Ely to Waterbeach: 11 miles (17.7 kilometres)

Walking from Ely to Waterbeach

After last week’s exertions, we decided we’d do it again on Good Friday, but a different route. This time, we’d do Ely to Waterbeach, with a break in the Five Miles from Anywhere. This pub is on the east bank of the River Great Ouse, but we wanted to walk on the west bank to see Cawdle Fen, signposted from Stuntney Causeway. Colin had never seen this fen when walking along that side of the river.

If we were to walk down the west bank of the river, we’d need to cross the river at some point to get to the pub on the east bank: the only place to do this seemed to involve walking along a fairly busy road – the one between Stretham and Wicken. Route decided and food, including hot cross buns baked on Maundy Thursday, packed, we set off.

Homemade hot cross buns

This time, I was wearing my walking trousers and shirt, my 50-parkruns-run t-shirt, a broad-brimmed hat and my Fivefingers trail-running shoes. I put my phone in my running belt for easy access, which meant I could take more photos along the way: it was in my bag last time.

The west bank

Ely to Waterbeach: 11 miles (17.7 kilometres)

We set off south along the west bank of the Great River Ouse, walking atop the flood bank. Before long, a snake thing rapidly writhed in front of us into the shelter of the long grasses at the edge of the bank farthest from the river, and we both jumped. Later, we tried to identify it, but couldn’t tell if it was a snake or an eel:

  • we’d only seen the rear end of it
  • eels can cross wetlands – but it had a pointy tail rather than a finned tail
  • it wasn’t patterned like a typical adder (venomous): it was plain dark grey, so it could have been a melanistic adder
  • it could have been a barred grass snake (not venomous)

It was definitely not a smooth snake (wrong habitat).

A sign after the railway bridge showed Cawdle Fen was off to the west somewhere. We’ll have to search for it another time.

I saw an unidentified wiggly thing rush into the grasses at the edge of the bank. Colin saw a lizard. There were lots of peacock butterflies and the occasional bumblebee trying to be stood on.

At Little Thetford, we unzipped our trouser legs to magically reveal shorts, which was much more pleasant – although we’d have to be more careful around the nettles!

For a stretch, we were separated from the river by large pools. Swans flew overhead, chattering to each other. Some landed on ‘swan lake’ with a kerfuffle: swans need a runway to take off and land; I have no idea how they land on the ground, but they must do, for I have seen them in fields.

A gaggle of geese stood on the flood bank in our way. Geese are well known to be fearsome creatures, but it seemed we were the most fearsome beasties on the path. They flew, in batches, to the pools as we approached, honking.

The route was straightforward until the Fish and Duck marina, where the River Cam empties into the Ouse. We had to cross the scary arched bridge over the Ouse to get to the east bank of the Cam. Then we hit the road, which had the bridge we needed to get to the mysterious east bank.

The crossing from west to east

We joined Dimmock’s Cote Road and used its bridge to cross from the west bank of the Cam to the east bank of the Cam. The road was fairly busy, so it wasn’t pleasant to walk along. We were glad when our turn-off – Fodderfen Drove – appeared on the right.

The east bank

A hare frolicking in the grass

Fodderfen Drove was pleasant at first – grassy with a hare frolicking ahead of us, but then it turned into a stagnant strip of green water where tractor tyres had dug deep ditches into the mud, and the rain had never evaporated – yet the surrounding soil had drained and dried to cracked earth. The midges liked it.

Upware to Ely: 7.5 miles (12.07 kilometres)

We emerged from the drove into a field, which we skirted, arriving at the Five Miles from Anywhere in Upware. By this time, I was glad of a rest. We had the only vegan thing on the menu: a stodgy veggie-burger served with really nice chips. We also had a beer each, finishing them off in the beer garden by the river. Then it was time to set off again.

We somehow ended up walking a path away from the edge of the river: according to the sign, it’s the correct route. Between the path and the river were the Washes, so-named because they flood in the winter. We saw lots of ducks, typically mallards, but one pair were not mallards. That’s as far as our identification of them went.

‘Willows and Washes’: we did take the correct route after all

The landscape, was flat with hazy hills in the distant east, before trees closed in. To the west was the usual fenland view, but with more trees.

We saw gulls, flies, cows and sheep. A white bobtail flitted into trees too quickly to tell if it was a rabbit or a muntjac.

I got stung by a sneaky nettle. I rubbed it, but Colin said that would make it worse. It felt better at the time of rubbing, and the stinging feeling didn’t last very long.

A bird shrieked three times. I imitated it, setting it off again. We think it was a peacock living in a menagerie with (another peacock,) a goat, an alpaca, a massive black-feathered chicken and a donkey.

We passed a marina, where a heron glided through the air and landed on one of the boats for a look around in that statuesque way herons have.

Heron on a boat in a marina

We saw a herd of large animals we first assumed to be cows because horses aren’t normally seen in herds, but they were indeed horses. There were a couple of cars and several people with the horses, but we couldn’t see clearly what they were doing – maybe putting up a corral around the horses.

My feet and legs were killing me by the time we got to Bottisham lock, but there was only a mile or so to go. Nevertheless, I still needed a rest, so we stopped to eat a slice of lemon flapjack each.

And then, when the end seemed to be drawing farther and farther away, we reached the sign at Clayhithe/Waterbeach, telling us it was 12 miles back to Ely. It seems the east bank is a longer walk than the west bank; which makes sense given that the city of Ely is on the west bank of the Ouse.

Waterbeach to Ely: 12 miles
Waterbeach to Ely: 12 miles (19.31 kilometres)

All we had to do now is cross the bridge to the Bridge and recover with a nice well-earned beer (and a cheeky sugary lemonade), before getting the train home for a nice cup of tea.

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