A few days ago I changed my profile picture and said it summed up the peace and tranquility we have been looking for in the fens. Easy to say, and fairly easy to photograph but it's a lot more difficult to describe so I thought I would try to list the top ten things that have brought me to that conclusion (and with no photos!).
1. Landscape. It's true to say the landscape in the fens is fairly flat but that does not make it any the less attractive. The rivers and dykes meander through rich water meadows lined with native hedges and trees. Wet woodland such as Alder Carr abuts the rivers and deciduous woodlands are dotted throughout the area. Willow-lined ditches link up the patchwork of fields. Footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the landscape.
2. Sky. OK, everywhere has a sky but the sky above the fens really is big and, as such, it dominates every view. The cloud formations not only inform us about the weather (past, present and future) but it also provides an ever-moving back-cloth for a massive display of light and shade. It is captivating and, before long, you may find yourself just standing there, staring at it in awe.
3. Towns and Villages. They are all touched by the 21st century but look deeper and you find buildings with a wealth of historic and architectural interest. Ancient churches, small market squares, old shops, stone bridges, war memorials, picturesque pubs and bustling waterfronts all contribute in a special way to create a character that you will only find in the fens. Explore.
4. Wildlife. From the river we are always thrilled to see families of Great Crested Grebes, Coots and Moorhens, swathes of swans, hoards of herons, patrolling barn owls and darting kingfishers. But rather than seeing only fleeting glances, the river provides us with long views of incoming (or disappearing) wildlife. Our Otter-watching evenings are printed in our memories.
5. River. The Ouse can be wide and straight in places but most of it and its tributaries are meandering and of a human scale. It has a selection of revetments on some bends but most of the banks are natural and lined with deep marginal water plants. Water depths, currents, corners, bridges and locks add variety and are the cause of interest to anyone with an inquisitive imagination.
6. Moorings. GOBA, EA and some Councils provide numerous 48hr moorings throughout the Fens ranging from simple grass banks in remote places to long jetties in towns and some villages. Some of these have water and free waste disposal. You can choose to have evening sunsets, morning sunrises (or both), fantastic views with your meals, or a short walk to nearby pubs or restaurants. Wild mooring is often possible in the more remoter parts.
7. Peace and Quiet. The East Anglian Rivers and Fens are not usually busy places. We often travel all day and not pass another boat and, therefore, there is a great sense of peace and quiet. But it goes further than that; time not only slows down to a walking pace but stresses disintegrate, the 21st century disappears for a while, and problems disappear. A perfect day!
8. People. You would expect everyone on a boat to be friendly, welcoming and helpful but so is everyone else we meet. Has everyone in Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire got a boat???
9. History. Apart from various Romans, Normans and Saxons, the Fens have been home to Hereward the Wake, Oliver Cromwell, and John Major MP. Add to them, one of the blokes who invented the Harley Davidson motorbike, you have an area brimming with people who made history.
10. Proximity. This is personal. The Fens (in general) and Lazy Otter (in particular) are only an hours drive from home. This is far enough away to make it different (and we all know a change is as good as a rest) but it's not too far to be a fag to get to. We also know that if something should blow up at home, or a wheel should drop off something, then we are never more than about 3 or 4 hours away from the homestead. Perfect.
So, there it is. I have tried to describe the top ten things that make the Fens a good place for us. I have not put them in any order or compared them with other waterways because I know there is no point.
If you are in the Fens or make a visit, please watch out for NB Skylark, give us a wave and then draw up your own list.