Continuation of our exploration of the Fens.
Next day we wend our bumpy way back up to Whittlesey (Whittlesea – it was once coastal), a place of conflict in the Fen wars described in Boyce’s book. Locals all over the Fens did not like their land being drained and given away to outsiders, just like indigenous peoples all over the world. There were many battles and acts of sabotage before the resistance was tamed. Even after that, the great lake at Whittlesey remained at around 8 square miles, but it was eventually drained in 19C. Sadly, there is little evidence of all this in today’s slightly depressed looking town.
We went north to from Whittlesey to Thorney, once one of the five great abbeys that effectively ruled this area before the great Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539 (Peterborough, Ely, Crowland, Ramsey and Thorney). All the is left of the once-great abbey is a rather large parish church for such a small village, quite striking nevertheless.
More striking is our next stop, Crowland Abbey. I recall stopping here for a break many years ago on my cycle ride from Lincoln to Cambridge. The Abbey of memory is more delapidated than today’s impressive remains.
We are made enormously welcome by enthusiastic volunteers. All that remains of this once-great Abbey is the north aisle of the former church, now an impressive building in its own right. And with evocative ruined features attached. We are guided by the volunteers to see the highlights of the interior, including a striking Green Man, and then the exterior.
It is quite evident that the Dissolution in this area led to Fen drainage falling into disrepair – this job had been done by the monks. This was one factor setting up the situation where new forms of drainage were perceived as being necessary, and hence the new major drainage schemes less than a century later.
At the centre of Crowland is a unique 3-way bridge that once spanned the River Welland and a tributary. The waterways were diverted long ago, leaving this unusual structure high and dry.
Back at the campsite we spot a moorhen apparently nesting in the hedge above our heads – an unusual perspective on a moorhen.