Fens and Flutterbys. 26th June

Wicken Fen GOBA Mooring to Reach Lode GOBA Mooring

Wicken Fen

Time to dust off the National Trust cards, today would be their first outing since before the pandemic when we visited the Back to Backs in Birmingham.

Wicken Fen visitor centre

Wicken Fen is 254.5 hectares and is a SSSI protected by international designations as a Ramsar wetland site of international importance. It is one of the oldest nature reserves in the country and the first to have been looked after by the National Trust after it was donated by Charles Rothschild in 1901.

Natural fen

Here you can see an area of natural fen land, no pumping out of water to dry the land for agriculture here, in fact at times water is pumped in to help maintain the land. Where we are moored at Monk’s Lode, water is pumped under Wicken Lode and into the fen by a modern windmill (on the left).

The last surviving wooden wind pump (on the right) in the Fens sits proudly over looking the swaying grasses and sedge. It was built around 1912 and was moved from Adventurers’ Fen and restored in 1956. The windmill sails still have sheets wrapped round them ready to to be stretched out to catch the wind, the round shape at the back is where the wheel is to lift water from the drain into the fen to help maintain a high water table.

There are several walks around the area, we chose to walk the Boardwalk and then the woodland walk. Easels are located at places pointing out plantlife, dragonflies, damselflies, birds and in the woodland butterflies. Most of the time living examples wizz past.

In a hide we settled down, quieter than a mouse to watch to see what might happen. The bird feeders attracted a lot of Goldfinches, I think at one point we had about six of them vying for the seed. Such colourful birds the air filled with only their song. Sadly the noise of some people coming into the hide sent them all flying away until the new observers settled down, but only a brave couple of birds returned.

Brimstone hiding

Parts of the fen have changed due to drying out. More plants have taken hold and in some areas trees have taken root. The woodland area a haven for butterflies. There were numerous easels about them. We spotted a Brimstone that flew by and then politely hung from under a leaf, showing off it’s perfect camouflage, if we’d not seen it fly in we’d have never have known it was there.

A Ringlet?

Flittering White wings occasionally haphazardly flew past us, the odd Peacock and Red Admiral all butterflies of child hood. Then there were masses of small brown butterflies, few wanting to take a rest long enough for the camera to focus upon them. A Speckled Wood, but plenty more without obvious markings. All we could see at the time was a yellowy cream outline to their wings. Later on studying the photos black dots could be seen meaning that they were Ringlets.

We walked out across the fen spotting Meadow Sweet that will soon be filling the air with its fragrance, a smell I will always associate with the Chesterfield Canal. We’d been told to look out for orchids, were these some?

That’s a nice narrowboat over there!

Back round to where we’d started after a pleasant walk. You could spend several quiet days walking the fen, seeing and hearing all sorts of nature.

Across the way sat an old cottage with a colourful garden. In the open door way an invite for you to take a peek inside. Nobody had mentioned the cottage and barns, but we did as invited and took a peek. A cockerel came over to show himself off. An outside privy, just as you’d expect except that the newspaper to wipe one’s behind is now photocopied!

Boats used for catching eels with wicker traps, nets for plovers (lapwings). So much crammed into a few barns that we’d nearly walked past.

This could be Reach Lode or Wicken both narrow and amazonian

A late lunch and then we were ready to push off, more Lodes to explore. The cruisier behind had left earlier thank goodness as the wind was going to make it hard for us to wind, the bow constantly being pushed over and the stern heading straight for the bank. Eventually we got round and aimed in the right direction, soon meeting the trip boat coming back to drop off it’s visitors.


The going was slow again, I headed to the bow to spread the weight more evenly which helped a touch. A family filled a canoe and so many dragonflies flitted about like fairies. Or do fairies flit about like dragonflies?

Back at the junction

We got almost to the junction before we were caught up by the last trip boat of the day. Mick had considered pulling in here to moor but there was still no space on the EA moorings, so we turned eastward had a discussion as to which Lode we’d venture down first, Reach came out top.

A Tern followed our every move

Now deeper, or so it seemed for a while, the going was a touch quicker. The Lodes are higher than the surrounding land and without flood banks you actually get a view.

Bloomin blanket!

At the fork we turned to the south east towards Reach, reeds started to surround us, swaying in the stiff breeze. Then masses of blanket weed, the sort that tangles props up really well. Mick knocked us out of gear to glide through such sections. Was this only to get worse the further we progressed? We were now just that bit to far along the lode to reverse out again, so onwards we went, thankfully the blanket weed gradually diminished.

A bridge!

At Reach the lode splits in two, well it looks like it used to. Signs warn that this is the end of the navigation and permission should be sought to moor from the Parish Council. Just beyond there were the GOBA signs. Was there space for one or more boats, would there be anywhere in full sunlight? There was space for two or three, but it all looked rather shallow. We tried pulling in where there was less tree coverage, here would have been good last week for the 32C day. The depth prohibited access to land, we backed up and tried again. All the time the stern getting stuck on the bottom. We eventually made it back to the start of the moorings, the bow almost came into the side, just enough to get off, then Mick powered Oleanna round. The ropes were wrapped round trees, we were moored, our plank only just long enough to reach land. This however wasn’t a problem for Tilly!

Plank required!

We hope that tomorrow we’ll be able to get ourselves free again, as it may be some time before anyone else ventures down here!

0 locks, 4.08 miles, 1 wind, 1 left, 2 rights, 1 big fen, 2 windmills, 6531 butterflies, 431 damselflies, 311 dragonflies, 1 canoe, 1 cat tip toing along the plank, 6ft plank only just long enough, 1 very shallow mooring, 0 sight seeing from here, 1 supermarket delivery moved back.