Visit the Western Plateau

Visit the Western Plateau

No, not something in Colorado or some other location from a forgotten cowboy film, but our very own ‘wild west’, just a short trip out from Cambridge (or Huntingdon, or St Neots for that matter). With attractive villages, plenty of walks, excellent views (particularly across the Cam Valley), and some welcoming country pubs, its an area worth exploring, especially if you want to get to know the geology of southern Cambridgeshire. Underlying the area are a variety of Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks including clays, sandstones (the Woburn Sands of the Lower Greensand) and chalk and these outcrop in several places resulting in a small scale mosaic of habitats. These rocks can often be seen in the local building stones of churches and other historic buildings. Springs are good indicators of a change in the bedrock and the streams produced by them often cut down into the bedrock, revealing the underlying layers. The Dean Brook between Waresley and Gransden Woods is a good example – water flowing off the impermeable Gault Clay has eroded the softer Cretaceous Woburn Sands forming a small valley that reveals the Jurassic Ampthill Clay below.

Spring is a good time to visit the area to enjoy several of its nature reserves – not least for the locally characteristic Oxslips that favour the soils of the ‘boulder clay woodlands’ found here. The Glacial Till (boulder clay) that covers much of the plateau seems to provide what these beautiful relatives of the primrose need to give some of the best displays in the country. Lords-n-ladies, wood anemones and bluebells can also be found and it’s a good time to hear and see woodpeckers and treecreepers before too many leaves appear on the trees. For information on Hayley Wood, Gamlingay Wood, Waresley and Gransden Woods and the area in general look at the Wildlife Trust’s website page on the West Cambs Hundreds. More information is on the ‘Western Plateau’ page of our website.

If you have a smart phone, you can arm yourself with the free British Geological Survey app iGeology (easily downloadable) giving you detailed geology maps as you go (keep an eye on your data allowance included in your charging plan).

Guardian writer, Patrick Barkham, visits the Fen Edge Trail

Guardian writer, Patrick Barkham, visits the Fen Edge Trail

We were delighted that the author and Guardian nature writer contacted us in spring 2018 to say he’d like to walk some of the Fen Edge Trail, A bonus was that the day he chose turned out to be the sunniest and nicest of the year so far and he was able to enjoy walking from Stanground to Yaxley and then from near Woodwalton village to Upwood. En route, he called in to the Fen View Heritage Centre at Farcet, a couple of places in the Great Fen (near Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen) and also the Admiral Wells pub at Holme village. Patrick enjoyed his time along the Fen Edge and is now a fan of this fascinating and (perhaps) unexpectedly attractive part of the county, as you can see from his article in the Guardian travel section, published Saturday 21st April.

“Feathery reeds rise from dykes, bullrush heads turn to candyfloss in the spring and two red kites soar high on thermals in a blue sky. The only sounds are a skylark’s song, the amorous grunting of hidden toads and the occasional distant drum-drum of a high-speed train.”

“The Fen Edge Trail is an illuminating new route through an overlooked landscape that is weirder than any other, and becoming wilder once again.”

Ice Age display, Sedgwick Museum

Ice Age display, Sedgwick Museum

A superb mammoth tusk is now part of the Sedgwick Museum’s new Ice Age display.

Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to the North-West Passage has often been in the news ever since he left England on the 19th May, 1845 never to return. Successive searches throughout the 19th century eventually found artefacts and human remains. But it was not until 2014 the wreck of Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus was found and two years later the wreck of HMS Terror. Now the extraordinary story of HMS Erebus is receiving new publicity thanks to the publication of Michael Palin’s new book – ‘Erebus : the story of a ship’. Whilst the earliest searches did not find any traces of Franklin and his crew, one of them, led by Captain Kellett did find this amazing mammoth tusk. More here

Photo of tusk copyright Sedgwick Museum

The Sedgwick Museum’s Ice Age exhibit, tells the story of the latter part of the ‘Ice Age’ as experienced in the east of England. The exhibit uses the amazing animal and plants remains recovered from historic sites near Cambridge, at Barrington, Barnwell and Burwell to show the extraordinary variety of animals that lived in the area. They ranged from warm climate hippos, rhinos, elephant, lion and hyena to cold adapted woolly mammoth and woolly rhino. They illustrate the dramatic impact that climate change had on life and environments during a typical interglacial-glacial-interglacial cycle.

Recent finds have been made during the new A14 construction including woolly mammoth and woolly rhino at Fenstanton. More here

Protecting the landscape heritage of the fens

Protecting the landscape heritage of the fens

The fenland has always been a land of mystery. This is particularly true when trying to unravel the complex history of dynamic changes in the landscape, which are directly linked to both sea level and climate. Thanks to an increase in research in recent years, much has now been discovered that is finally providing a picture of life in the fens since the end of the last ice age.

Although a few important sites are protected in law (as SSSIs), CGS is now looking at others that can be developed to help people explore and understand the geology of the fenland and its associated cultural history. Nature reserves such as those of The Great Fen, the Ouse Washes and at Wicken Fen, have information available about the local landscape but we are now investigating the possibility of designating an area as a Local Geological Site. This would highlight the importance of the geology locally, regionally and nationally.

The area being considered is that of the northern part of the Great Fen, which includes peat fen, remnants of raised bog, lake marl, silt fen and roddons. The land here also has links with local history and culture (Whittlesey Mere, ancient waterways such as the old River Nene, and limestone ‘blocks’ being transported from quarries at Barnack). It is also of high landscape value, containing the site of the Holme Fen Post and having geological links to the nearby ridge at Yaxley. The potential educational value, through the Great Fen, and its partners, is considerable. More news on this soon.

Lime kilns at Isleham

Lime kilns at Isleham

Built around 1860, these listed buildings are the remains of a thriving clunch quarrying industry in this Fen Edge village. Three of the kilns are preserved, with the fire hearths visible inside. The clunch rubble was loaded in through the circular openings at the top after being carted up the ramp. Fires were fuelled with coal and burned continuously. Quicklime was raked out at the bottom as the final product. Work stopped around 1935. These are now listed buildings.

The interiors may still house bats, so please approach and view the kilns (from the outside) with consideration.

See our Fen Edge page for more information on the local geology and its economic use, produced as part of our Geosites work on the seven Landscapes in the county of Cambridgeshire.

Isleham is the finishing point of our Fen Edge Trail which links the village to others on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens, from Peterborough, via Ramsey, St Ives and Cambridge to here on the border with Suffolk.

Location (Open Street Map)

View of kiln entrances

Circular loading opening with access ramp

The economic geology of Burwell

The economic geology of Burwell

Download our leaflet on the Aspects of Geological Interest in Burwell.

Burwell is a “Fen Edge” village which lies to the North East of Cambridge. It has a long history, some of which was dependent on the geology of the underlying rock. It has evidence of some form of settlement since the Palaeolithic Age, through the Bronze Age  and the Roman occupation, to the present day. The village and surrounding lands have been a source of important materials for Cambridgeshire, from the famous “Burwell Rock”, a chalk stone used for many  buildings, and bricks made from the Gault Clay to cement and phosphates. See our Fen Edge page for more information on the local geology and its economic use, produced as part of our Geosites work on the seven Landscapes in the county of Cambridgeshire.

Burwell is one of many interesting areas that can be visited as part of our Fen Edge Trail which links the village to several others on the south east of the Fens.