Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 2
The second day of our walk fell on a Sunday, so we were a bit later starting out. But our inn was right on the path, so we hopped the stile and walked half a mile to the Littleport train stop. We then took a right and headed up onto the bank to the bridge that would take us to the east side of the river and the path north. This is one of the least attractive parts of the walk, because the path lies between the river and the A10 motorway. Since it was Sunday the traffic was lighter but it was still unpleasant, and we even had a White Van Man yell something out the window at us (we couldn’t make out the exact words but they weren’t words of encouragement). We slogged on in the wind and cold for about three miles, when we came to a junction where a creek joined the river. At that point we were more than ready to see the motorway fork right while we forked left.
In previous years’ accounts of this stretch walkers had talked about how difficult the path was. Luckily, it had been mowed by a large machine and so we weren’t fighting chest-high plants. We encountered a retired farmer who told us that the mowers had been through less than a month ago, so we really felt fortunate. We saw a few birds, including the ever-present swans, but not as many as on the previous day.
We also had up close and personal views of the agricultural productivity of the region. This is one of several hay buildings we saw on the way:
Eventually we crossed another bridge (our first since Littleport) back over to the west side of the river and stopped for a lunch break. There were a number of people fishing, including a couple of women (the first we’d seen) although the only fish we saw was tiny. Still, I am told that the fish are only part of the pleasure of fishing.
At this point the path was right alongside another road, but it wasn’t a motorway, and at times it was down to a single lane with turnouts, so walking alongside and on it wasn’t bad. We were set upon by a gaggle of terriers at one point, but yelling at them drove them back and we continued toward Denver Sluice.
We reached Denver Sluice a couple of hours after our lunch break and took the opportunity to have a rest and drink at a conveniently placed pub. We then crossed the sluice and continued toward Downham Market, on the east side of the river. It was still windy and a bit cool, but we could see for miles and it was peaceful. We saw no other walkers (not a surprise given it was late November) and we were between villages so there weren’t any local people out with their dogs. The path was nice and wide and the sun even came out.
We made good time and reached the turnoff for our destination, Downham Market, before 3 pm. We had about a mile to walk to the center of town, and we crossed another major channel, the Great Ouse Relief Channel, which runs parallel to the river. When we got to the center of town we discovered that there was a major Christmas festival under way, with lots of people milling about and eating goodies from stalls. We found our hotel without trouble (it’s not a big town) and settled in the for evening. We had thought about going out and walking around, but given we’d just covered 14+ miles, we decided putting our feet up was a better choice.
The hotel had a good restaurant and a small and welcoming bar which was full of locals. The hotel, which was centuries old, had been run by the same family for nearly thirty years and was full of vintage and antique appointments. We had drinks in the bar, settled in for a leisurely dinner, and still managed to turn the lights out before 10 pm.
Despite the A10 part of the walk, it was another enjoyable and interesting day. The Fens are impressive, and walking gives you the chance to immerse yourself in the uniqueness of the landscape. Humans have been trying to manage Nature for centuries, and they’ve succeeded to a great extent, turning this part of England into an incredibly fertile agricultural region. But Nature is always there, threatening to reclaim the land again.