Adventurers Fen

Burwell Adventurers Fen
The land to the side of Burwell Lode, downstream of the Cock Up bridge, is known as Adventurers Fen, after the adventurers who originally drained it for agriculture. Nowadays, most of this low lying land is owned by the National Trust, who are creating a nature reserve for their Wicken Fen Vision.

The old cock up bridge across Burwell Lode.

Burwell Lode from the Cock Up bridge

The Cock Up bridge across Burwell Lode. A new bridge is planned for the Lodes Way adjacent to it and there have been suggestions that it could be demolished. The EA lifting bridge can be seen in the background.

The bridge across Reach Lode, built to carry the Lodes Way

One of the cattle crossing points on the Lodes Way

The bollards on Newnham Drove, intended to allow cart access

The ha ha proved ineffective at keeping the grazing animals off Lodes Way, so a fence has been installed in the ditch

Public Footpath No. 9 across Burwell Fen, Easter 2015

Barn Owl on Burwell Fen

Kestrel on Burwell Fen

Swans on Burwell Fen

The area known as Adventurers Fen was much loved by Eric Ennion, who wrote a book about the Fen and its wildlife in the early part of the 20th century, particularly the area to the west of Burwell Lode. The adventures who drained the fen for agriculture and peat cutting were little in evidence by then and the area had become a haven for wild birds.

The onset of war seems to have led to something of a reversion to agriculture, but nowadays it is managed by the National Trust by the use of grazing animals. It is a low lying area, mostly below sea level, with the Lodes towering above between great earth banks, carrying water from the surrounding villages into the river Cam.

In an apparent attempt to re-write history, the NT have erected signs for Adventurers Fen on the part of Burwell Fen close to their visitor centre and signs for Burwell Fen on the area of Adventurers Fen most loved by Eric Ennion. Presumably Adventurers Fen is a catchy name that is good for tourism.

Traditional access to the area has been by boat, along the lodes, or by way of the fen droves that extend from the villages out into the fen. As part of their Vision, The NT, supported by Sustrans, have built a new path across the fen, connecting Anglesey Abbey to Wicken Fen, for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, known as the Lodes Way.

A new bridge across Reach Lode has opened up access from the west. Planning permission has been given for another Burwell Lode bridge, adjacent to the existing Cock Up bridge and EA lifting bridge.

The new bridge is intended to allow grazing animals to cross Burwell Lode freely, whilst providing a segregated path for members of the public. There has been considerable concern expressed that access might be lost from the traditional routes that run along the lode bank. It is undertood that the NT will provide continued access for all existing routes.

Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the existing bridge, but bicycles need to be carried. The intention is to make the new route accessible for all, including the disabled.

Equestrians will be able to cross the Lode at this point for the first time in nearly half a century, when the traditional Cock Up bridge that crossed the Lode was replaced with a concrete bridge, which is unsuitable for horses. As can be seen from the picture of the old bridge, it had slats to enable horses to walk up the ramps.

The Lodes Way between Burwell and Reach Lodes is segregated from the grazing animals. A series of crossing points have gates for horseriders and small cattle grids to allow cyclists to ride straight through. Mounting blocks have been built for horse riders who may need to dismount at these points.

Access to the fen from Burwell is possible by way of Newnham Drove. A pair of low bollards have been installed at the end of the drove, to stop motor vehicles but not prevent horse drawn ones from accessing the route.

A ditch, known as a ha ha, was built alongside the Lodes Way, but didn't prove as effective at keeping the cattle off the path as the National Trust had hoped. They just charged straight across, even seeming to treat it as a game at times. The fen soil is prone to erosion and subsidence, so maintaining a vertical edge proved an impossible challenge. A fence has been erected in the bottom of the ha ha to keep them off.

The whole area provides good open access walking and riding. Originally the grazing was during summer months only, although now it has become year round with the introduction of Konik and Highland cattle, which members of the public will need to be wary of.

A large wetland area has being constructed close to Reach Lode, surrounded by an earth bank. A Public Footpath crosses the area, running from the end of Hightown Drove, Burwell, adjacent to the new Reach Lode Bridge, running past the metal wartime sheds at the end of Newnham Drove and emerging on Burwell Lode by the Cock Up Bridge.

This route, known as Footpath No. 9, Burwell, is a great place to see wildlife close up. Some time ago, the Public Footpath sign went missing, as illustrated by Lesley Boyle's 2011 article: Signposting the good, the bad and the ugly, which also shows how the path looked before it was flooded.

The National Trust have flooded the area by raising the water level, which left the route innaccessible by Easter 2015. Although it is illegal to obstruct a Right of Way, members of the public could be forgiven for thinking the law doesn't apply to the National Trust.

Water has been flowing across the path at its lowest point, turning a ten yard stretch into an impassable mudbath. Following complaints from the public, the National Trust have said they will raise the level of the path, but unfortunately this is likely to lead to an even longer stretch of path becoming flooded once the water level reaches new heights. Clearly the Trust need to find a solution that allows the water to drain off before encroaching on the Public Right of Way.

The new wetland has increased the variety of wildlife in the area, particularly birds and it is wonderful to see so much close up. However that is no excuse for breaking the law by flooding the Public Footpath and excluding people from the area. The new Lodes Way which runs parallel to this path is not a Right of Way and could be withdrawn in future.

Local people are concerned that the National Trust are trying to herd the masses along the Lodes Way, which runs from their teashop at Wicken Fen to their restaurant at Anglesey Abbey, whilst deliberately making it awkward to use other routes in the area.

While few would criticise efforts to encourage wildlife, this should not be at the expense of loss of access to any Public Path. The Fen is big enough for people and wildlife to live in harmony, so please listen, National Trust. Stop treating the local people with contempt and keep all our Rights of Way clear and accessible throughout the year!