This is a long walk through some surprisingly remote Fenland scenery. It passes only one settlement on the way: the small hamlet of Turves. The trail thankfully eschews roads for most of the way and instead spends many miles beside drainage channels such as the Briggate River, The Twenty Foot River and the Nene River (Old Course). Classic Fenland scenery surrounds the trail granting expansive 260-degree views, and there is virtually no ascent or descent at all in the day.
4 hours 2 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 A605 road in the centre of Whittlesea at TL270972. Cross over to the southern side of the A605 using the pedestrian crossing and continue south along the pedestrianised High Causeway. When this ends at a T-junction with Eastgate with the market cross on the right, cross the road using another pedestrian crossing and continue south along Station Road. Follow this as it heads south; after a fifth of a mile it curves to the left to take a more southeasterly course. It crosses the railway line via a level crossing immediately to the west of Whittlesea Station.
Follow the main road southeastwards; there is a pavement on the left. As it curves to the left after another 0.4 miles turn right to continue straight on along Turningtee Road (signposted for Ramsey). After a short distance this reaches Turningtree Bridge over the Briggate River; do not cross this and instead turn left through a metal gate to join a footpath that runs eastwards along the northern bank of the river. The path goes through a series of paddocks separated by two clappergates and a metal pedestrian gate before opening out into fields; it becomes a rough track as it passes Whype Farm on the left. 1.5 miles after leaving Turningtree Bridge the trail rejoins the B1093 road at TL306955.
Continue straight on along the B1093 as it crosses the Twenty Foot Drain at Angle Corner Bridge. A fifth of a mile later the road curves to the right to cross Angle Bridge; as it does so turn left to continue straight on along a gravel track before immediately turning to the left along a path that runs northwards between fields. After a sixth of a mile it reaches the southern bank of the Twenty Foot Drain and curves to the right to head northeastwards.
After a quarter of a mile the bank reaches a road called Wype Drove with Poplartree Bridge on the left; cross this and continue northeastwards along the bank for another half mile; the path passes Bate's Farm on the right before dropping down to join a track. Follow this northeastwards until it ends at a road at TL322966. Join the road and continue straight on as it passes under a railway bridge and immediately ends at a T-junction with another road, with Beggar's Bridge to the left.
From here you can either continue northeastwards along the road or follow the flood bank on the left. After 0.8 miles follow the road as it leaves the river by curving to the right to head south, with a bridge over the Twenty Foot Drain to the left. The road enters the hamlet of Turves, passing The Three Horseshoes pub on the right. Here the road curves to the left; continue straight on along another road that soon reaches a level crossing over a railway line. Follow this road for another half-mile until a junction with Quaker's Drove is reached at TL334960.
Turn left to start following Quaker's Drove eastwards. After half a mile the surfacing ends at Bottom Hake's Farm and a rough track continues arrow-straight between fields. After 1.8 miles it reaches the western bank of the River Nene (Old Course) beside Top Hake's Farm at TL372955. Leave the track as it curves to the left, and head straight on to climb up onto the western floodbank of the river. Once on the bank, turn left to start following it northeastwards with the river on the right. It passes a house on the left; after half a mile an inlet is reached next to a ramshackle bridge over the river.
Here turn left along the edge of a field for a short distance away from the river; just before the track is reached turn right through a gap in the hedge and then turn right once more to head back to the floodbank beside the river. Continue along the flood bank eastwards as it heads across a couple of gardens. After a little under a mile it reaches a drain in front of some industrial units at TL391965; here turn left to leave the river bank and join a track that heads north with the drain on the right.
After a couple of hundred yards the path crosses a stile beside a vehicle barrier to reach Whittlesey road. Turn right and follow the road northeastwards for about a third of a mile with the factory buildings on the right. Just after a road comes in from the left, turn right down a narrow path that squeezes between tall hedges. This path heads southeastwards for another two hundred yards, passing through a paddock before rejoining the northern bank of the River Nene.
Turn left and follow the river eastwards; after a third of a mile it reaches a barbed wire fence that guards a marina. Turn left up a track that skirts the northern side of the marina, keeping a fence on the right. Cross the main access road to the marina and carry straight on, still with the fence on the right. At the eastern end of the marina turn right down a path that parallels the A141 to reach the northern bank of the river once more.
Follow the path as it curves to the left, descending down steps to immediately pass under the A141. On the other side it climbs up more steps to meet a surfaced track. Here turn right to follow West End road through the western outskirts of March.
Follow West End road as it winds in a rough easterly direction for a little under a mile, with the river mostly out of view behind houses and gardens to the right. When the road ends go past some bollards and continue straight on along another road for a short distance until it ends at a T-junction with the B1101 Broad Street in March at TL416967.
To get to March railway station, carefully cross Broad Street and turn left to follow it northwards through the centre of the town. When it ends at a T-junction turn right and use a pedestrian crossing to cross the road. On the other side turn right to continue along the road as it curves to the left to head north-northeastwards; the station is a little over half a mile away on the left at TL418978.
Places of interest
Whittlesey is a small Cambridgeshire town built on a ridge of high land in the Fens to the east of Peterborough. A Roman causeway called Fen Causeway connected the town with Peterborough and March, and it is believed that settlement has continued in the area since that time. The town expanded considerably after the Ely to Peterborough railway opened in 1845; strangely the name of the station is 'Whittlesea' with an 'a', whereas the town's name has a 'y'.
There are plenty of shops, accommodation and pubs in the town, and some pleasing architecture including a superb Buttercross in the market square. The town hosts a strange festival in January each year - a man dressed in straw called the the Straw Bear walks around the town with attendants of musicians and a keeper; the resultant festival lasts for the entire weekend with dances and concerts. The Straw Bear was once a common custom throughout the Fens but died out; it was restarted in Whittlesey during the 1980s. Strangely a similar festival takes place in Germany.
The Nene and Hereward Ways both pass through or near the town; they used to take the same route, but in the early 2000s the Hereward Way was diverted along paths to the south of the Nene.
location UID #280
The drainage of the Fens and the Adventurers
The Fens were a massive expanse of low-lying, marshy land that stretched roughly from Cambridge in the south to the Wash in the north, and from Peterborough in the west to Lakenheath and Mildenhall in the east. Occasional islands protruded a few metres from the marshes, and large settlements in the area such as Ely, Chatteris, Wisbech and March were formed on these. The land in between was largely impassable, as Hereward the Wake used to his advantage.
People managed to make a living on the land despite its inaccessible nature. These men were a world apart from the others, earning a meagre living from fishing and other pursuits. The Romans were the first to recognise the Fenland's superbly rich agricultural lands, and they were also the first to drain small parts of the southern edge - some 'Roman sea banks' are marked on maps. When the Romans left these walls fell into disuse and the land was reclaimed by water once more.
More attempts were made to drain the land, but these were piecemeal until the Earl of Bedford came along in the early seventeenth century. He and thirteen other men, collectively known as the 'Adventurers' because they were taking adventures with their money, started drainage works. They have all left their names on the landscape; the earl in the form of the New and Old Bedford Rivers, and the Adventures in various Adventurer's Fens around the region.
Many names have been associated with the draining of the Fens, but perhaps none more than Dutchman Sir Cornelius Vermuyden. By the 1650s the works were well advanced. The winding nature of the rivers were a problem, so the course of the major Nene and Ouse rivers were straightened and a series of drainage channels cut to them. These works were bitterly resisted by many of the locals whose livelihoods were being destroyed as the land dried out. They started sabotaging many of the works and became known as the 'Fen Tigers'; many also fought against the Royalists in the Civil War.
Unfortunately the draining of the land led to other problems - as the land dried out it shrank until the land was below the level of the drainage channels. Wind pumps were installed to pump the water into the rivers, and these were later replaced by steam and then diesel pumps. A few windmills are still visible in the Fens, and diesel engines are preserved at the drainage museum in Prickwillow.
There have been several major breaches in the banks that keep the waters of the surrounding land. One such occasion occurred in 1713, when a combination of floods and high tides burst the Denver Sluice, which protects the Ouse and Cam from the tidal waters. The damage was massive and vast acreages of land became unusable for agriculture.
Land reclamation continued until the 1970s, with a succession of se banks being built around the edges of the Wash; the maps show layers of banks marching towards the sea marked 1910, 1917 etc. Flood prevention work has also continued with various flood relief channels being built up to the 1970s, including the Cut-Off Channel that removes floodwaters from the Lark and Little Ouse rivers.
location UID #282
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
Whitttlesey and March both have railway stations, and regular railway services run between them. See the National Rail website for more information. March station is about a mile north of the trail through the town, whilst Whittlesey station is about half a mile to the southeast of its town (although directly on the Hereward Way).