First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It took a noisy age for the car to crunch down the obscure gravelly byroads leading to Fen Drayton Lakes Nature Reserve. Once out along the trails that weave among these former gravel pits, there was bird squeal and chatter from every thicket and reed bed.
Dunnocks chip-chipped away in the dogrose hedges, coot squawked from the reedy fringes of Ferry Lagoon, and a blackcap unwound its melodious string of a call from a hiding place in the branches of a massive, many-stemmed willow.
The RSPB sees that the trail paths are well mown, and the grass and undergrowth are kept flattened by the boots of thousands of birdwatchers and strollers. This sunny afternoon, gravelly patches were smeared over by bright yellow stonecrop flowers. A new hatch of damselflies made the most of the hot sunshine, their electric blue needle shapes hovering delicately over nettle beds and grass for a second or two, then vanishing, to rematerialize three feet away
A stretch of paths led us beside the sinuous Great Ouse, where a bare-chested lad proudly helmed his hired river cruiser. Glossy brown cattle munched dewlap-deep in dense grass pasture, flicking their tails rhythmically against the flies. A spotted dog stood guard over a pair of fishing poles while its master caught forty winks in the shade of an umbrella.
We turned off along the banks of a navigation drain thick with yellow water lilies. From the reeds on Swavesey Lake a grasshopper warbler issued a song like the buzz of a fisherman’s reel. With distant cuckoo calls as a farewell we left the lake reserve and headed for Amen Corner.
In times past the fen village of Swavesey had more than its share of religious Nonconformists. Primitive Methodists, Ranters, Quakers, and a raft of Baptists – Unitarians, Trinitarians, Particular and Strict, among others. After their clandestine meetings further out in the wilds, many of these dissenters would gather at the piece of ground called Amen Corner, just outside the village boundary, for a final prayer and a last ‘Amen’.
Today a peaceful little Nonconformist graveyard lies here, next to the village allotments. We set course past Swavesey windmill, topped with an exotic onion dome, and were back among the lakes of Fen Drayton in time to hear the evening chorus from briar and bush, and to watch crook-winged common terns diving headfirst into the meres for their last catch of the day.
How hard is it? 4½ miles; easy; well maintained, level paths
Start: RSPB Fen Drayton car park, Holywell Ferry Road, Fen Drayton CB24 4RB (OS ref TL 343699)
Getting there: Fen Drayton Reserve is signposted off Fen Drayton Road between Fen Drayton and Swavesey (A14, Jct 24)
Walk (OS Explorer 225; trail map downloadable at rspb.org.uk/fendraytonlakes): From car park, left along Holywell Ferry Road (track). In 500m, right (342704, ‘Riverside path’). In ¾ mile, just before footbridge, right (352701, ‘Trails’). In 300m, left across Covell’s Drain, right along embankment. At gate, left (353696, ‘Swavesey’). In 400m cross busway (356695; take care, buses drive fast!) In 700m at Amen Corner cemetery (359690), right past Swavesey Windmill (353688). In ⅔ mile cross roadway (350686) and on. In ⅔ mile cross bends of a farm road and keep ahead on footpath (341686). In 200m, right (339686, ‘Public Byway’). Keep ahead where track bends right (340690). In 100m pass car park and on. In 650m recross busway (339696). In 500m, right (339700, ‘Car Park 250m’) to main car park.
Accommodation: Golden Lion, Market Hill, St Ives, Cambs PE27 5AL (01480-412100, thegoldenlionhotel.co.uk)
Info: Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB Reserve (01954-233260, rspb.org.uk/fendraytonlakes)