Tag Archives: South Holland

The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Four)

The Fens Map

From the village of Donington and the birthplace of Matthew Flinders we travelled east towards the coast and the North Sea.

This area was once marsh and fen but has been successfully reclaimed from the water to turn it into a highly productive arable farming industry.  Driving on the roads takes great care and undivided attention because it isn’t so difficult to slip off the tarmac and into one of the roadside drainage ditches.  People who move to the area to live are only ever really accepted into the community after they have paid a visit to the bottom of a ditch and become a member of The Fens ‘Dyke Club’.

South Holland Dyke

This was an area of wetland for two reasons, first it is barely at sea level and high tides would swamp the land and secondly because four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse, all of which drain the English Midlands into the sea.  At times when there was too much water there was inevitable flooding.  The East Coast Fens are simply former marshland.  This was a place where you almost always needed to wear wellington boots.

The Romans came to The Fens and built the first sea defence wall about ten miles inland and which stretched for thirty miles or so.  It is still called the Roman Bank.  Beyond the Bank they maintained salt pans.

For several hundred years a battle was fought to reclaim land from the sea and the prize was access to very valuable fertile farming land.  Several walls and enclosures were built in the late nineteenth century and many thousands of acres reclaimed for farming.  During the Second World-War Britain was short of food so more farming land was required so at about this time the final and present sea wall was built to provide even more arable farming land to feed the nation.  It is doubtful that they will ever build another one because with modern methods of farming there is enough land now for the time being.

After leaving the A17 and driving north there are miles and miles of absolutely bugger all.  A couple of small villages, some isolated farm workers cottages and modern industrial scale farms where there is rarely any sign of life.  It is a ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ sort of place where local people look at strangers with suspicion and wonder if they are not driving a mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough just what they are doing there.

This is a remote place without visitors.  There are no tourist signposts and I wasn’t sure after ten years away  if I could confidently remember exactly how to reach the place that I was trying to get to.  With the help of the SatNav (working again now) a huge slice of luck and a fading memory I found the road/track that leads to the sea wall and we made it to our destination.  A narrow pot-holed track and not the sort of lane that you want to meet mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough coming in the opposite direction!

The orange arrow indicates approximately where we were…

Lincolnshire Sea Wall

… just farm fields at the edge of the World before the marshes and as close to the sea as you can get without wellington boots.

This part of Lincolnshire can be inhospitable and bleak but on a blue sky day like today it is absolutely magnificent.  We parked the car and climbed to the top of the wall, not a brick or concrete structure but a stout earth wall decorated with concrete Second-World-War defence bunkers.  To the north-east we looked out over the marshes and the North Sea and behind us we stared out over acres and acres of patchwork farm land just waiting to leap into Spring.

John and I walked along the wall and swapped tales and stories from our lives separated by fifteen thousand miles or so geographically but what seemed to me now only as thin as a cigarette paper.

It occurred to me that John lives so far away in Australia and a thousand years or so ago someone may have stood in this exact place (in his wellington boots of course) and thought that it must surely be the edge of the World. Travel and friendship is so important in personal development and exploration and education.

On the way back we drove through the village of Moulton which has the tallest windmill in England (this part of Lincolnshire is full of surprises) and then to Cowbit, John thought it was a strange name and I told him that it is not pronounced how it looks on the sign but as ‘Cubit’.  Friendly sparring now, John told me that Melbourne is not pronounced in the same plummy way as Lord Melbourne but as ‘Melbun’.

It had been a very enjoyable and satisfying day.

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Almost forgot to mention that this is where I lived in The Fens for ten years, 2000-2010…

Pipwell Gate

Kim joined us and we spent a convivial time in the bar, drank more than we planned to and had an enjoyable evening meal.  I saw John again in the morning as he prepared to return home to Melbun in Australia…

South Holland Sea Wall

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The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Two)

Crowland Abbey 05

Crowland is only a small market town (without a market as we had been recently informed) so, with nothing to detain us it was just a short walk from the Trinity Bridge to nearby Crowland Abbey, once a Benedictine Monastery and now, what’s left of it, the Parish Church.

Monks seeking solitude have always sought out remote places to live and the inhospitable marshlands of Eastern England were once perfect for this purpose.  The Fens have been referred to as the “Holy Land of the English” because of the former monasteries and Abbeys at Crowland, Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey, Spalding and Thorney.

The Fens have a special place in English history, here Hereward the Wake led resistance to the Norman invaders and here King John lost the Crown Jewels in the murky waters at Sutton Bridge.

There was a monastery at Crowland because of the hermit monk Guthlac who settled here sometime in the seventh century.  Now, Guthlac was clearly as mad as a box of frogs – this is an extract from his chronicler…

“Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water.”

This is Guthlac who seems to have been cleaned up a bit for his stained glass window portrait in Crowland Abbey…

St Guthlac Window

Guthlac became famous for dealing with demons, self flagellation, performing miracles and providing sagely advice and the Abbey was founded and built as a place of important pilgrimage for medieval pilgrims.  It was dissolved in 1539 along with another estimated eight hundred religious houses in England during the English Reformation. The monastic buildings including the chancel, transepts and crossing of the church were demolished and plundered fairly promptly but the nave and aisles were spared and to this day serve as the Parish Church.

Saint Guthlac remains important in the Fens and there are several churches in the area that are dedicated to his memory.

Crowland Abbey 01

We walked around the grounds and through the ruins of the Abbey and then finding the church door open ventured inside.  I was slightly surprised to find it open because these days church doors often remain firmly locked due to the increase in vandalism and theft.  There was no such bother sixty years ago or so when we went on family holiday and my Dad visited almost every church we passed by – he liked visiting churches – unlike other holiday attractions they were free to enter.

John declared the visit to Crowland to be a great success but there was much more to see and do so we left Crowland and drove north to the town of Spalding which was once famous for an annual Flower Parade.

John was surprised to discover that the road we were using was no more than three feet above sea level and the surrounding fields were even lower, well below sea level.  These low lying fenland areas extend over one thousand, five hundred square miles extending through Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.  Much of the Fenland originally consisted of fresh or salt-water wetlands. These have been drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. With the support of this drainage system, the Fenland has become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grain, vegetables and cash-crops.

Fens Farmland

The Fens are particularly fertile, containing around half of the grade one agricultural land in England.  Spalding in the area of South Holland is a thriving district at the very heart of the UK’s agri-food sector and it is estimated that a staggering 35% of the UK’s food, either grown, processed or delivered will pass through South Holland at some point in its production cycle.

We stopped briefly in Spalding to visit the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall a medieval manor house which is now a museum, walked for a stretch along the river and admired the elegant Georgian houses across the water and then continued our journey to our next destination – the village of Donington.

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P&O Mini-Cruise, Delft – Churches and Executions

Delft Market Square

Just why a city that already had one massive church needed another one seems rather odd to me, perhaps the Protestant City officials thought they should have one more than the Roman Catholics whose own massive church stands close by.

The New Church is the burial place of the Princes’ of Orange and contains the allegorical monument to William the Silent, designed and built by by Hendrik de Keyser about 1621, and also the tomb of Hugo Grotius, born in Delft in 1583 and responsible for drafting early international law and whose statue stands in the market-place outside the church.

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P&O Mini-Cruise, Delft – Vermeer, Explosions and Travel Plans

Delft Vermeer

Art in the seventeenth century in Holland is known as the Dutch Golden Age and in Delft there was a school of painters, the most famous of whom was Johannes Vermeer and acting on the recommendation of fellow blogger Richard Tulloch (http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/) one thing that I definitely wanted to do today was to visit the Vermeer House museum.

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P&O Mini-Cruise, Holland or the Netherlands?

South Holland Windmills

I slept well for most of the crossing but woke early with a digestive system groaning under the weight of the unexpected quantity of food that I had forced into it at the eat all you can buffet and then at six o’clock there was a collective early morning alarm call over the ship’s public address system that announced that the ferry would dock in two hours time.

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Tulips to Amsterdam, Is It Holland or the Netherlands?

Rotterdam from the North Sea

I slept well for most of the crossing but woke early with a digestive system groaning under the weight of the unexpected quantity of food that I had forced into it at the eat all you can buffet and then I remembered that at the time of purchase that we had got carried away and had also paid up for an all you can eat breakfast as well and that was something I didn’t really need right now less than eight hours after the previous feast.  

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Spalding Flower Parade

 

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the acreage and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the Lincolnshire market town of Spalding became an annual feast of colour.  The fame of the tulip fields spread and the trickle of visitors grew yearly until 1935 when the King George V and Queen Mary Jubilee coincided with the time the tulips were in flower.

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