My daughter lives in Fenland, which is boringly flat. I like to see a bit of undulation, but in Fenland there is none. It’s the home of agribusiness. The fields contain rich black earth, and food grows everywhere on a large scale. Large tracts of land are owned by the Coop, and there is a brisk turn-round in trucks on every road in the area. Wind turbines dot the landscape, and remind me of that concrete poem by Iain Hamilton Finlay:
The Horizon of Holland is all Ears
He is, of course, referring to the blades of the windmills sticking up. Obviously we must think of the ears of hares poking up. I’ve tried to find a photo of the construction which has the words reaching upwards like windmill sails, but cant find one. My own copy is in storage back in London. (By the way, it’s worth visiting his home in Scotland, where he constructed his concrete poems in the garden.)
Somewhere to the east is the lost treasure of King John, sucked down into the Wash. The wind races across the vast open spaces from Siberia, and in the winter the temperatures sink seriously low. My daughter tells me they hit -17C last winter. That is colder than I was one awful february night in Bulgaria when we were walking from the hotel to the local night-life all of 200 yards down the road. Half-way there we stopped, so cold we were seriously thinking of turning back.
Inside the rather nice little club we eventually reached we were served by tall thin girls with ridiculously short skirts and socks, with long bare white legs showing. I have never before noticed how cold legs can look. But I digress.
The only point of interest for me is the river Nene and it’s so-called valley. It must be the flattest valley on the planet. But it’s a charming little river. And somewhere running along the valley is the old railway line, once used by dear Freddie and Queen to record one of their singles while riding the wagons. Nice base line, guys.
Just to the south of this table-land is the town of Godmanchester and on the other side of the river, Huntingdon. The towns straddle one of the many rivers in the UK called Ouse. Quite why so many rivers are called Ouse is probably due to downright laziness. Apparently the name derives from the Celtic word for water or slow flowing river.
It’s one of the rivers that has been constantly altered and treated almost like a canal, with navigation being possible right the way to Bedford. The river was first modified way back in 1236. After the coming of the railways traffic on the river declined and by the end of the nineteenth century the navigation was virtually non-existent, and the river was subject to continual flooding.
Godmanchester is an old settlement dating back to pre-Roman times. Apparently there are 130 buildings there listed for special architectural interest, so if that is your baby, you really should drop in and wander around. The place is very picturesque.
The town is situated at an important crossing point, where the Via Devana and Ermine Street cross the Great Ouse. The Romans called it Durovigutum, but it changed to Godmundcestre in the 11th century, and the spelling moved about a bit until it settled on today’s version.
Just across the river is the more industrial town of Huntingdon. This is another of those places plagued by government boundary commissions. The town was once a county town, but Huntingdonshire no longer officially exists. Maybe things will change again. I note that Rutland is back again despite once being amalgamated with Leicestershire.
Famous (if that’s the right word) as being the birth-place of Oliver Cromwell, it was also for a time where Samuel Pepys was secretary to the Earl of Sandwich. However, I prefer the other side of the river.
The property market out here is very slow. It’s a rather depressed region of the UK. There is very little work about, and what there is happens to be poorly paid. With petrol prices so high it also means that if you live in an outlying village it costs a fortune getting to work. That all tends to depress house prices in the villages.
I had to make a trip across country, first to Somerset and then to Birmingham, which meant I escaped the fens along that great artery that runs from the East Coast ports to central England, the A14. The route goes through some interesting countryside but the road itself is clogged with trucks.
I shall be driving west next week.