Reach Lode bridge is now in place. It was declared open by Wicken Fen manager Chris Soanes, at an event attended by many of those involved in it's planning and construction.
The new bridge will provide the missing link in the new 'Lodes Way' that will link National Trust properties at Anglesey Abbey and Wicken Fen, at least as far as walkers and cyclists are concerned. A bridge has already been opened across Swaffham Bulbeck Lode and with the existing Cock-Up bridge across Burwell Lode, it will soon be possible to use the entire route, although horseriders and wheelchairs will not yet be able to cross Burwell Lode.
The bridge was lifted into position, May 2010, and was formally opened on 12th September. It will be available for all users, except motor vehicles. Drivers of horse drawn vehicles will be able to obtain the combination for locking removable posts from the National Trust and pedestrians, wheelchairs, cyclists and horses will have free access across Reach Lode.
The National Trust proposal to implement cattle grids on Hightown Drove, which leads from Burwell, to Reach Lode bank, has now been dropped, following consultation with the Fenland Bridleways Associtaion and Wicken Fen User Forum.
The reason for the proposal was to allow grazing animals to wander freely between the land on either side of Hightown Drove. However, it seems that their is plenty of room for animals to use the flood defence culverts that have been incorporated into the design of the approach ramps for the bridge, at the Environment Agency's request.
At a meeting with local horseriders and cyclists, representing the User Forum, held on site in early June 2010, the NT agreed that cattle grids are unnecessary. The cattle could cross the road and then go through one of the culverts, to move between grazed areas. This would allow free access to the bridge from Burwell and along the soon to be built section of 'Lodes Way' across Burwell fen, to Wicken. Also, traffic along Reach Lode Underbank Drove could use the culvert closest to the Lode, to continue past the bridge. See: User Forum
However, the NT say they would like to extinguish the Highway at the Reach Lode end of Hightown Drove, Burwell, so that locked stock gates can be put across the road, with permits for the combination issued by the NT. Bridle gates would be provided beside these, two on each side of the cattle crossing, with a boxed area between. This would mean going through 4 gates in the course of 20 metres, to access the Lode bank from Burwell, or to go over the bridge from Reach, for those coming up the Lode on the Burwell side.
Extinguishing the Highway is likely to meet with opposition from local people, as fishermen and dog walkers often park at the end of Hightown Drove. A former Burwell resident has been moved to say:
'Oh dear. A Magistrates Court Order will be needed to extinguish the vehicular highway, as long as it is in the public interest to do so . . .
Does this have a familiar ring to it?
Of course the Magistrates Court will take into account any lesser public rights on the way, particularly if there is evidence of public use.
Carriage drivers and cyclists using the route? That'll be a Restricted Byway then.
Horse riders and cyclists? That'll be a bridleway!
Just pedestrians? Footpath then!
Absolutely no public use at all? All highway rights could be extinguished, but the magistrates will never believe it because of the quantity of representation in the public gallery of the Court.'
If the Highway cannot be extinguished, the NT want 2 stock gates on each side of the cattle crossing, as they think some people will leave them open and because the ground has a habit of moving in this area, gate posts with it, owing to the shifting of the peat soil.
The alternate route between Burwell and Reach, along Hurdle Hall Drove, has land on either side owned by the Nationl Trust and may become the subject of similar restricted access, due to grazing animals, unless a common sense solution can be found.
It is hoped that people from Burwell, Reach and surrounding villages will all be able to use the new route freely, without hindrance from large grazing animals, as well as continue to use the existing routes in the area, including the ride along Reach Lode underbank drove, on the Burwell side, which has been somewhat overlooked in the current plans.
Meanwhile a new culvert has been built to replace the old bridge on Newnham Drove, Burwell, at the point where it meets National Trust property. The locked gates are to be replaced with removable posts to give access at this point.
Horse riders will still not be able to cross Burwell Lode at the moment, but the new bridge at Reach has the potential to increase riding opportunities in the area. The National Trust are looking at plans to cross Burwell Lode with another new bridge close to the existing cock-up bridge, sometime in the future, if funding can be found.
The current proposal is far a large flyover type bridge, that will dwarf the new bridge over Reach Lode, to carry walkers, wheelchair users, cyclists, horseriders and cart drivers, with a segregated lane for grazing animals to cross the Lode from one grazing area to another.
There is some concern amongst local people as to whether this is strictly necessary, given the impact that a construction of such size will have on the open fen landscape. There are two bridges already at the same location, one of which could be fairly readily adapted to be suitable for horseriders and wheelchair users, for a fraction of the cost of any multi-million pound scheme for a new bridge.