Friday, 11 April 2014

The times they are a-changing

Keep straight on!
Whittlesey today is a friendly, somewhat rough edged little town but a wander round the market square reveals that it once saw more prosperous days. There are some fine Georgian houses, a sizeable hotel - now Wetherspoons - and behind these is the large, handsome church with its fine spire.
Like so many similar fenland towns which have the same worn-at-the-elbows look about them, agriculture brought its wealth. It still does, but the towns have outlived their contribution – today's mega-farms send their spuds and onions direct by truck to factories like the giant McCains chips plant we passed on the way in; farmers live in huge new-build houses (there's a massive one near Benwick where we are now), and drive huge and hugely expensive tractors and loaders. And, of course, the other change is the presence now of foreign languages from the European farmworkers. What do the old, private fen folk make of that I wonder?
At Whittlesey we spent two relaxing days at the edge of the superb playing fields which boast skate park, five a side pitch, football pitches and picnic tables as well as riverside walks. Well, they were relaxing days except in the mornings when Seadog Brian and me took our constitutional through the undergrowth of litter left by the town's youth. Sadly, they prefer to use the grass than the multiplicity of litter bins.
That object in the distance is a litter bin, lads
What's the answer? The world seems to be awash with litter these days. Maybe ignorant people have always dropped their litter and it's just that there's now so much more disposable stuff they can throw down.
Anyway once out of the town we were into the open fen countryside where the waterways cut straight lines through the flat acres of dark soil between steeply banked sides that keep the views a secret. Oh to be in the Typhoon Eurofighter roaring across the sky above us and see the whole landscape of the fens flashing past below.
Beyond Whittlesey there's barely a bend of note in the waterway – but fortunately none of the paralysing weed either. Since our last visit even more wind turbines reared up into the air and over the high bank we spotted at least one more 'solar farm'.
We were shadowed for a mile or more by a kingfisher which would watch us approach from its perch on a reed, let us get close enough almost to photograph it then flash away ahead and wait for us to get near again. And so it went on as he taunted the camera with what seemed almost deliberate cheek.
Finally we turned off the main "Through Route" to head towards our old moorings at Ramsey, passing an eel fisherman just packing his traps away. At the junction, an old pumping station which someone had begun to turn into a property and moorings had sunk back into abandonment and ruin but further on, past the ultra-low farm bridge that is helpfully not marked on the guide book, the mobile home that we'd watched morph into a timber-clad structure with miscellaneous outbuildings had now been replaced by a sizeable permanent house.
At the new moorings in Benwick
Then we were in Benwick, a forgettable hamlet from the road but delightful from the water. The river bends 90 degrees between trees under a large, picturesque footbridge (just rebuilt) and arrives at a brand new public mooring.
Yes, a purpose built public mooring in the Middle Level – as rare a feature as a fenland hill. We're moored there tonight so a big thank you to all those who made it happen. Let's hope it's the first of a few more.



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