Friday, 11 May 2018

Rural wandering in South Cambs X 2

Peterborough walks have been on a hiatus lately due to business at work  and working away. Then the bank holiday, when I spent a couple of afternoons walking with my partner around some of the villages just south of Cambridge.

My partner is much more rurally orientated than me, which means I occasionally venture out to a place I previously wouldn't have bothered with much before: the countryside . Left to my own devices I'd have been unlikely to go out into the sticks very much. In the past I considered the countryside a bit boring, conservative, remote, difficult to get to (and more importantly from) and lacking in amenities. More recently, I've learned to drive so going to these places is more possible and forces me to practice. Going anywhere by car is still my least preferred  mode of travel, but does have its uses on these occasions. Before my attitude had been if somewhere couldn't easily be reached by foot, bicycle or public transport (preferably train, not bus) then it probably wasn't worth going to. My view has shifted in recent years, and i'm nearly as happy going for a rural wander as an urban one. I don't know if this is because of gentle coersion by my partner, learning to drive, or just getting older and appreciating different things.

Walk 1: Eversden Woods and environs.

The first walk involved parking up in the village of Great Eversden. My memories of the village itself are already a bit vague. Nothing remarkable, bigish houses and big gardens indicating fairly well off residents, no pub (apart from one now operating as an Indian Restaurant), no shops or cafes. There was a church (more of this later). We parked near it and headed off down a footpath. The objective of the walk was to go to Eversden Wood where we could catch the last bloom of bluebells. We thought it would be less busy than the other bluebell woods in the area which were more well known being managed and advertised by people like the Wildlife Trust. The irony of going out to the countryside to get some peace and tranquility away from town, only to be thrust among a mob of families and their dogs was something we wanted to avoid.

Before reaching the woods we stopped for a rest on a ridge, overlooking a farm, the village and towards Cambridge. The behemoth of Addenbrokes Hospital could easily be seen in the distance, as could Eddington and the wind farm near Fleam Dyke near the village of Fulbourn. There was nobody about on the ridge. It was peacful yet strangely surreal. It's not often you get up high in Cambridge (I'm talking very relative, it wasn't Ben Nevis). It was a bright and sunny day and lhe light was reminiscent of that on 70s TV programmes I remembered seeing about the Countryside as a child. At that time it seemed another world, one I wasn't particularly interested in. One where a patronising man told you to follow the country code and notices told you to keep out of fields. The light had a strange quality in these programmes which seemed to be slightly off kilter with real life. Maybe it's the type of film they used. But it seemed to mainfest itself on the ridge.

We got to the wood. Suddenly in the shade, out of the sun which was getting a bit much for me being a pasty faced individual with little tolerance for it. The bluebells were competing with a profusion of other plants and brambles. We saw nobody else as we progressed into the wood along a path that became increasingly quagmire like the further we went. A prolonged wet spell had left it's mark.

My choice of footwear was a bit ill advised for this sort of thing. Roamers 'Jason' suede slip on desert boots are ideal for walking in an urban environment (or anywhere dry and not too lumpy really). But they are neither water or slip proof. Just as things were starting to get awkward I found a large stick which I could use as a steadier and to gage the depth of puddles. I felt like a character in one of those terrible dungeons and dragons games, who finds a significant object that will assist in the quest. In this case to get to the other side of the wood without slipping into water, nettles or brambles. The staff of stability! I briefly fancied myself as a sort of Merlin, as he was portrayed in the film Excalibur. But a subsequent near slip brought me back down to earth. A panama hat wearing middle aged buffoon would be closer to reality.

The path widened into one where vehicles had obviously been used, adding to the quagmire. At this point the walk became a bit like a rural version of the Crystal Maze, circumnavigating edges of puddles trying not to fall into nettles and brambles while avoiding the mud and pools of water. A mysterious dustbin like object ahead appeared like a poor quality dalek. It turned out to be a device to feed pheasants. I'm not sure I really agree with breeding pheasants to shoot and eat. Apart from being cruel, it seems a lot of effort to go to given the tiny amount of meat they have on them. Like other 'country pursuits', foxhunting, hare coursing, horseracing etc I don't really understand the appeal or approve. But then, I'm not from round these parts. I'm sure the Barber Jacket and welly wearing contingent would remind me of that and tell me I wouldn't understand their country ways. And I'd agree with them.

Out of the woods and into the brightness of a field. We followed the quagmire path above, rather than the dryer path that appeared to have been the result of spraying some sort of dangerous weedkiller. A reminder that farms and much of the rural environment they govern are industrial in nature..literally.  I recalled, vaguely, the Sunday lunchtime TV programme 'Farming Diary'. I can remember a panel of two or three men presenting it, looking like Bob Fleming from the fast show. The commercial break was reserved for adverts relating to farming. Enormous radioactive looking orange sacks of fertiliser, combine harvesters and sprays to kill weeds and insects. I also remembered the smell eminating from the Fisons factory in nearby Hauxton when my friends Dad, who worked there, took us fishing at the mill pond in the grounds and to the social club, where the crisps tasted of the same smell.

Some time after crossing the partially poisoned field, and resting in an apparently unpoisoned one inhabited by a number of crows (or maybe rooks) and pigeons, we came across the concrete circles of a reservoir. At the same time, in the distance, I could see the white disk of a radio telescope. We had moved from depressing Sunday afternoon  advertisments for poisonous agricultural chemicals to an environment reminiscent of the Quatermass mini TV series from the 70s. Both dystopian, but the later at least offering some hope.

Within the compound of the reservoir was a trig point, reminding us we were still at relatively lofty heights (for Cambridge).

An orangy stone had been left on the fence. I wondered if I should have collected this to complement my staff, but decided against it. It resembled a russett apple. I thought it looked good where it was. With the trig point, this added to the sort of stone circle like atmosphere of the compound.

A notice nearby warned of the laying of a 'relevant pipe'. This didn't look like it was going to be much of an impediment. Work had started, but had only progressed a few feet. I'm not sure exactly what a relevant pipe is. Can you have an irrelevant pipe?

It's relevance to us was that it was pointing in the same direction we wanted to go, back into the village (I suppose a pipe taking water away from a village might be the irrelevant sort).

The path lead eventually back to the church. We had a look round the churchyard before we left. The whitewashed building was unusual and impressive. Somewhat marred by the sign next to some gravestones showing sponsorship by lottery funding. They say lottery ticket money is dead money...

Walk 2: The Shepreth Barrington Meldreth triangle.

This walk may have been rougly triangular, or possibly more of a rhombus,  but didn't really feel like it. The main road from Shepreth to Barrington was closed. We enquired at the café (the tea and cake sort, not a grease caff) and the man helpfully found out for us that pedestrian access remained, only traffic couldn't get through.

But we didn't go that way, we followed a footpath/lane that eventually lead to a large field of oil seed rape. A path carried on, a stream or ditch on the other side. The oil seed rape, a type of brassica, resembled a yellow inedible version of purple sprouting brocolli close up. From a distance a sea of monotonous yellow. We followed the field round and crossed a stream/river over a wooden bridge then down a grass path walked off by two high hedges, as green as the grass. Like a maze except straight. Further along was an open iron gate, leading to what appeared to be a graveyard. There were only four or five graves and we concluded it was probably someone's garden. A bit weird but we thought best not to investigate further.

Soon we were on the main road through Barrington, bifurcating Barrington Green. This consists of a very large grass verge each side of the road and a large village green with a cricket pavilion. We stopped on the village green for a rest. No one was playing cricket (no one was there apart from the odd passing car). I recalled the scene in the film 'The Shout' where Alan Bates' character is revealed to be a mental patient, helping keep the score in a cricket match between villagers and inmates, before he loses it and get carted off. The film was set in Devon and this was Cambridgeshire. But village greens all look pretty similar. Another, maybe tenuous, rural/folk horror connection was the pub The Royal Oak which can be seen up the road from the Green. A woman who dressed as a witch used to be the landlady. I was aware of this at the time but didn't know where Barrington was then and never saw her. Walking past, I noted it has not retained any trace of Addams Family/Witchy connections.

Just past the pub, over the road is stream including a sort of pond resulting from damming (not the large concrete sort obviously). We sat and observed the pondlife. Waterboatmen, snails, pomdskippers and fish (of the tiddler variety). Within the pond was another world containing these creatures, swaying aquatic plants and air bubbles gently drifting to the surface, which was easy to become emersed in. And we did for some time. I remembered David Bellamy's backyard safari, where the presenter was 'shrunk' in order to observe ants and snails from a different perspective. I don't remebere if he ever dived into a pond.

We headed down the road back toward Shepreth. This was the road closed to traffic, which as walkers was in our favour. At a small (and empty) car park we found the entrance to a meadowy environment around which the river could be followed. We took the path that sort of followed the river and at some point we stopped to looked at a willow tree with a large hollow.

In the hollow I noticed what I thought was a  discarded  packed lunch box. Closer inspection revealed this to be a Geocache box. It contained a lighter, a toy police badge and a cotton real. I've never done Geocaching and am unaware of its finer points. I didn't have anything to leave in the box and didn't take anything. I put a note in the log book including my blog web address. Maybe I'll be regarded as a 'muggle' in the Geocaching community for doing this. But I wondered if there was some crossover with Geocaching and psychogeography, and I'd not maybe there should be. Geocaching encourages walking and a certain amount of exploration, as does (did?) the more virtual Pokémon. But maybe there's too much purpose involved, too much of a point to it. There's enough of that sort of thing in day to day life. I considered my intervention by leaving my note in the book as a psychogeographical ''wave' to the Geocaching community, a friendly amd mischievious disruption of their possibly more serious pursuits. And a shameless plug for my blog.

Across the other side of the meadow, we entered another sanctioned path in a woody area. The boozy detritus left behind in this pool indicating a more upmarket outdoor drinking fraternity. No strong lager or Thunderbird here.

I can't recall much else of the wooded area. We emerged onto a road, which would take us to the edge of the village of Meldreth.
The road was one of those with no path, and no obvious speed limit making it potentially hazardous but traffic was luckily light.

We passed through the outer edge of Meldreth. The village sign was a sort of wrought iron affair, not the usual type. Slighty sinister. When I was younger I heard tales of a gang that often got on the train at Meldreth and were to be avoided if possible. The Meldreth Mafia may well have been the figment of someone's teenage
imagination. But if they did exist I imagine they could have been responsible for burning down an earlier village sign. This one looks more fireproof.

Just outside of the village, we entered L-Moor, a scrubby sort of meadow now under the control of the Wildlife Trust. The explanatory sign at the entrance gave an explanation of the history, but I was distracted by the image of the Manx Longhorn Sheep, with its Baphomet like horns. The area a bit of a strange and archaic atmosphere, which I imagined being more intense on a misty winter day, when the sheep were grazing. They had been banished for the summer so disapointingly there were none to be seen.

The ground was lumpy with ant hills, having not been cultivated since the 1800s. It was divided by the railway line which was passed under via an old foot tunnel.

There were different coloured bits of plastic tied to a fence just the other side of the tunnel. I'm not sure what the significance of this was. Maybe they had been put there officially for some mundane reason. Or maybe they were the remnants of some sort of ritual, involving the Manx Sheep and dancing through the tunnel naked on the Sabbat.

Short after this we stopped for a rest. The electrified railway on one side, and an electricity pole on the other. In my line of sight to the pole was a flower, rare and known as a milkmaid according to my partner. On the railway line, two engineers wandered past talking in Brum accents, clad in radioactive Fisons orange. Like a couple of alien observers, keeping to the track just to be sure.

After leaving L-Moor we followed a path back to Shepreth. Just before coming out near the church, we passed a sort of agricultural machinery graveyard. A ramshackle array of tractors, lorrys and bits of plough, in various stages of ageing, rust and decay. Giving off a Texas chainsaw massacre/Dukes of Hazard sort of a feel. The gate was locked or I'd have been tempted to wander around it.

We arrived at the church. Less remarkable than the whitewashed one in Great Eversden, other than the roof. No spire, presumably there had been once, but a newer roof giving a more ominous feel, reminding me of 'The Black Tower'.

A lumpy and lichen infested gravestone was the other odd feature of the churchyard. Looking like it had become diseased or had been squeezed by a giant hand.

We emerged back into Shepreth, a village fairly indestinguishable from Great Eversden at first sight. It does have a pub, The Plough. We stopped for some water.  The pub looked like it had received the 'Farrow and Ball' treatment and we were expecting it to be poncey but quiet. But the garden was given over to a children's playground and Queen was being played at high volume indoors, where a handful of regulars dwelt. We decided to head home.

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