Gerrards Cross – The Fens

2 Jun

Merseyside, Staffordshire,  West Midlands,  Warwickshire, Oxfordshire,  Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, The Fens

Our next house sitting job was in Gerrards Cross, a very wealthy neighbourhood 20 miles north-west of London.  Apparently, loads of soccer stars live in this neck of the woods.    We stayed for 12 days in this beautiful home and with only a lovely rabbit and two happy goldfish to look after, we had a cruisey time!   

The back view of Gerrard’s Cross

And the back garden, it was really private, leading down to a stream

Cinnamon, the rabbit…..

We had 3 squirrels living down the back. And that’s a robin in front of him

…and happy goldfish. See why our time here was cruisey?


Another moth, probably 3 inches tall

Gerrards Cross is basically just down the road from Chalfont St Peter so we had been to most of the places we selected as notable sites before.  The fact that as your drive around England, staying clear of the motorways, you probably drive through three villages within ten minutes is hard to get used to.  If I have a map open, by the time I figure out where we are, tracing the road with my finger, we have generally passed through the township and are almost upon the next!  This not only shows how close the towns are but also I am not the world’s best map reader!  All the villages this far out from London are generally commuter towns, the train service is excellent and you can be right in the middle of London’s CBD in a little over an hour.  Not only are the carriages very comfortable, the trains run about every 6 – 10 minutes!  Most of these townships have two or even three supermarkets and a High St with the usual crowd of clothes, shoes, book and second-hand shops, real estate agents, cinema, and lots of cafes and multi-national food outlets.  The slightly bigger towns will have a mall as well.   But between the townships the countryside is farmed or it will be parks and a wooded area known as wealds.  This whole district is known as The Weald as originally it was all a deciduous wooded area interspersed with swampy bits.  The great majority of these trees are oaks but there are also silver birches, elderberries, sycamores and elms.

What a delight to come across this kowhai when taking a walk around Gerrards Cross

One of the many plants I don’t recognize

Some of these old buildings have the most marvelous chimneys!

One of the show gardens

One thing we had wanted to see the last time we were in this area was a butterfly farm.  We had noticed the sign in the middle of winter when it was closed, but now that Easter has passed everything is open again.  When we arrived there was a sign up stating that because it was so early in the season, admission was given at a discounted rate because most of the butterflies and moths were still in their chrysalis!  They order the butterflies from  various countries in their cocoon state and grow them on in heated boxes on site.  Once they emerge and the wings are fully extended and hardened, then they are transferred to the hothouse full of flowering plants.  The trick is to organise themselves so that there is a constant supply of new butterflies in the hothouse, throughout the spring and summer seasons.  We loved walking through the plants watching all these beautiful butterflies.  We are due to have another house sit in this general area again in July so intend to go back to see a greater range flying around.  As you left the enclosure you had to check your clothes to ensure that you weren’t transporting any flying beauties outside, as they would quickly die in the cold out there (we regularly still have overnight frosts).  We saw staff trying to catch some and take them back indoors while we were walking around the many show gardens outside.   It really was too early for these garden rooms as well so I’m looking forward to next time.

I always wondered what a katydid looks like

A stick insect

This is actually a moth, still sitting in the hot box


Being so close to London we were pleased to be able to worship at St. Helen’s again.  They advertised a tour through part of the British Museum during that week, run by one of their members.  The tour had the emphasis of viewing items that had a Biblical significance.    We thoroughly enjoyed this.  We had actually been to this Museum before but it is always so good to be guided by an expert.    

There’s this wonderful sculpture commemorating the Battle of Britain along the banks of the Thames

On the back

We also visited Hyde Park again.  It is such an amazing facility to  have in the middle of London!  It is huge (350 acres) and with all the spring flowers out now, was beautiful.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t been there long and it began to pour down, so it was a quick run to the nearest Underground Station to get out of the rain.  As the shops have no verandas, it is a pain to walk down the street when it’s wet.  Pedestrians holding their umbrellas aloft have a nasty habit of poking you in the eye, unless you are forever weaving in and out and ducking from time to time.

Hyde Park spring flowers

A large flint stone, flint is always found in chalk

I really enjoyed having a quiet time in Gerrards Cross and not having to travel everyday.  And it is always great when I have an oven at my disposal rather than just the stove top, and my very own washing machine, though no one has a washing line.

Took a guided walk around Amersham, such an old village. Beautiful

Only took this photo because of her great hairdo…. (was featured in Amersham Museum)

These butterflies looked like leaves when they weren’t flying!

Our next job was in Norwich and as we had three days to get there we took the scenic route.  First

Once the chalk is chipped away it reveals the flint underneath. So many building are made of flint in the south of England

stop was the Duxford Imperial War Museum.  Even I had been looking forward to this one as it has a Concorde on show.  We spent the whole day there and could easily have gone back for another day or two!   Knowing we had limited time we chose 3 sections out of the 8 and then managed to squeeze in a bit of one other.  First, we needed to walk through the Concorde and it proved to be spectacular, very sleek and space age.  Another highlight was the American Air Museum, housed in a racy building with the HUGE B-52 which dominated the whole building and the impressive Blackbird spy plane.     We left the building two minutes before they locked the doors!


Blackbird spy plane, it is invisible to radar

One of 28 barrel sections of a “Supergun” which was being built for Saddem Hussein before the 1991 Gulf War. It was supposed to be 156m long and able to be used conventionally, or for chemical and nuclear weapons. An American was the designer and he had the barrels made in various locations, this one was made in Britain and was seized on route.

Wherever you stood in this huge building the B-52 dominated the space!

A map of planes on display in the American Hanger

New spring growth in Cambridge

So odd to see cattle grazing in the public park in Cambridge

Cambridge is full of gorgeous Tudor buildings

From there we drove the short distance to Cambridge and stayed the night on the side of the road.  After dinner we took a stroll through the old part of town, which was full of gorgeous old Colleges and Chapels, much the same as Oxford.  This whole area was devoted to the University and was full of young people biking everywhere, to and from evening lectures and an extensive array of pubs.   It is a beautiful place and we were looking forward to a guided walking tour the following day, but alas, it was pouring the next day so we skipped the tour and carried on up to Ely, pronounced Elee.
Ely has an enormous cathedral right in the middle of town.  As with all these  huge structures it took years to build (1083 -1375) and of course was originally a Roman Catholic Church.  Since the Reformation, most of these churches are now Church of England, and as a result of Oliver Cromwell’s fervour, lost their original stain glass windows, many statues of saints, etc  and other carvings.  It happened that Cromwell was born in the village of Ely and lived about 100 metres away from the Cathedral, so this church is one of the few which survived that period intact.  He did lock up the church for 11 years but he didn’t command any destruction, nor as his usual practice use churches as his stables while in the town.  We have been in many of these grand buildings that in later years have been used in prominent films.  Ely Cathedral was used in The King’s Speech, Elizabeth (the film and TV series) and The Other Boleyn Girl.   I guess they make a fair chunk of money for the privilege.  There are always prominent signs up in these places saying it cost 3000 pounds per day to keep them in good repair, as an incentive for you to donate more than the entrance fee.

Ely Cathedral

As I said Oliver Cromwell’s family home was just a hop and a skip away, which we did  in the rain, and has since been turned into a Museum as well.  Cromwell is one of Dennis’ heroes so  it was obligatory that we view it.  It turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated, dealing with him and his family, Ely and surrounds and the political upheaval at that time.
The countryside in this “neck of the woods” is generally called The Fens.  The paddocks are large and unfenced and there are no stones!  As always all the fields between the townships are farmed intensively.    Before the 17th century, this vast area was a huge peat swamp  but someone had a brilliant idea and invited a Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden, to come over and teach the English how to drain The Fens.  The end result is many “straight as a ruler” canals, with distinctively Dutch windmills placed strategically along the waterways.  It all drains into The Wash, which is the huge bay leading out into the North Sea.   (Dennis was keen to remind me that the well-known saying “It will all come out in The Wash” originates from here!   Anybody who spends a bit of time with Dennis will be familiar with his penchant for “sayings”.)  Once the system began to work, the dried out peat shrunk and the land fell below sea level so it is still drained today but using diesel pumps.  The canals and road ways are now two or three metres above the surrounding countryside.

Very straight canals

Potatoes plants just coming through, such beautiful fertile soil on The Fens

Clever Dutchie

The natural river, the Great Ouse (not to be confused with the Ouse in Sussex, why do they use the same name all over the place?  There are three Avon Rivers) is navigable for some miles inland  so King’s Lynn along its shores was a busy port during the 12th century.  It’s maritime history is still very evident today, with the wharves, Custom House, medieval Hanseatic Warehousing, Corn Exchange, Greenland Fishery  and then the beautiful merchants’ houses gracing the cobbled lanes.   The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance between cities, mainly in Northern Europe, who traded predominately with other city members.  These Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and provided their own protection and mutual aid and it generally meant great wealth for each participating city.   King’s Lynn still has a small fishing fleet, which we parked next to for the night.  I am always fascinated by the tidal range in this land and spent most of my time checking certain marks on the river bed, keeping a track of the waxing and waning tides.  When the tide was coming in, it actually came in so fast that it created rapids moving up the river!  They had a Harbour Board boat that scanned the river at each high tide to move the navigational buoys , marking the changing sandy bottom.  King’s Lynn has suffered many floods through the years and nowadays each property on the river front had a very heavy, solid metal door that can be closed over the business or house frontage as a secure barrier.  The town is very proud of their famous sons and daughters – Lord Nelson, Boccidica, and the explorer George Vancouver. 

The Hanse Warehouse built in 1475

The Guildhall in King’s Lynn

Spring is in the air…….

George Vancouver, explorer of the Pacific Coast of America, some of NW passage and much of Canada, stands in front of the old Custom House (1685) now used as the Information Centre

What beautiful workmanship, even on the drainpipes


3 Responses to “Gerrards Cross – The Fens”

  1. kathy June 3, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    The guildhall is beautiful!

  2. James Bartlett June 5, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    Thanks ma, I enjoyed that. I suspect the sticks aren’t incestuous though; check the spelling in your captions 🙂

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