photograph of a Fenland Road

This is an archetypal Fenland landscape, just near Gold Hill, close to the Old Bedford River. There are no physical hills in the Fenlands even though fanciful hills are declared in abundance. It is either stoic irony or wishful thinking, or both. The flat road stretches towards the horizon like a low budget American road movie, neither the weather nor a distant mountain range conspire to underpin this popular genre. With squatters’ rights, the dark, opaque sky occupies the usual space above the horizon whilst in other latitudes, the world coexists in technicolor.

Telegraph Pole and Tree in the fof

The Fenland landscape belongs to Winter. In football terms, Summer relegates the Fenlands to the third division or possibly a non-league team. How do you compete with the beauty of the English Lakes, the peak district and Dartmoor? There is nothing of the traditional picturesque here but there is something elemental and prosaic. This is a functional world of telegraph poles, dykes, rivers, drainage ditches, tree lines, and flat open fields. Winter strips away all delusions and leaves us with brutal yet magnificent honesty and directness.

Fenland Trees, White House Road, Little Ouse

Modern technology insists on ever-higher pixel counts as if the weight of detail was the most essential component in a photograph. If only we could witness more, ‘capture’ more, encompass more, our desire for evidence would finally be sated. The tsunami of information swamps us, flooding every nook and cranny of our lives, absorbing and occupying our natural capacity. The increasingly futile quest to record the minutiae of the visible world is a ‘will-o’-the-wisp’, a shadow play, a distraction. When the fog rolls across the Fens we stop looking, the obsession with calculation, measurement and accounting stalls and we are free to see.

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.