As I ate my twelve grapes to the bongs of Big Ben marking the outgoing year, as 2020 slipped into 2021, my only New Year’s resolution was to get out more and walk. Nine months of Lockdowns and restrictions may have resulted in me spending more hours than normal in our garden, but there’s also been an increase in more sedentary activities like reading, cooking and, of course, sitting in front of computer screens. So on 1st January I went walking and I even persuaded my husband to come! We didn’t go far a field and in fact part of the idea was to discover local places … which is just as well since, as of last Tuesday and the new Lockdown, that’s all we are allowed to do anyway.
That first walk was around East Pit in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge. It is a fairly large disused chalk quarry (worked until 1980s), managed by the Wildlife Trust. I’ve visited the Pit before, for Trust-led evening strolls, to see its rare Moon Carrots (described here), chalk grassland flowers and glowworms. Steve hadn’t been before, but enjoyed clambering up and down the layered landscape.
There’s a fair amount of exposed chalk on the steep sides and, as a result of a 2009 re-profiling exercise to break up some of the solid base, on the quarry floor as well. So the impression is very bright and white. With a hard frost on the day of our walk it was looking especially wintry, if a little dazzling in places.
In the ten days since the East Pit walk, I’ve found myself drawn to walking in places with views, high points in an otherwise flat, edge-of-fenland landscape. Places for deep breathing, contemplation and wonder. We are lucky in this respect because we live next to a significant chalk ridge that runs diagonally across East Anglia (click here to download a Natural England publication for info about this landscape).
And so it is that I’ve hopped from one village to the next going west, to climb their chalk ridges and have ended up tromping around a further three quarries (all clunch pits). Surprisingly, each quarry has a completely different character, largely down to their management regimes and sizes.
Our village’s clunch pit is relatively small, but is wildflower-rich and is filled with cowslips, milkwort and orchids (see previous post) etc. It is cleared of scrub (mostly hawthorn and bracken) by volunteers once a year before the flowers erupt. My walk took me round the edge, with some great views towards Cambridge and north,
and then back through the middle of the pit and down Quarry Lane.
On another walk I moved west and climb the chalk ridge at Harlton, the next village. I zig-zagged up the hill through another quarry. This one has been subsumed by mixed woodland (largely horse chestnut, ash, sycamore). Harlton clunch pit is known to have provided building materials for Cambridge Castle (what do you mean, you’ve never heard of it?! OK, it’s long gone, but a mound still remains on Castle Hill).
At the top of the hill, on the ridge (which is part of Mare’s Way, an ancient track) you can peer down the other side into the massive Barrington Quarry (formerly Cemex Cement works). This quarry was only recently closed down (2008, with chimney stack demolition in 2018) and is currently being re-developed as a house estate. There is no access, but there are a couple of viewing points.
My final quarry walk (so far, at any rate) was to one that I’ve not visited before. It is in the village of Orwell. Orwell clunch pit is managed by the local Parish Council and happens to stand on the Greenwich Meridian. There is a beacon on the hill top (Toot Hill) to mark this (see top left of the photo below).
The pit used to be grazed by cows to keep it clear, but their owner passed away and the cows are gone. It is now browsed by sheep in the summer.
How beautiful is this view?!
There are also some lovely views from the beacon, looking north, towards the Gothic Folly at Wimpole Hall.
Well, that’s it for the local chalk quarries. There are a few more I believe, but they are outside my current travel radius!
I have to say that getting out for daily walks (well, almost daily) has been a great idea!