WE stand at the threshold of a new year and I thought it would be appropriate to pen a few words in praise of the Fens and its inhabitants past and present.
In many places in the country as the snow melts and the land defrosts, people live in fear of inevitable floods turning rivers into raging torrents invading properties. Little can be done to avert such disasters and trauma.
A degree of success in confronting such a threat is all around in our part of the land. The Fens were once the gathering place of the waters, a natural sump, and nowhere else in the country will be found a state of preparedness and expertise in the prevention of flooding on a devastating scale.
State-of-the-art machinery, natural and artificial rivers, high rising embankments with the added precaution of automatically flooded wash land devised to lessen pressure on the centuries old drains play a major part in keeping our feet dry.
It is not generally appreciated that no less than 13 counties void waters through the Fens, a considerable area lying several feet beneath sea level.
All this exemplifies the achievement and stamina of men in the endless battle against nature over a torturous one-thousand years.
Snow does not affect the flatland as it does in undulating and mountainous areas like Wales, Scotland, the Lakes and the Peaks tending to shape overhead air currents affecting conditions at ground level.
Some say the Fens are flat and dull, reiterating novelist Dorothy Sayers observation that “God missed out the stairs!” It is, of course, all for a purpose.
The Fens have a beauty of their own; an incomparable three-quarter sky from horizon to horizon lending a sense of freedom for all living beneath it. Here we enjoy more daylight than do mountainous areas.
The Land of Goshen it certainly is, valued nationwide for production of food on a massive scale. This derived long ago from settlements of persecuted Huguenots and Flemings fleeing to a free country; and hundreds of Scottish and Dutch prisoners of war, many of whom died and are buried in the Fens. To them we owe a great debt.
The Fens’ history is incomparable too. The last place to oppose William the Conqueror, resisting him for more than a year yet Hastings was lost in a single day.
Like Charles the First, Oliver Cromwell had a high regard of the Fens.
Cromwell’s warrior Fenmen formed the initial element of his invincible New Model Army, which raised England to a world respected level, and that force of highly disciplined men are much emulated to this day in modern armies worldwide.
Here in the Fens were sewn the seeds of the Commonwealth surviving in our own times.
Any saying that there is no beauty in the Fens should read Charles Kingsley’s tribute to a region that has given so much to benefit our land.
“The Fens have a beauty of their own, a beauty as of the sea, of boundless expanse and freedom. Overhead the arch of heaven spreads more ample than elsewhere, as over the open sea, and that vastness gave and still gives such cloud banks, such sunrises, such sunsets as can be seen nowhere in these isles.”
St Peter’s Road