This is by far the worst leg of the Hereward Way. Paths head out of the beautiful city of Ely, descending down to cross the River Great Ouse. A long walk along tracks then follows to Prickwillow, after which a long, boring and sometimes precarious road walk leads on to the remote Shippea Hill railway station. This is a leg that could easily be missed out by taking a train or bus between Ely and Shippea Hill railway stations - if you can catch one of the few trains that call at Shippea Hill...
2 hours 59 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
This leg starts off from the Market Place in Ely at TL452803. Turn left up Bray's Lane, keeping the market place on the left. At the northeastern corner of the square turn right along a road called Vineyards. This soon curves to the left to start taking a northeasterly course as it descends out of the city. When the road curves sharply to the left, turn right and then immediately left along a surfaced path called Vineyard Way that squeezes northeastwards between houses. When this reaches the end of a surfaced road called Springhead Lane on the left, turn right down a track that leads down to Lisle Lane at TL547804.
Carefully cross Lisle Lane and go through a wooden clappergate to join a gravel track called Springhead Lane that runs between hedges. This soon curves to the left to head east-northeastwards for a third of a mile, passing a lake beyond the hedge on the left. At TL553805 the path goes through a metal clappergate and joins a surfaced track called Kiln Lane. Turn right and follow Kiln Lane as it crosses a level crossing over a railway line and continues southeastwards.
Follow Kiln Lane as it twists and turns in a rough easterly direction; after passing a factory on the right the track curves to the right whilst a path continues on between palisade fences to reach Cuckoo Bridge over flooded clay pits known as the Roswell Pits. Shortly after crossing the bridge the path jinks to the right, following a chain-link fence on the left, and then to the left to rejoin the riverbank. Head northeastwards for a few yards to reach a metal footbridge over the Great Ouse at TL561805. Use this to cross over to the eastern bank of the river, and then climb up onto the road.
Turn right to follow the road southwestwards for a couple of hundred yards; just before it curves to the right turn left to head northeastwards along a track. After a short distance this curves to the right; as it does so continue straight on along a footpath that soon becomes a rough track. This winds as it heads in a rough northeasterly direction; always stay on the track and avoid turnings off to the right and the left. On the way it passes a couple of farms and heads under some power lines.
A little over two miles after leaving the road, the track becomes surfaced and becomes Old Bank Road at TL590817. This road winds northwards for another third of a mile until it ends at a junction with a minor road in Prickwillow; turn left along this for a few yards until it merges with the B1104; the combined roads soon end at a junction with the B1382.
Turn right and follow the B1382 as it heads eastwards through Prickwillow; there is a pavement on the left-hand side of the road. After a third of a mile the road crosses the River Lark at Prickwillow Bridge. Follow this road northeastwards; for the first stretch there is a path on top of the flood bank to the right. When the floodbank curves sharply to the right you have to drop down onto the road. Cross the end of another road and continue northeastwards along the B1382 as it crosses a railway line on a level crossing. 1.6 miles after the level crossing, the B1382 road ends at a T-junction with the A1101 at TL615854.
Turn right and follow the A1101 in a rough east-southeasterly direction; after 1.7 miles it curves sharply to the right to head south for a sixth of a mile to reach the level crossing beside Shippea Hill railway station at TL641841. Care needs taking on this section as the verges are narrow and the road can be busy.
Places of interest
Ely is a small city, scarcely larger than a town, built on a hill that rises up from the surrounding flat Fenland. In historic times this land was flooded, meaning the city was an island rising out of the surrounding marshes. Its remote and inaccessible location was ideal for early monks, and an abbey was built on the hill in the 7th Century.
The modern city is dominated by the infamous cathedral, whose position on the top of the hill grants it the name 'the Ship of the Fens'. The rest of the town is also pleasant, with shops that have been tastefully incorporated into the historic buildings.
Water still dominates the lower reaches of the city, with the Great Ouse flowing northwards towards its outfall into the Wash. A particularly pleasant riverside walk can be made along the western bank of the river.
location UID #287
Ely and the Lord Protector
Ely's most famous son is undoubtedly Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. Born in nearby Huntingdon in 1599, he became an MP in 1628 and then a local tax collector in Ely in 1636. When the Civil War broke out in 1642 he recruited local troops for the parliamentary cause. Over the ensuing years and battles he grew in stature amongst the parliamentarians until he became the Lord Protector four years after King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. When he died in 1658 his son, Richard, was made Lord Protector, a decision that only lasted a year before the monarchy was restored in the form of King Charles I's son, Charles II. In an example of bitter retribution, in 1661 Charles II had Cromwell's body exhumed and posthumously executed.
Cromwell's home in the city is now the local tourist information office, and also houses a rather good museum about his life. The best that can be said about Cromwell is that he is a controversial figure; he is hated by the Irish for his actions in his Irish Campaign, and he will always be known as the man who removed the monarchy, only to have it come back later.
location UID #288
Ely Cathedral has to be one of Britain's most spectacularly-sited cathedrals. Sitting on the top of an island that rises out of the surrounding Fens, it is visible for miles around and is known as the 'Ship of the Fens' because of the way the towers appear like masts sticking up from the body, or hull, of the cathedral.
An abbey was first founded on the island by Etheldreda, a Saxon Princess whose first husband granted her land in what is now Ely. After her first husband died, she married Egfrith, who later became the King of Northumbria. A deeply religious woman she founded a double monastery (i.e. that supported both monks and nuns) in 673 AD, much to the chagrin of her husband.
It is believed that the abbey was destroyed by a Danish invasion in the 9th Century, but a new Benedictine monastery was founded in 970. These buildings were slowly demolished as the current ones were built, with work starting in 1083. The complex became classified as a cathedral in 1109.
The cathedral is topped by a unique wooden lantern that is an engineering masterpiece; guided tours are often given of the lantern. The free-standing Lady Chapel is a superb piece of architecture, and is perhaps my favourite part of the cathedral; it is not as grand as the nave, but its reduced size just brings the superb stone and wordwork closer to the viewer. Much of the cathedral is built in Gothic and Romanesque styles, although the exterior is marred by large abutments where the northwest transept collapsed in Medieval times.
Because of its location, the cathedral has fitted rather well into the town that grew up around it. The town owes its existence to the cathedral, and bows to it to this day.
location UID #289
Prickwillow and the Museum
Prickwillow is a small village situated on the southern bank of the River Lark. Originally it was on the Great Ouse, but the massive changes in the watercourses that occurred during the drainage of the fens and later flood-prevention works altered the course of the respective rivers.
The drainage has led to some rather remarkable shrinkage of the surrounding land, and many of the houses are built on piles to cope with the shrinkage. The Prickwillow Drainage Museum is dedicated to the historical and technical aspects of the drainage of the Fens.
location UID #290
Transport on this leg should be easy; both Ely and Shippea Hill railway stations are on the Ely to Norwich railway line. However Shippea Hill station has slowly had most of its services withdrawn until there is currently (2019) only one train at about 7.30 in the morning, and you have to change at Thetford to return to Ely. See the National Rail website for more information.
Whippet Coaches used to run a bus service between Hunstanton in Norfolk and Newmarket, calling at Ely and Shippea Hill on the way, but this appears currently (2019) to no longer run.
You could also use a taxi to get from Shippea Hill to Ely. However, it may be best to combine this leg with the next one to Brandon, as regular hourly train services run between Brandon and Ely.