'd already decided to head elsewhere.

Whenever you explore this dead-flat area your eye is inevitably drawn to the array of church towers and spires that punctuate the endless horizon. I'm sure the Fenmen of old must have oriented themselves in the watery waste by those same landmarks. It may even be that these dominant features were built to guide ships on their way - this is not so daft as it sounds for quite large vessels could at one time navigate the fenland waterways.

The church at Fenstanton is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, and Peter's keys and Paul's sword are shown over the porch door.

The church dates from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, much of the best building stone having been brought from Barnack by boat. We visited Barnack Hills and Holes, the site of the quarrying, back in June of this year. Many of the churches along the Fen Edge owe their grandeur to the availability of this excellent stone. But it's the chancel and in particular that huge East window that draws the eye.

It's worth pausing to admire the early 16th century pulpit and a Christmassy display of candles.

And here's the window itself. The "tracery" - that's the network of carved stone that holds the glass - is exceptional. It's unusual to see such a large window in a village church.

The stained glass dates from 1876 and is by Henry Hughes of the firm Ward and Hughes. It depicts scenes from the life of St Peter.

Also in the chancel stands a memorial to Lancelot "Capability" Brown who was Lord of the Manor here from 1768-1783. Brown was the father of English landscape gardening and designed the grounds of many grand stately homes. The inscription reads as follows:

Ye Sons of Elegance, who truly taste 
The Simple charms that genuine Art supplies, 
Come from the sylvan Scenes His Genius grac’d, 
And offer here your tributary Sigh’s. 

But know that more than Genius slumbers here; 
Virtues were his which Arts best powers transcend. 
Come, ye Superior train, who these revere 
And weep the Christian, Husband, Father, Friend.

Although he owned the manor Brown only lived here for a very short time, but it's thought that he intended to retire here, however he died suddenly before that could happen. His son, also Lancelot Brown, did inherit the manor and is also buried in the churchyard.

Lancelot, the son's, wife Frances is not recorded on the large memorial but has a separate, much prettier, memorial in the corner of the chancel.

Another plaque records that Henry Howland lies buried in the churchyard. He was the father of John Howland, one of those who sailed on The Mayflower. There's also a sketch of the Howland House in New Plymouth, Massachusetts. Many claim to be descended from John Howland including Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon and the two George Bushes. The Pilgrim John Howland Society paid for the plaque and one of the church bells. Maybe someone should point out to them that this building is a symbol of the very intolerance which forced Howland out of the country.

There's also a modern wall-hanging by Ian Thompson, apparently the coloured silks change hue as the light changes. He also designed a very striking modern stained glass window, which I can't show you because the good people of Fenstanton have decided to stand a large and rather scruffy Christmas tree right in front of it.

If you want to celebrate Christmas you could always look at the beautiful scene depicted by Clayton and Bell in one of the windows. Lets have a look outside.....

In the churchyard there's the base of an old preaching cross. It's difficult to date these, but it almost certainly pre-dates the church building.

There are a number of old tombs and gravestones which seem to have acquired an odd pinkish patina, presumably some kind of lichen.

On the north side of the church I found this attractive old door. But what I was looking for was this....

No one seems to be quite sure where "Capability" was buried. But did they once?

Snooping around online I found this peculiar story....

The author of the piece claimed to have met the last person alive to have seen Capability Brown. Michael Behagg, a well-respected member of the community, recounted that many years ago the church needed a new heating system. The only place to site the oil tank was on the grave of Capability Brown and Bridget, his wife. The remains were therefore respectfully disinterred and buried nearby, but the site of the burial was unrecorded. Mr Behagg was the last to see the remains before they were covered up.


Take care.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

By The Big Water

Real life and English weather can sometimes conspire to reduce the amount of time I spend out and about, but occasionally you have to "make a break" from confinement. So my brother Les and I headed for Grafham Water, a man-made reservoir which is about 40 minutes' drive from mine.

The door of the Park Ranger's vehicle gave a clue as to what the countryside is like after a wet and gloomy month. But we were going to head along the concrete dam which gives easy walking and good views across the water.

The skies soon clouded over, but down to the south-east it was clear, allowing the low-angled winter sunshine to reach in beneath the grey blanket and bring a warm glow to the December scenery.

I paused to take a photo of the pier leading out to the Valve Tower, mainly because I always intend to but also because today the lighting on the distant shore gave a nice symmetry to the scene. As Les pointed out, in all the many times we've passed this way we've never seen anyone doing any work here; maybe it's all operated remotely nowadays.

The usual winter birds were all present: Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Goldeneye, a few Shovelers and Wigeon and a single Pochard; Great Crested and Little Grebes, Cormorants, Grey Herons, Coots and Mute Swans; some Canada Geese and, though we didn't see any, I'm sure some Greylag Geese were there somewhere. The only wader we saw was a Common Sandpiper.

We followed the path along the southern shore for a while.

Eventually we arrived at our favourite, slightly rickety, bench where we had our customary banana and hot chocolate while scanning for birds. Then we had to retrace our footsteps back to the car park.

Back at "the quiet corner", which is often a place to see many ducks, there was a working party clearing some of the reeds. Very necessary, but also rather noisy, work.

Like London buses, I don't take any pictures of the Valve Tower for years, then two come along, one after the other! The dam that we have to walk stretches right along, from right to left at the back of the photo. See that farmhouse just to the left of the tower......?

Nearly back to the visitor centre now, where there was a tempting sign.....

In mid-December? No, of course we didn't!


3 Lads Singing

The singing group, The Young 'Uns, got their name when as teenagers they found they could get served (under age) in one of their local pubs, which turned out to be home to a folk music club. They were made welcome and, liking the atmosphere, they became regular visitors, eventually daring to stand up and sing themselves. Although they can sing an old song with conviction they began to write their own songs which, in traditional style, were based on real events, often stories which they'd seen on the news or read in the papers.

3 Dads Walking

Andy, Tim and Mike got to know each other when each was hit by the tragic suicides of their daughters. They decided to go on a long walk across the country to raise awareness of the issues, campaign for suicide-prevention education in schools, to talk to each other about their grief and encourage other men similarly affected to seek out help.

Here's what happened when all six men met up....

You can find out more about 3 Dads Walking here: 3 Dads Walking

If you enjoyed the singing and songwriting of the Young 'Uns you can find numerous clips of them on YouTube.

Take care.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Calendar Time

Those of you who've been following this blog for a while will be familiar with my yearly collection of photos - one from each month - that usually sees the light of day each December. If I'm a little early this year it's because I have a slight cold at present and it's horrible outside. So grab a cup of tea and a mince pie and drift through the year with me. Starting in....













November and December's pictures date from 2022, otherwise all shots were taken this year. 

Take care.

Monday 27 November 2023


A couple of weeks ago I had a walk around the village to photograph the autumn scene. Some of the best colour is to be found around people's homes; in fact there are probably as many trees in gardens as there are in the fields and hedgerows in this arable country of South Cambridgeshire. I'm also aware that my photos tend to make things look idyllic, so I thought I would include some of the human clutter for a change. Then I decided I wouldn't publish these photos. Now I'm backtracking and think that maybe I will....

Near to home. All the leaves have gone now.

A mix of housing.

Repair Cafe - I didn't know about that.

On the corner of Chiswick End.

Just across the road from the last photo.

There's a window in there!

ACE OF WASTE - I like that.

I liked the way those faded blue garage doors contrasted with the leaves.

Near the horse paddocks.

Old barn through a gap in the hedge.

Fenny Lane - (is in my ears and in my eyes)!

Where I used to wait for the bus.

School sign.


Looking down the High Street.
The way I used to bike home after work.

In Malton Lane.

Sun just peeping through.


So that's how it looked a couple of weeks ago. Today most of the leaves have fallen and it's grey with drizzle.

Take care.