Follow the Fen Edge Trail
The Fen Edge and the Fen Edge Trail
More information on the landscape and geology of the Fens can be found on our Fen Edge Trail website.
The extensive fenlands of eastern England reach far to the north into Lincolnshire, and south throughout much of Cambridgeshire. As the land rises from the low lying fens to the surrounding ‘hills’, the character of the buildings, land use and natural history changes. The influence of the chalk hills to the south east, the claylands to the west, the breckland to the east and the limestone uplands to the north west, have all had their effect. At various times in the last few thousand years, the fenland has been flooded and, at the Fen Edge, the land changed from extensive wetland to dryer land where settlements could be built. The surrounding higher land now provides viewpoints that are windows into the past – looking down into one of the last areas in England where ‘wilderness’ existed and people have met many challenges to survive.
The Fen Edge can be considered as (more or less) following the 5 metre contour (a ‘line’ where the land reaches 5 metres above sea level in height). This represents (very approximately) the maximum limit of the historic wetland. The land surrounded by the Fen Edge lies below 5 metres, with some of it even below sea level, and forms the ‘Fen Basin’. The map using the ‘hill shade’ shows how flat the fenland area is and gives an idea of the extent of the low-lying land.
From Peterborough, where the fenland reaches the heart of the city, the western edge of the Fens runs through Stanground, Farcet, Yaxley, Stilton, Holme, Conington to Sawtry, and then on to Woodwalton, Ramsey Heights, Ramsey, Ramsey Forty Foot, Bury and Warboys. Further south the edge passes through Pidley, Somersham, Earith, Bluntisham, Needingworth, St Ives, Fenstanton, Fen Drayton, Swavesey, Over, Willingham, Rampton, Cottenham, Landbeach, Waterbeach, Milton, and further on to Cambridge, another city with the fenland at its heart. The eastern part passes through Fen Ditton, Horningsea, Stow cum Quy, Lode, Swaffham Bulbeck and Swaffham Prior, Reach, Burwell, Fordham, Upware, Wicken and Soham before reaching Isleham and the Suffolk border.
Within the fenland there are several ’islands’ that lie above 5 metres, the largest of which is Ely (including Witchford, Sutton, Wilburton, Haddenham and Chettisham), with others being Whittlesey, Chatteris and March (including Doddington and Wimblington). Smaller islands include Manea, Stretham, Stuntney and Littleport.
Compared to the extensive wetland basin, the Fen Edge has provided humans with a safer and easier place to live for thousands of years. It has, therefore, been the location for many cultural, and often strategic, sites and has a rich history, much of it linked directly to the local geology.
An example of geology on the Fen Edge: Burwell
Fossils on the Fen Edge: Whittlesey
Peterborough Geological and Palaeontological Group has produced a great download on the Fossils of King’s Dyke and Must Farm.
A journey across a landscape and time
The Fen Edge Trail is our exciting project linking the geology and landscapes of the Fen Edge to the local history, culture and wildlife. Taking the 5 metre contour as a guide, the main Trail takes you from the border with Lincolnshire, in the north west, to the border with Suffolk in the south east. In addition, there will be walks around several of the ‘fen islands’ including Whittlesey, Thorney, Chatteris, March (including Wimblington and Doddington) and the Isle if Ely (including Littleport). There will also be a walk around Wisbech, a once-famous port, which has some land above 5 metres.
The map shows the 16 walks that are already published, the 6 others that are due soon and 21 others currently being developed. The routes of the remaining 6 walks are not yet planned. Our Fen Edge Trail team of volunteers often works in partnership with a local organisation relevant to each walk. See the Fen Edge Trail website for the full list of walks and to download the Walk Guides.
Our partnership with The Word Garden
We were delighted to support the Word Garden in their ‘Origins’ project which tells the story of the involvement of Scottish prisoners in the draining of the Fens. In the 17th century, many prisoners taken by Cromwell’s army at the Battle of Dunbar ended up as forced labour to dig the 100 foot (New Bedford) River from Earith to Denver. This fascinating project brings history, science, art, drama and communities together to bring to life a little know aspect of the fenland landscape’s past, Following the Word Garden’s book (downloadable), celebration day in 2019 (including a live performance) and a film, we have worked in partnership to design a Fen Edge Trail walk from Earith, along the Ouse Washes, linked to the project. The Walk Guide has details of how you can download accompanying podcasts to play as you walk.