This is a fairly remote walk through the best of the Fens. The Hereward Way leaves March by following the Old Course of the River Nene northeastwards for nearly four miles, directly passing a windfarm with many massive turbines on the other side of the river. It then follows quiet paths and tracks to the Sixteen Foot Drain and on to the small village of Christchurch, where there is a pub and a shop. The village was once home to the authoress Dorothy L. Sayers, and it is possible to visit the plaque attached to the house in which she once lived. Sadly a few miles of road walking are then needed to get from south of Christchurch to Welney; fortunately the roads are not too busy and the verges generally wide.
3 hours 50 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 at the bridge that carries the B1101 Broad Street over the River Nene (Old Course) in March at TL416967.
On the northern side of the bridge and facing north, turn right down Nene Parade. Continue along this as it winds northeastwards, following the northern bank of the river. It passes two sets of bollards as the road becomes pedestrianised before becoming open to traffic once more. When Wigstone's Road comes in from the left turn right to cross the river via a metal pedestrian bridge. On the other side turn left to start following the southern bank of the river northeastwards along a surfaced path past some parkland. As the path curves to the right continue straight on along a grassy path. A third of a mile after the bridge, it joins a surfaced path that descends to pass under a railway bridge.
Go through a metal clappergate on the other side of the railway bridge to continue along the path. This follows the southern bank of the river northeastwards for another 2.8 miles. For a long period there is a good track, although at other times you will need to wade through vegetation on top of the bank. Several stiles and gates will also need to be negotiated. The path passes a large wind farm on the other side of the river.
At TL463999 (opposite a pumping station on the other bank, and just before the last wind turbine), turn right away from the river keeping a ditch on the left and a field on the right. The path becomes a track; it crosses a field drain to enter a second field. At the end of this second field the track curves to the right with a drain on the left. It heads westwards for a short distance to TL464994 where the track curves to the left over the drain.
Follow the track southeastwards; it soon becomes surfaced as it winds around for nearly a mile until it reaches a drain at TL470980 just before Well Fen Farm is reached. Do not enter the farm, and instead cross the bridge over the drain and then turn left to start following the southern bank of the drain in a rough easterly direction, paralleling the course of an old Roman Road called Fen Causeway off to the right.
At the end of the first field cross a drain using a small wooden footbridge, and in the next field turn right and then left to join a green track that heads east-southeastwards until it reaches Christchurch Farm. At the farm it crosses another track and continues straight on along a footpath, keeping some barns on the right. Go past a vehicle barrier as the footpath continues on between hedges with the farm on the right; the path soon emerges out onto a track that heads eastwards, passing a house on the left before reaching the Sixteen Foot Drain at TL484976.
Cross the bridge over the drain (the bridge is not marked on some 1:25,000 maps). On the other side cross the B1098 road and continue southeastwards along the surfaced Crown Road. It becomes unsurfaced as it passes Crown Lodge on the left. The track becomes a surfaced road once more on the northern outskirts of Christchurch. Continue along the road for another 250 yards until it ends at a T-junction with another road in the small village of Christchurch.
Continue straight on along this road; there is a pavement on the right. As the road curves sharply to the right after a little over 100 yards continue straight on down the surfaced Green Lane, immediately passing the Dun Cow pub on the left.
After three-quarters of a mile a track comes in from the right between fields; turn right to follow this track southwestwards for a fifth of a mile, soon joining a fence on the left. After a while it jinks to the left and then right to continue southwestwards before ending at the B1100 road at TL496951. Turn left to follow the road southwards, passing the Hole in the Wall Farm on the right. A road junction is met after a quarter of a mile; here turn left to continue along the B1100 road, signposted for Welney. Follow this as it twists and turns for 2.4 miles as it passes through Tipps End before finally ending at a T-junction with the A1101 in Welney at TL526940.
Turn right and follow this road as it heads southwards to reach the Lamb and Flag Inn in Welney at TL527937.
Places of interest
March is one of the several towns built on high islands of ground within the once-marshy Fens. Unlike several of the other islands it was not home to a monastic settlement; instead it became a market town. Its history can probably be dated back to Roman times, when the Fen Causeway linked Peterborough with northern Norfolk. The draining of the Fens has led to the town becoming a major agricultural centre, and in summer and autumn the roads are often clogged up with tractors and trailers. The town itself always feel busy, and I have rarely ever seen its streets without many people milling about.
Although only the Ely to Peterborough railway line currently heads through the town, it was once a busy railway junction. One line went south to St Ives, whilst others went to Wisbech and Spalding. These last two were rather late closures of the rail network, having closed in 2001 and 1982 respectively. The line north to Wisbech is still extant, and although no services currently run down it there are plans for it to be reopened as the Bramley Line.
Between the wars a massive marshalling yard was built to the north of the town; this was the largest of its type in Britain. Sadly the changes in rail freight meant that the yard fell out if disuse in the 1980s. Part of the site was used to create HMP Whitemoor. Another part of the site has been reopened as a smaller rail freight centre, and in 2011 Whitemoor Recycling Yard was opened to reclaim sleepers and rail from around the national network.
location UID #283
The Fen Causeway Roman Road
The Fen Causeway was a Roman Road that linked Denver in western Norfolk with Ermine Street to the west of Peterborough. In Roman times the area was boggy marshland, and the roadway linked many of the high and dryer islands. The Romans constructed a raised dry roadway across the boggy areas; traces of this can still be seen from the Hereward Way to the west of Christchurch.
location UID #284
Welney, the Washes and the Bedford Rivers
Three massive rivers cut for twenty miles through the Fens from Earith in the southwest to Denver in the northeast. These are the Old Bedford River and the River Delph to the north, and the New Bedford River to the south. Work on the Old Bedford River started in 1630, and the massive channel granted the waters of the Great Ouse a much more direct route to the sea.
Twenty years later Cornelius Vermuyden built the New Bedford River, which runs about half a mile to the south and parallel to the old river. Unlike the old river the New Bedford River is tidal, and it is strange to see water flowing the 'wrong' way (i.e. inland) so far from the sea. The land between the rivers is low-lying and can be used to store flood waters after periods of heavy rain. Because of this it became known as the Welney Washes.
A third river, the Delph, runs parallel to the Old River for most of the way. This is used to help drain the washes after periods of flooding, and is much less regarded than the Bedford rivers.
Certain unfarmed areas of the washes are a haven for birdlife, and the ornithology Mecca of Welney Wetland Centre sits on the washes just to the north of the Hereward Way.
location UID #285
Transport between Welney and March is difficult; Traveline East Anglia can give you details of these limited bus services. Manea station is about three and a half miles to the southwest, but this has few services and is only accessible via a long road walk.
It may be best to combine this leg with the next stage between Welney and Ely; you can then use the train service that runs regularly between the Ely and March.