THE SPIRIT OF THE FEN

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
Concert crescendo.

Eyes closed,
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
To infinity.
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.

A reed warbler

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!

Bog Oak, possibly 4000 years old

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!

AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!