Submerged agricultural land is quite common at this time of year in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands but I am always struck by the sheer incongruity of scenes like this. This image was taken near the village of Earith and shows the impact of controlled flooding from The River Great Ouse.
Bram Stoker was inspired by Whitby Abbey to write the story of Count Dracula. Had he visited Ely in the dark Winter months he would have found similar inspiration for a macabre Gothic novel. When glimpsed through the trees from the march on the opposite bank of the river there are few elements of 21st Century life to break the spell. A web of branches and ivy veils the tower, like a child looking in trepidation through half-open fingers.
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.
In the Fenlands, a house is a mute record, a repository of thoughts, memories, and lives lived. Inside, random collections of discarded objects lounge in neglected corners, like careless tenants. Torn curtains in upstairs windows, become props in a witness protection program, scanning the horizon for potential interlopers. A polyurethane oil tank cements the incongruity as the telegraph poles transmit on forgotten frequencies.