John is a blogging pal from Melbourne in Australia (John corrects me and tells me that is Melbun if you are an Aussie but I stick with the Pommy, as in Lord Melbourne, after who the city was named) and we have followed each other for several years and have become good friends.
Recently John announced that he was travelling to England for just a few days and hoped that there might be a possibility to meet up. I told him that he was welcome to come and stay in Grimsby but as he only had a single spare day in his busy itinerary that this would be quite difficult. Grimsby is a great place to go to but not a great place to get to, it just takes such a long time.
The solution was to find somewhere practical where I could drive and John could get to easily from London. Looking at a map I settled on Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, a ninety mile drive for me and an hour train journey for John.
We met early one evening and over evening meal John explained that he had little interest in visiting castles or cathedrals or stately homes and such and that he would prefer to see the countryside. With a an interest in farming he had read about the area of England called The Fens and was certain that he would like to see the farmland and the marshes of what some people might consider to be one of the least interesting parts of the country to visit.
This made it easy for me, I lived and worked in Spalding in the heart of The Fens for ten years between 2000 and 2010 so before going to sleep that night I came up with what I hoped was an interesting itinerary for the next day.
After an excellent breakfast the day started to go badly. There was a thick fog across the entire area, my SatNav wouldn’t work and there was a road closure due to an accident that blocked the road to my first intended destination. This is when I remember that it is a good idea to put a paper road map in the car but of course I hadn’t so I was confused and making driving decisions without any useful assistance. (A passenger from the other side of the World was, I have to say, not a lot of help).
After a long, and as it turned out an unnecessary detour, we crossed the mist shrouded fields and arrived in the small town of Crowland just as the fog disappeared and the sun began to shine. That was a relief because this part of England is quite beautiful in sunshine but desperately dreary in any other sort of weather conditions.
Crowland is a long way off the tourist trail and was surprisingly busy today which took me by surprise but maybe it was because it contains two sites of historical interest, Crowland Abbey and Trinity Bridge.
We started at the bridge which is a scheduled monument built in the fourteenth century and the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom, perhaps even Europe, perhaps even the World! The bridge has three stairways that converge at the top. Originally it spanned the River Welland and a tributary that flowed through the town and was a clever and economical solution to the crossing of two watercourses at their confluence, reducing the need for three separate bridges to a single structure with three abutments.
The River Welland doesn’t flow through Crowland any more, it used to inconveniently flood so it was diverted some time ago away from the centre of the town and flood defences were put in place.
The river in Crowland grows reeds which produces some of the finest material for roof thatching in England. Sadly it is expensive to process and has been undercut by cheap thatch from Eastern Europe.
John was taking pictures and blocking the pavement and as a consequence entered into conversation with a busy woman with a shopping trolley who was anxious to get by without stepping into the road. He apologised and explained that he was just patiently waiting until he could get a picture of the bridge without people. She gave him an old-fashioned look and asked how he expected to achieve that on Market Day.
We looked around but could see no market stalls and sensing our confusion she told us that there is no street market any more but everyone still comes into town on a Friday anyway.
Street markets in small English towns are difficult to find these days, they are no longer economical or viable, just like the thatch food is cheaper in European supermarkets.
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