Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Sunny Sunday cycle to (Wentworth) Sedge Fen (part 2)

Sunday 24th April: For handy reference here is a copy of the map of the ride again and here is the Bike Route Toaster Link. In Part 1 of this post I was somewhere between Ely and Wicken Fen, but I couldn’t quite place where I took the last picture in that post.

I know where I was for the next few photographs. Having been exploring already and covered a reasonable distance I decided to take the Lodes Way route home without any variations. As I climbed down the footbridge of Burwell Lode (just after Wicken Fen) I bumped into MikeC on his way to Wicken.

As we stood talking some herons were flying around at one point there were three of them. Despite having my long zoom lens with me I did not really manage to get any good pictures.  Mind you the heat haze at the end of the day gave an atmospheric look to the countryside.  I hadn’t seen the bird in this picture until I got home.  Burwell Lode is to the right and it was taken looking towards Upware.

I did get two herons into one picture. One standing, one flying. The challenge is that if you have a lot of “zoom” then it is tricky actually pointing the camera in the right direction and if there is not much zoom then the bird appears as a speck in the sky.

I tried taking a few pictures whilst panning. By moving the camera and following the bird in flight you hope to get a sharp picture of the bird with the background a bit blurry. Or in my case with both the bird and the background a bit blurry. I also forgot to turn off image stabilisation that can also cause some problems when panning. It looks as it cows have been brought in to graze the grass.

This is one of the herons silhouetted in flight and that’s all the herons for this post.

Mike also gave me a few copies of the latest Lode’s Way leaflet. They are available at Wicken Fen (I presume) and also here as a pdf. The work taking place in Burwell Fen will help to create a wet grassland habitat. In places Burwell Fen is nearly 2 metres below sea level. If you see me cycling feel free to stop me and ask for one!

If you look more closely around Burwell Fen you can see that a low-level clay bund is being created. Bund means embankment or an embanked quay and comes from the Hindi-Urdu word band for embankment, levee or dam. If you pronounce it Boond then it also means rear end in Urdu/Punjabi!. (If you are a budding Fen manager here is some advice on Fen hydrology.)

The dark peaty fen soil is not that deep and has been subject to shrinkage and exploitation over the years. In Wicken Fen surface peat deposits lie over Gault clay. According to the link the depth of peat varies from zero on Wicken Breed Fen to around 4m on Howe's bank. Around Adventurers' Fen the depth of peat on the arable land is less than 60cm and clay is being ploughed up in places.

Two reasons for mentioning that, the first is that the diggers are digging below the peat layer to get to the Gault clay to help construct the bund. and also to illustrate just how fragile the eco-system is. It does make me wonder whether special farming techniques are used to minimise soil loss and if not why not.

A century ago Burwell Lode was the busiest around these parts with Burwell Chemical works digging coprolites for fertilizer and by the early 20th century 10,000 tonnes of fertilizer were shipped out on barges each year. According the the Wicken Fen leaflet on Lodes Way Burwell Brickworks also manufactured 10 million bricks every year which were also shipped by barge. “By the 1960s the water borne trade had all but ceased”. Nowadays you will see the occasional boat making its way along the Lode, here is one passing along the Lode with Priory Farm in the background.

Mike also mentioned that cycle hire is being started at Wicken Fen soon. The website indicates that the target is April 2011 so only a few days left, perhaps the bank Holiday was the original date. Hopefully this will also encourage the NT to open up a few other cycle routes around the Fen, partly to reduce walker/cyclist “conflict” and partly to encourage more people to view this interesting patch of nature so close to Cambridge and Ely. Whilst the Lodes Way is a great cycle route clambering over the footbridge can be a bit of a chore.

Talking about clambering over the footbridge we also chatted with a couple who had cycled up from Bottisham. They had also bought a picnic – he was carrying the rolls she was carrying the sausages. Even though the sausages were probably heavier I think they were the right choice, more nutritious if they got lost! (The cyclists not the sausages.)

Along Lodes Way there has been an attempt to segregate the human traffic from the animals. Along the outskirts of Wicken Fen the path has been fenced in with some channels for the animals at each end and a series of cattle grids to allow the animals to move between the two areas.  The first half of Burwell Fen is open with pseudo-ha-has along each edge of the path. If you follow the Wikipedia link you will see that the one edge of the Ha-ha is sloped and the other vertical – to prevent the animals getting into a garden for instance. Yet at the same time removing the need for unsightly fencing.  However these “barriers”  seem to have two slanting edges, although I think in reality the edge near the path is a little more upright than the edge next to the field. So whilst the cows can enter the ditch they probably can’t climb up to the path.

On reaching Reach Lode Bridge I took a picture of the Lode – where on the right of the Lode you can see the Bund being created around Burwell Fen. There is quite a chunk of excavation taking place here – building a bund around Burwell Fen requires quite a chunk of clay to be moved. I am looking forward to seeing the changes in the countryside.

There are various farm buildings dotted around the Fens, as there are in any farming areas I guess. Not all of them are dilapidated and unused though. Across Sedge Fen at the end of Headlake Drove is a more modern barn that sees quite a lot of use. The haystack has warning signs indicating CCTV is in use.

Another slightly atmospheric picture across the agricultural fens.

Mind you depending upon the time of day and the direction you look in the view can be dramatically different. The previous pictures were looking more towards the sunset, this picture looking south along Reach Lode is much brighter and the grass on the banking looked quite lush.

I got home just in time – well just in time for supper, my exploring and chatting had taken a little longer than originally planned. What did surprise me was I saw cyclists all around, not just on the obvious routes such as Lodes Way.  Whilst it is tempting to think of the 9 miles of Lodes Way as being a good distance even a moderately un-fit cyclist will soon find themselves wanting to wander (pedal) a little further afield.  Of course there are other routes in the area and the NCN11 up to Ely is well worth a ride. I must have passed 15 or so cyclists on the Barway-Wicken stretch alone.

Talking about group rides on Monday, 2nd May Reach Fair is being held and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is organising a a group ride to the fair from Cambridge. This year the Mayor of Cambridge (Sheila Stuart) will take part, let’s hope she doesn’t puncture as she also has to open the fair and it would not do for it to be late.  They expect around 500 riders so it should be quite an event so if she does puncture she should get plenty of help. Maybe someone will jump off their bike and hand it to her – Tour de France stylee.


  1. The ha-ha and a cow not laughing

    When that ha-ha was first dug a number of people said to N.T. that they didn't think that it would give the cows any trouble. And we were proved right 5 minutes after the cows were released. However, while the digging equipment is on site the inner walls are going to be made as close to vertical as possible.

    The non-laughing cow from that bunch is one that was bitten or stung on the face last Tuesday and suffered very bad swelling, and presumably pain. The vet thought it was an adder ((Viperus Berus) bite, and as it seems that they are quite frequent in our livestock any vet should be familiar with the symptoms.

    Bad news for the cow, although she's responding well to treatment the farmer told me. But if it /was/ an adder, that's good news for Cambridgeshire wildlife. Adders are scarce in Cambridgeshire and haven't been noted in the Wicken area before, but have been seen on the Suffolk border not far away. The habitat is OK for adders, so maybe it's a first "sighting".

  2. The last time I saw an Adder in the wild must have been 30-odd years ago in Somerset, up on the Mendips. It was basking in the sun off the beaten track.

    I will have to keep my eyes peeled.