Public footpaths and tea at Wicken Fen

This afternoon the weather was very dreary – grey clouds and looming rain. The clouds would seem to blow over, only to be replaced by darkening skies again. Eventually we took the plunge and set-out to walk some of the public footpaths at Wicken Fen (a National Trust nature reserve, with 7,000 species of wildlife, near Ely, Cambridgeshire). Wicken Fen was the first nature reserve owned by the National Trust (acquired in 1899). Through the Wicken Fen Vision, the National Trust proposes to extend the reserve across 22 square miles of farmland between Wicken and Cambridge (it currently owns about 2,300 acres), and anticipates that this will take around 100 years.

I am sceptical about the objectives of the National Trust’s vision, and its commitment to public footpaths. The NT can appear to be aggressive and arrogant as a landowner. Some think that the NT has a tendency to neglect the public paths across its land, preferring to direct people towards paying to walk at their properties. It has also appeared to claim ownership of (and carry out work on) droves around Wicken Fen that it demonstrably does not own. However, today I did notice that the sign for the public footpath near the Visitor Centre was clearly visible. The public footpaths in the area can be seen using Cambridgeshire County Council’s Online Inter-active Public Rights of Way Map, or at the Multimap website (public rights of way shown by broken red lines), or using good old-fashioned Ordnance Survey paper maps (available from most bookshops) – Wicken is shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 226 – Ely and Nemarket.

Anyway, that’s enough of my public rights of way soap box (oh well, maybe just one more thing – a good book on the subject of public access to the countryside is “This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for Britain’s Countryside”, by Marion Shoard).

We had a lovely walk through the fen, with atmospheric moody, grey clouds above us – although I am pleased to say we did stay completely dry! We enjoyed browsing the Visitor Centre, and the various local (but seemingly over-priced) crafts and produce, and some interesting books. We bought “Britain’s Countryside: A Walker’s Guide”, by Geoffrey Young. It’s a lovely illustrated book about Britain’s landscape and the various influences on it from pre-historic times to the present, and it is good value at £2.99!

I would prefer to see more of the children’s items in the shop made from natural/sustainable sources, eg rushes, wood, etc; most of the children’s things seem to be brightly-coloured plastic and not in-keeping with the apparent ethos of the National Trust, or the needs/wants of those visiting a nature reserve.

To round-off the day we enjoyed tea and scones with butter and jam, followed by some chocolately, biscuity enjoyment, which, we were assured by the girl in the Wicken Fen cafe, is like ‘refrigerator cake’ – whatever that is!

Wicken Methodist Church

Wicken Methodist Church

On the walk back, we stopped by Jennifer Sargent’s Cambridge Open Studio, and passed this wall very well covered with a rambling rose – very bright and colourful!

Rose wall, Wicken

Rose wall, Wicken

We also passed by the Maid’s Head hoping for a pint of refreshment (but the pub was closed), we heard a warbler of some kind hiding in the reeds warbling very loudly! Lastly we encountered some of the wild Konik ponies that inhabit the fen – they look stunning against the fen landscape.

Konik Ponies at Wicken Fen

Konik Ponies at Wicken Fen

Pair of Konik Ponies

Pair of Konik Ponies

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