Last week's Hereward Challenge, my self-imposed exile into the wild Fens, hiking along the Hereward Way from Peterborough Cathedral to Ely Cathedral, raised £403. Thankyou all who donated and supported this fundraising event. But we are not stopping there!
The WakeHereward Project
The Hereward Challenge, the sponsored walk that raised £403 towards public noticeboards for Hereward, engineered the opportunity to work closely with like-minded individuals to assess the need for a pan-Fenland non-profit organisation that caters to raise the profile of the folklore figure, Hereward the Wake, in his native Fenlands, for the enjoyment and edification of all.
At a meeting held in Ely last week it was agreed that a steering committee should be formed, a non-profitmaking organisation, such as a 'social enterprise' or 'community interest group' should be set-up, and a mission statement made.
A public announcement will be made in due course.
Hereward never had a Clipper lighter to burn down the doors of Peterborough Monastery, it was a much more messy affair, however, 946 years almost to the moment I mimick his actions before setting off along the Hereward Way
The Hereward Challenge
Last week I completed a fundraising event, the Hereward Challenge, whereby I walked from Peterborough to Ely along the Hereward Way to raise funds towards public interpretation boards for the local folklore hero of the Fenlands, Hereward the Wake. £403 has been raised thus far.
Thursday 2nd June was chosen as it was on that date in 1070 that Hereward raided Peterborough Monastery. We opted for a 6 o’clock kick-off due to the heavy storms that had hit the area. Fortunately, as I left Peterborough Cathedral behind and made my way along the embankment of the Nene, the wind was mild enough for comfort and strong enough to sweep the rainclouds away.
My first destination was to find a suitable area to cover myself ready for a call from Dotty Mcleod from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. My self-imposed exile into the wilderness of the fens was going live ‘somewhere in the middle of a stormy forty-acre field near you folks’ and when Dotty asked me what I was doing there I really wanted to say that I had just asked myself that same question!
The blustery winds got the better of the live link and off I strode, crossing over the Nene at the Millennium cycle bridge, part of the E63 Cycle Route that the Hereward Way follows through to Whittlesey. Not that you would know it in a casual way though, as there is no 'Hereward Way' sign guiding you over the river.
The great towers of the Brickworks at Kings Dike Whittlesey, seen from the north bank of the Nene with Peterborough behind me
Over Millennium Bridge and on to Whittlesey
By 8am I was in a café in Whittlesey Market Square having a good breakfast to set me up for the day, where I met up with Alison Powell and Mark Cooney, the adjudicators of the challenge. But I had to be quick, Dotty was phoning again at 10 to 9, so I headed out of town and onto the long straight narrow of Whittlesey Dike, the second interview going much better.
Whittlesey Dike took me due east out of Whittlesey towards March
At Angle Tree Bridge on the outskirts of Turves, where Whittlesey Dike and the Twenty Foot River cross, I made my first mistake. I followed the wrong river! A farmer at Doles Farm kindly put me back on track and I met up with Poplartree Bridge on the Twenty Foot and faced a looong straight hike to Beggars Bridge.
Angle Tree Bridge on Whittlesey Dike, the swan wanted food but alas I only had chocolate after a breakfast in Whittlesey
This is a beautiful stretch of the inner-fen that does not see much traffic, yet comes alive when the trains cut through. When you see the goods trains cross on the skyline and the long straight river narrowing to the horizon mixed in with the wonder of the farmland and farmsteads carpeted out in front of you, and you are out there on your own, isolated in your own cocoon but plugged in to playing your part in the nature that lays all around you, you find it one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life and you feel a great sense of accomplishment.
The Twenty Foot Drain heading towards PoplarTree Bridge, under the railway bridge and on to Beggars Bridge on the outskirts of Turves in the heart of the Fenlands
So it was with ease that I strode through Turves, the Twenty Foot now behind me. Unfortunately the pub was shut so there was no refreshment stop. Out of Turves, Hakes Drove became heavy going due to being overgrown and it was a delight to meet up with the Nene which would guide me past the marina into March along the colourful and quaint riverside.
Beautiful March Riverside
Arriving at March Town Hall at around 3pm I was greeted by Jennifer Lawler from the March Society and we sat and had a chat in the cafe of the arts and media hub of the town. March, of course, is a big Hereward town. Hereward Street, Wake Road, Alftruda Close, Kingsley Avenue are all tributes to him, and it is the hometown of the Historian Trevor Bevis, whose translation of the 12th Century text, the Gesta Herwardi, is singularly responsible for keeping the Hereward flame lit when seemingly almost everyone else had forgotten about him.
March Town Hall and the completion of day one of the Hereward Challenge, it took nine hours
Day Two from March Town Hall to Ely Cathedral saw me get bogged down in a field off the Nene and I had to re-route to meet up with the Fen causeway, where I then made another mistake before cutting back to Christchurch Farm bridge. By the time I settled down for lunch at Christchurch playing fields it had taken me six hours to cover six miles. Not the kind of lightning start to the day I had in mind.
I once scored a scorching header from a corner in a cup final against 'Hereward' , it went right in that top left angle of the very same goalposts. Christchurch playing fields, the 'hallowed turf' indeed...
I felt a sense of irony in the fact that the last time I had been on the playing fields at Christchurch was thirty years earlier where I had scored a hat-trick in an Isle of Ely league cup final. The name of the opponents? Hereward Old Boys! He was certainly getting his own back now! The moment was soon gone when I realised that I was getting no signal and worse was to come. I was unaware an ever-rendering collage (no signal) drained my phone and backup charger. My link to the outside world was broken.
Six hours to get to this point at Christchurch from March
I passed through Tipps End at a good rate of knots and was glad to see the Lamb & Flag pub at Welney. A swift half, some banter with the locals at the bar and a bit of 'charge' later, I managed to get a signal on the bridge and called to the support that I was okay and heading their way.
Had a pleasant and jovial half-hour in the Lamb & Flag at Welney, got talking to some locals about playing football against Welney in the old Isle of Ely League, lovely pub lovely people
On the beautiful Ouse Washes at Welney where the River Delph, the Old Bedford River and New Bedford River carry much of the water than once flooded these lands. During the Autumn and Winter the road is regularly submerged and impassable through Welney Wash
After a brief photo op’ with some shorn sheep on the magnificent expanse of the Ouse Washes I made the long straight trek along the bank of the New Bedford River, taking the road when I saw goats ahead. I had already had two try to head-butt me earlier in the day.
Two minute friends on the Ouse Washes, New Bedford River, Welney
Through Dunkirk and Furlong Drove was increasingly more comfortable terrain, though I had to detour again due to an inaccessible part of the way and took the road route into Little Downham where I was met and towed up the hill to Ely by Alison and Tom. Aching, it had been a long haul, I was never happier to see Ely Cathedral in front of me.
Ely ahoy! View from the Hereward Way approaching from Little Downham
The walk was one of the most pleasureable experiences of my life. The first day between Peterborough and March was comfortable, but the difficulties faced getting off the Nene and down to Christchurch made the second day a little tougher. The walk served its purpose in three areas.
1). It has raised the awareness of Hereward the Wake to the general public
2). It has raised £403 towards public noticeboards for Hereward
3). It has served as an inspection of the fenland section of the long distance walking path the Hereward Way.
Arriving at Ely Cathedral, the journey took some twelve hours
I thank all who have made contributions, it is heartening to know that there is so much support for Hereward and the proposed WakeHereward Project. Those close to the project will be introduced in due course and will become more visible within the structure. We are currently making plans for the future, under the name of the WakeHereward Project, to raise the profile of the Fenlands very own folklore hero, Hereward the Wake. The process we are undertaking regarding the Hereward noticeboards (interpretation boards) is in progress, we will keep you healthily informed.
Thankyou for your interest and support.
Crossing Iron Bridge over the Nene on my way due east out of March
The ancient Fen Causeway - those goats didn't like me passing through their manor
This Hereward Way map by Susan Moden forms part of her work for the WakeHereward Project
Ely Cathedral was a sight for sore eyes
Peterborough Cathedral a few days earlier before the storms came, on the site of the old Monastery that Hereward and the Vikings ransacked on June 2nd 1070