Of fog and cabbages

This past week I’ve been displaced from my comfort zone, which in geographical terms is the region of southern England taking in southeast London and northwest Kent. Much as I like the people of Lincolnshire – a friendly bunch who not only make eye contact with and verbally greet strangers in the street, but smile at them with a genuine warmth – my most recent experience of Holbeach has had me pining for the teeth grinding environs of suburban London.

I am up here in the South Holland district of East Anglia, staying with my stepfather in a family house which has not been properly lived in since the death of his mother a few years back. There is internet access, of sorts, so there is no question of me suffering information withdrawal, but it fails to make up for my general sense of unease.

I have my bicycle up here with me, but have managed just three rides totalling 140 kilometres. Today we are forecast gale force winds by mid-afternoon, and these, combined with nose-to-tail articulated lorries on the major roads, and mud-spattered rural lanes bounded by deep field sluices into which one could easily skid, make for a scary cycling experience. Maybe I should stay out of the saddle until I return to Kent next week.

My first ride of this current Lincolnshire sojourn took me north along that part of National Cycle Route 1 between Holbeach and Fosdyke. I had intended to continue on to Boston, and back along the same path, but dense fog and rain scuppered that plan. After a brief rest, and the counting of a few thousand cabbages within an extremely limited radius of visibility, I squelched back to Holbeach with the aid of a head torch, and with only 38 kilometres on the clock.

South Holland Main Drain by Tydd St Mary, Lincolnshire (photo: Francis Sedgemore)
On Wednesday I took the same national cycle route south to Wisbech, and almost enjoyed the experience. The Cambridgeshire Fenland scenery is for me more interesting than the agribusiness dominated terrain of Lincolnshire. That comment may come across to natives of the area as unfair, and they would probably be right. It takes time to really see a landscape for what it is, and one needs to be in the right frame of mind.

What I have noticed up here is a marked difference in soil and wild vegetation from that which covers the bulk of East Anglia to the south. That, and a relative lack of birds. Late November may not be the best time of year for birds, the sensible ones having already departed this cold and soggy place for comfier climes, but it all seems sterile and featureless in comparison with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

Not that I particularly appreciate Cambridgeshire and Norfolk either, mind you. When it comes to Cambridgeshire I have form, having spent a year in my early twenties living in tents and caravans, chasing cruise missile convoys around country lanes in the Huntingdon area, and appreciating the decor of various local police cells. East Anglian winters can be bitterly cold and utterly miserable. As for cycling in 21st century Fenland, I can imagine myself being run off the road by Stephen Fry in his deconsecrated black cab, with this national treasure screaming “Fucking peasant!” at me in impeccably cadenced tone as I lie in a muddy ditch by the side of the road.

By Sunday evening I shall likely be gone from this place. As I say, the people here are not the problem. The issue is me, and in particular my negative view of the local environment, warped as it is by personal experience and adverse circumstance.

The weather this week has not been conducive to photography, and in any case I forgot to bring my proper camera. But I did manage to take a few snaps with my handy telephonic device. The photo above is of a dyke north of the village of Tydd St Mary, on the Lincolnshire side of the border with Cambridgeshire. On the other side of that administrative boundary is Tydd St Giles, with its rather nice 11th century church. I am not sure whether the pictured dyke has a name, but from looking at the maps, it appears to be part of the charmingly titled South Holland Main Drain.