THE SPIRIT OF THE FEN
The grace of an invisible hand flits across her cheek,
an ethereal sensation.
She leans forward, longing for more.
The bombardment of silence thunders in her ears
whilst the meandering of bumblebees
is amplified to
she senses the trials of thousands of years
Swirling around her soul.
The ghostly guide tugs impatiently
At her hand.
‘Not yet’, she replies.
‘Soon, very soon.’
First she needs the grounding
Of the boardwalk.
As far as the eye can see
Reeds and sedge dance in the breeze
A bewildering display unleashed.
The unified being pulsating with life;
Its energy palpable.
The cerulean sky reaches
Unhindered by obstacles it sweeps down to
The sunbeam of golden land.
Ahead indistinct voices drift towards her
The unknown language beguiling.
The air punctuated by thumps of axes
Trees hewn by brute force.
A canopy of oak leaves looms above her
She shivers, sways and swoons
Into the arms of the mystical being.
©Annika Perry, May 2021
‘The Spirit of the Fen’ was inspired by my recent visit to Wicken Fen, the oldest Nature Reserve in Britain. Immediately I sensed an enchantment within the ancient fenland of East Anglia.
An inventive and enjoyable set of boardwalks has been created around the fen to allow visitors to the site whilst protecting the landscape and wildlife. It was thrilling to step out just above the water, gazing out upon the bewitching scenery.
The fens are made up of the fens, marshes, reed beds, farmland and woodland. There is a deep peat soil that is kept wet by rainfall and clean, chalky river water.
Within the low lying water reed and sedge are grown for harvesting. The latter is used for thatch roofing which is still used for many older buildings within the country. The earliest recorded sedge harvest was in 1414.
Furthermore, the fens are rich with a variety of floral and fauna with over 9000 species of animals, birds and insects thriving in the area. I only saw a handful of these alas! Charles Darwin in the 1820s favoured the spot for finding beetles.
The reserve was founded in 1899 by the National Trust to preserve its iconic habitat and the first parcel of land was donated to the Trust by Charles Rothschild in 1901.
Although some parts of the southern fens were made into navigable waterways by the Romans called the ‘Lodes’, the majority of the fens were barely accessible before they started to be drained for farmland in the seventeenth century using windmills. Wicken Fen remained undrained and continued as a business for peat and sedge until the end of the nineteenth century.
Although Wicken Fen is currently quite a small area a new 100-year project was launched in 1999 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first acquisition. The Wicken Fen Vision is seeking to expand the fen to a size of 22 square miles to preserve and increase its exceptional biodiversity.
Finally, it was fascinating to learn about Bog Oaks upon leaving the Nature Reserve. These are remains of trees preserved in the waterlogged peat and just such a tree was unearthed in 2016 whilst a ditch was cleared, pictured below. Some bog oaks are from the Bronze Age and it is staggering to think that before me lay a tree trunk from possibly 4200 years ago!
The magical aura of Wicken Fen stayed with me long after my visit, the peaceful, harmonious presence lingering within. It will not be long before I return to this unusual place of natural beauty to explore more!