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Because of a stupid decision I have made and for other secret-for-now reasons, we planned to walk for miles and miles today.
I’d come across a load of free walking maps, which included walks from one train station to another. These are handy because you can get the train to the start, walk to the end and get the train back. We didn’t do that.
We decided to get the train to Ely, walk to Soham, have lunch in Soham, walk back to Ely then get the train home. Twelve and half miles there and back.
From Ely train station, we headed towards the eastern bank of the River Great Ouse, which we followed southwards on the flood bank under the wide-open overcast fenland skies.
We saw flat fens. We went under the train line instead of across it because they’ve chained the gates shut. We saw swans and geese and ducks and gulls and corvids. We saw dried-up corn cobs.
At the weird building that presumably controls the flow and/or does pumping, we crossed the bridge and turned off the Ouse, following Soham Lode southeast on the flood bank on its southern side.
We saw flat fens. We saw swans and geese and ducks and gulls and corvids. We saw dried-up corn cobs. We saw some dubious bridges. Colin saw a rabbity-deery thing that was probably a hare. We saw a heron. We saw horses and a little white pony on the other side.
We saw two little blue tractors parked on the grass verge of the road us; disappointingly, Colin didn’t fancy a tractor race.
Some of the bridges were farm roads and things. We crossed one such road; the path on the other side led to an abandoned-looking caravan. The caravan was in someone’s garden – the house was to our right – but there was no other way to go.
We squeezed between the caravan and a fence, then between some big bushes and some abandoned-looking sheds; the feeling of trespassing lapsed when the path opened out into its usual self up on the flood bank with the straight water course on the left and the fens on the right.
At Soham, we were meant to emerge at the train station, but we couldn’t see an obvious way to get to it: the lode was in the way, with no bridge over it except the train bridge. No thank you!
After peering at the hand-drawn diagram of the route and the OS map, Colin declared it was across a field and through a tunnel.
We crossed the furled and got to the tunnel, actually a bridge called Cattle Creep.
At its tallest, it was shorter than me, and I’m shorter than Colin. He went first, crouching somewhat to get through. He made it through in one piece.
I ducked down and started through. I had to adjust my gait to stop my knee shrieking. I didn’t know what the gap between my backpack and the roof was, but I didn’t feel or hear scraping, so I kept at the same height. An hour or so later, I emerged, rolling my back up to its normal position.
I imagine cattle might actually struggle to get through, even if they do creep. Dogs would be fine, although the stony ground didn’t look nice for their paws.
There was a lot of squelchy mud between us and the road. Someone had put wooden planks and broken-up pallets over the worst parts, but they were slippery, too.
We found the Main Street of Soham and investigated the nearest pubs. The first one we found is open every other weekend until 10 March. That’s it. That’s weird.
The second one was shut and the third one was shut. It was about quarter past eleven; the last pub would open at twelve. In the meantime, we found a park on the other side of the churchyard, where we ate our picnic lunch.
We were the only customers in the pub, which wasn’t as warm as we’d hoped it would be: they hadn’t lit the fire.
Over a pint, we worked out how to get to the path on this side of the lode. It seemed we had to cross the bridge at the train station.
We retraced our steps back towards the station, which was a poor idea because there was a much quicker way to go from the pub.
The station has only one platform and one line; it seems the bridge over the track isn’t actually anything to do with the station. It just provides access to the various paths and trails through the field on the other side – including our path along the lode.
We crossed the bridge and walked along a fenced-in path to freedom. The fence was very unfriendly: tall, grey and spiky-topped. I can see why it’s like they on the train line side, but the other side could be a normal fence if it wanted.
On this side of the lode, there was still a lot of flat land, but with more signs of civilisation: houses, farms, a blue water pump blocking the path.
We saw the horses and the little pony. We saw swans and geese and ducks and gulls and corvids.
We crossed the last dodgy bridge before the path ran out on the north side of the lode so that we were retracing our steps on the south side.
We saw swans and geese and ducks and gulls and corvids. We saw dried-up corn cobs.
At the weird building that presumably controls the flow and/or does pumping, we crossed the bridge and turned off the lode and rejoined the Ouse on its east bank.
My legs were starting to tire, and my hands had gone fat. No one tells you about fat hands when you’re about to start a long walk.
Normally, your hands are at elbow height if you’re at a desk or they’re in your pockets or they’re gesticulating or they’re carrying stuff. They’re not generally down by your sides for hours on end.
Having your hands downwards for hours on end allows gravity to pull all the fluids down into your hands, making your hands fat. I generally realise it’s happened when I can feel the base of my fingers touching. It’s a weird feeling.
If you use walking poles, your hands are higher up and they’re moving more, so the fluid doesn’t get a chance to build up, so you don’t get fat hands. The last long walk I did was the Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP), when I used my poles all the time except for the scary climbing bits. I didn’t get fat hands at all then.
I’ve clearly let my legs rest for too long since the HWP because they were really starting to grumble now. But we were nearly there. All I had to do was keep going, and we’d make the 15:22 train home.
When they built the new bypass to the south of Ely (to save the bridge from the idiots), they essentially had to build a massive bridge over the river and the train line. The land they had to anchor the bridge to was particularly marshy and not solid, which caused them no end of problems when they were building the bypass. Still, they got there in the end, and it all feels safe enough.
Alongside the road bridge, they built a pedestrian bridge, separated from the road by a tall wooden fence that you can’t see through, over the river.
We’d never crossed the footbridge before, so we thought we would for some variation. It felt safe enough, but there was a weird noise like bairns or gulls screaming. It turned out to be some sort of drone. A man down below was (hopefully) in control of it.
Once on the west bank of the river, we plodded on, hopeful that we’d catch this train. Colin said if we caught it, I’d be back at home with a nice cup of tea by four. That would be nice.
By the time we got back to the station, we’d walked sixteen and a half miles according to our watches.
We made it to the station with over ten minutes to spare. The screen on the platform mocked us: the train was delayed.
We got home just after four, where I collapsed on the sofa, and Colin brought me a nice cup tea.