The Fenland has visual riches in abundance, but these treasures are easily overlooked or unseen as we drive by on our way to somewhere else. Just off the Isle of Ely Way, or the A141, if you prefer the prosaic designation there is a wonderful example of a Fenland Farmhouse. It embodies the archetypal idea of a house, that childhood notion of what we think houses should look like. It could almost be a drawing, a blueprint. More or less symmetrical with a front door in the middle, uniformly spaced windows, and two chimneys at either end it surveys the flat open space of Curf Fen.
I have photographed this building on more than one occasion with limited success and this evening, with the Winter light fading fast, I was absolutely certain I had left it too late. I was mistaken. The low sun reflected in the broken glass of the upper windows briefly animated the facade providing a counterpoint to the encroaching darkness.
‘The Ouse Washes are part of a flood defense system. They are an uninhabited area of nearly six thousand acres that provides storage for floodwater that the River Great Ouse cannot discharge directly into the sea (at Kings Lynn) without overflowing its banks. The excess waters are held within the washes until tides and river flows allow discharge back into the river and thence the sea. This can take a few days or several weeks’.
‘Unfortunately, this essential safety feature results in regular flooding of a section of the A1101 main road where it crosses the washes between Welney and Suspension Bridge. This part of the road is known as the Wash Road or Welney Wash Road, but referred to as Welney Causeway.’
Well, there you have the technical explanation that somehow overlooks the beauty and drama that is a direct by-product of the floodwaters. This photograph was taken from the now impassable Wash Road, just as the rays of the sun momentarily broke through the dark winter clouds.
At first sight, this looks like a mirror image, but it is a photograph of one of the arrow-straight tree lines seen across the Fenlands. Why there are two rows of trees planted side by side, I really don’t know; it is unlikely to be an aesthetic decision because it is so difficult to walk between them.
Anthony Trollope (1815 -1882) writes about the Fen landscape and he says, ‘a country walk less picturesque could hardly be found in England’. Trollope was familiar with the fens through his work as a surveyor for the Post Office but was unimpressed by the landscape. I think he was wrong, the Fenland landscape can be absolutely wonderful, as you can see here. There is a poetry in this place, you just have to open your mind and heart, you will see it.
Leaving Mile End Road, just after the village of Prickwillow and following the River Lark for a mile or so, you find a part of the Fenland that is very much off the beaten track. In the fog, the landscape takes on a different mantle and there is a genuine sense of remoteness and isolation. There must be more telegraph poles here than any other area of the UK, and in the soft peat soils of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands they take on a range of jaunty angles. As a mere beginner, just deviating from the perpendicular, it will be a long and epic journey for this pole to reach the customary 30 or 40 degrees.
Just south of Primrose Hill Farm, where Poplar Drove becomes Hale Fen Road, I caught sight of a farm building on the far horizon. I left the car at the side of the track and walked for half a mile across open fields, crunching the wheat stubble and water logged ground beneath my boots. The watery sun was catching the gable end of the barn, and a halo of soft light animated the space around the buildings. I took a series of photographs whilst walking towards the farm and kept my fingers crossed the fast changing skies would leave a window of opportunity. The photograph published here here was one of a series I took at Hale Fen this morning.