Driving through the eastern side of England is a very odd experience. This is because many of the roads stick up out of the surrounding fields. It’s like driving along the top of a wall. Wheeeee! Mama says the land has shrunk. The water has been drained out of it. Sounds about right. My nappy certainly gets much bigger and heavier as the night goes on.
Wicken Fen is an exception to this. Preserved in its more original waterlogged state by the National Trust, it is a haven for wildlife, fascinatingly reddy brown water, reedbeds full of tall waving fluffy ended grass called sedge and people wanting to get out for a nice walk in the open air. Like us and Granny and Grandad.
Wicken Fen has a number of different trails suitable for all walking styles, inclinations and abilities, but after a period of relentless damp they were keen for us not to do the squishiest one because of the time it would take for the path to recover from the hordes of our fellow half termers enjoying the first glimpse of sun for ages. Despite Mama actually remembering our wellies for once!
Since fens practically define the word squishy when it comes to the texture of the ground underfoot, this could have proved tricky for our stated aims for the day. Luckily, the team there have planned for what could possibly be a fairly regular occurrence, and built a 1.2 km boardwalk path, which lifts you right out of the water but allows you to roam quite extensively around the wetland. It also has the advantage of being wheelchair, pushchair and small legs accessible.
This route takes in what are presumably some of the highlights of the place. There are two windmills, both a traditional one for pumping water out of the surrounding area, and a more modern one for putting it back should the British summer surpass itself when what you want is to foster a particularly damp wildlife habitat.
There are also two hides, both of which proved to be good value for bird spotting. The first looks out over a number of feeding stations which were teeming with small birds. Goldfinches? Greenfinches? Chaffinches? Collared doves? A good variety of tits? This hide had them all and probably a few more I have already forgotten. Much excitement. Helpfully, there are pictures on the back wall so that you can look up any species that elude you.
We also saw a rat. Or possibly a vole. Opinion was divided. Either way, that was thrilling too.
The second hide looked out over the reed beds, and was a bit dull at first. Until, that is, a huge form heaved itself up into the sky and flapped this way and that for a few minutes. Mama thought it was a heron, a bird we see often on the Thames, although she was a bit puzzled about where the legs and stabby beak were. My Brilliant Big Brother scoffed his rejection outright, and a spirited discussion ensued until Granny sided with him. Granny knows about birds.
That, Granny said, is a marsh harrier.
Having spotted a few other hawklike hovering birds of prey on the journey to the Fen we were duly impressed by the massive step up in size of this one. Mama wonders what it eats. Small children, perhaps?
Or a montjac deer? Which we also saw. As frequent frequenters of Richmond ‘the poo’ Park, you would think we were a bit over deer, but this one was soooooo small and cute! I hope the marsh harrier didn’t spot it.
Actually, even if you can’t see the birds, you can hear them and it was very noticable how different the calls coming from the fen are from the urban song birds, cooing pigeons, croaking rooks, and squabbling magpies we usually listen to. And no sqwarking green parrots either, which has got to be a bonus.
Sadly, the animal interest was mostly confined to the first half of the walk. If the damper trails are more accessible, you can make it out to the loomingly large birdwatching towers at the back of the Wicken Fen reserve and try your luck further there. I am also assured by local Claire of Mud and Nettles that wild pony sightings are a regular occurrence on the much longer walk on the other side of the river, which must be BEYOND COOL!
As it was we had a look at the open water channel the National Trust runs boat trips round in the sunnier months and then headed fairly briskly down the back straight to the tea room. Which also had a small play area of woven living willow dens and numerous children to hang out with. Result!
Next door to this, there is an indoor Visitors Centre where you can pick up scavanger trails, do some crafting or look at a variety of items from the fen under microscopes.
After we had all fortified ourselves in different ways, with coffee, cake or recreational fun, we went off to have a look at the traditional Wicken Fen worker’s workshop and cottage. The workshop was pretty cool, with its boat, it’s wickerworked items, photographs of the fen dwellers of old doing baffling fen dwelling things, and satisfyingly gruesome decorations in the skulls of different small fen animals the fen dwelling humans had killed.
The cottage itself was not officially open, but the very kind volunteers invited us in anyway and told us all about it.
The fact that it was pre season probably made it a more authentically dank experience than normal, and Mama found it a bit depressing, especially when added to the story of how diphtheria ravaged the children of the cottage in one horrible week. Central heating, electricity, large windows and inside toilets, Mama says, have a lot to recommend them. Although she also says it was a shame that Papa was not there to find out that the British can make efficient ovens with chimneys designed to retain heat rather than funnel it straight out of the house as quickly as possible when they really want to make bread.
Last stop on the way back to the car park was the chicken run, and so, topped up with animal sightings once again, and let loose on the muddly puddles in the carpark to boot, we ended the day triumphant.
All in all, Wicken Fen is good for a run around in a variety of different weather conditions, and suitable for all members of the family. It’s great. And we’ll be back when the sun has dried up the soggy paths a bit more.
And, of course, so we can see the horses!!!
Wicken Fen on the National Trust’s website.
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the National Trust.
Address: Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5XP
Opening: The fen is open from dawn to dusk year round. The rest of the facilities are available 10 – 5, except the cottage, which is open a bit later between mid March and mid October.
Admission: Adult: £7.15, child: £3.50, family: £17.75. National Trust members are FREE.
By car: There is a large parking area close by. Free to National Trust members, £2.50 to everybody else. The fen is south of Wicken (A1123), 3 miles west of Soham (A142), 9 miles south of Ely, and 17 miles north-east of Cambridge via A10.
By train or bus: Ely is 9 miles away. That appears to be your lot a far as public transport is concerned.
21 thoughts on “Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, UK”
Wow, impressive to see a marsh harrier. My other half is into his birding so would love this place. I enjoy a good walk too but might have to take up residence in the cafe. #countrykids
Even Big Brother has very little patience for proper sit down, stay still and wait birding. It’s astonishing what we have seen by just sticking our heads round the door of various hides really at the right time really.
The walks on the other side of the river to the visitor centre normally offer more on the wildlife front. (No entrance fee too!)
When next back try the other side and you’ll likely see the wild ponies and all sorts of exciting finds. 🙂
One of my regular stomping grounds, glad you enjoyed 🙂
Oh are the wild pony sightings a regular occurrence? Mama decided she couldn’t quite risk what would have been a very long trek for me on the chance, but if it’s more of a sure thing, we shall certainly give it a go next time! Cool!
Yes, we regularly see them. To see them rearing is rather magical. 🙂
Right then, we are so there! Thanks for the tip! I must update this piece too.
This looks like an amazing place. NT places are always nice to visit as the areas as well preserve and taken care of. I wish we can visit this one soon =) #pocolo
They are very good about accommodating families too, and providing little added extras for the kids. You should go!
Aww wwould want to but we dont have a budget at the moment. So I will just contend my self with your photos and daydream =P
It’s tricky is managing the ents budget, especially when it comes to picking things like annual passes.
Do you know I’ve never visited the fens. It looks like this is a great way to do it and plenty of wildlife to spot along the way too. Great to see some of our natural landscape being preserved and the wildlife ith it. the little cottage sounds fascinating too and great you got to have a peep inside, though diphtheria makes you glad we live in the age we do! Thank you for sharing a National Trust gem on Country Kids.
We’re not familiar with the fens either, but you are right, this is a very accessible way to get a feel for them. Not least because of the drive through the unpreserved fenland first!
Wow, you know how much I love an NT place and this looks right up our street! Bird spotting the harrier and seeing a rat/vole must have been pretty exciting. The history of the cottage is a little morbid but interesting all the same!
National Trust membership really is a must for families with a car. So many places to go, so much of it outdoors, and all of them very aware that people with kids (and the retired, frequently with grandkids) are their main source of visitors.
To be fair, it was mainly Mama focusing on the morbid bits. But then the outside does look so chocolate boxy that it’s good to get a perspective.
Looks like you all had a lovely day out 🙂 I can’t believe the blue sky!
I love National Trust and have been a member for years, I do need to visit more of their properties…
It was the first good day of the season! And currently the last. *glares at the sky*
It looks like a lovely place to visit, even if it was a bit depressing in the cottage.
The thing is, Mama has spent time in buildings like that. It is a lot less fun than it looks. Grandad, who grew up without an inside toilet and now refuses to buy any furniture not from IKEA, was also looking a bit dubious.
But the bread oven was fab, promise! And once it is aired out I am sure it is lovely! And it does have very practical thick walls, which is always a joy to find in the UK!
We love walkies at Wicken Fen but only take the other paths. The Konik ponies really are beautiful if you get the chance to go back 🙂
Wicken Fen looks like a great day out with plenty of variety to keep everyone entertained. I’d love to see a March Harrier although I have seen a Hen Harrier twice here in Normandy.
Thank you so much for adding this trip to Wicken Fen to #AnimalTales
Sounds like it was a good outing for all! Very smart to have a proper walkway especially where it rains all the time. The pacific northwest could learn a thing or two about that… hmm