A journey across a landscape and time
Explore the Cambridgeshire Fen Edge
The Cambridgeshire landscape has a unique and fascinating history, from floods and glaciers to deep seas, tropical lagoons and even volcanoes! The Fen Edge is where low-lying fenland meets the surrounding ‘highland’, roughly where the land lies 5 metres above current sea level. This is thought to be the approximate maximum extent of the once extensive wetland. Sea level has however, changed greatly at various times and the amount of freshwater flooding, from rivers and meres, has changed even more frequently, often not only from season to season but from year to year. Although the draining of the Fens is well-known, the story of how and when this happened is far more complex than is generally thought. The Fen Edge, including the many fen islands, provided drier land that was often a refuge from the marshes and it is, therefore, here where much of the history of the fens can be discovered by looking t the clues that remain.
As well as a rich cultural history, the Fens also have a fascinating, and often dramatic, landscape heritage, which is far less well-known but that continues, even today, to affect the lives of its inhabitants. From volcanoes to ‘ice ages’, and salt marshes to raised bogs, from Jurassic sea ‘monsters‘ to mammoths, and hippos to bog ‘oaks’, the complex story of how the fens were formed and what and who lived here, can be discovered by exploring the Fen Edge.
The Fen Edge Trail takes you from the Lincolnshire border in the northwest of the county to the Suffolk border in the southeast, using the 5 metre contour as a guide. It highlights some of the places of interest that can be visited in each area and gives links to organisations and events that will help you discover more. In addition, a series of walks are being developed that have accompanying maps and details that guide you and describe landscape, historical or wildlife features along the way. The links between geology, ecology, history and current day life in the Fens reveal themselves and the more you look, the more you discover and the more fascinating it becomes!
The Fen Edge Trail is an initiative set up by the Cambridgeshire Geological Society as part of our Geosites work. Our partners in developing the Trail are several local organisations who are each exploring their local landscape to contribute to the project. Our main partner is The Fenland Trust in Yaxley. Other key partners are the Great Fen, together with the Great Fen Heritage Group, and the Wildlife Trust (Beds, Cambs and Northants). Other organisations already contributing to the project include Warboys Archaeology Project, Chatteris Museum, Discover Ramsey, Burwell Museum, Farcet Parish Council, Thorney Heritage Museum, Holme History, and Wicken Fen (National Trust).
If you or your group would like to get involved in the Fen Edge Trail, please contact us. You may like to contribute information on local history, landscape, farming, wildlife or culture or you could help with designing one of the walks.
If you would like to get involved in the project or receive our emailed updates and news, please contact us.
NEW WALK PUBLISHED Witcham to Sutton
This walk is the first on the Isle of Ely and links the villages of Witcham, Mepal and Sutton. The first and last are situated on a high ridge of Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay capped by ice age deposits from the last time glaciers covered the Fens, about 160,000 years ago. Mepal is at the base of the ridge, on the northwest edge of the Isle and was once a port from where you could set off across the huge ‘swamp’ that once made up most of the fenland. On at least a couple of occasions over the last 7,000 years, the freshwater swamp had been inundated by the sea and marine conditions prevailed. As with so many of the fenland villages, these three and their surrounding area have a fascinating history to tell, from Paleolithic settlements and Roman finds to medieval buildings and recent war memorials.
In addition, the ‘peninsula’ that forms this part of the Isle is adjacent to one of the major fenland drainage constructions, the New Bedford Level, which dates from the 17th century, part of the walk actually following its bank for a short time. This important channel carries the water of the River Great Ouse on its way to the sea, being fed by numerous small waterways such as the Catchwater Drain that runs alongside part of the Trail, providing a pleasant streamside walk. A highlight are the stunning views across to Ely Cathedral as you walk down the ancient Wardy Hill Road, particularly enjoyable on a clear, sunny day.
Talks and events: Learn about geology – local and worldwide
April and May 2019
© Cambridgeshire Geological Society