Walk with me – Chalk quarries and ridges

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.

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Looking into the East Pit towards the southern and west walls

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. 

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East Pit, Cherry Hinton looking North

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).

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View from the managed chalk grassland at Therfield Heath, near Royston, which owes its preservation, in part, to its golf course and gallops

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,

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View over the edge of Haslingfield Clunch Pit towards Cambridge

and then back through the middle of the pit and down Quarry Lane.

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Inside Haslingfield Clunch Pit

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).

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Harlton clunch pit is now a mature wooded environment

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.

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Barrington quarry is currently being transformed into a housing development alongside agricultural fields

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).

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Orwell Clunch Pit and Meridian beacon

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?!

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Orwell Clunch Pit is managed as chalk grassland by the local Parish Council.

There are also some lovely views from the beacon, looking north, towards the Gothic Folly at Wimpole Hall.

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From Toot Hill, Orwell towards Wimpole and its Folly (if you look closely in the middle)

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!

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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16 Responses to Walk with me – Chalk quarries and ridges

  1. Cathy says:

    Lovely countryside views, and it is still very green for winter. πŸ˜ƒ I love walking up hills too, and I especially like that final moment when you reach the top and the view unfolds beneath you.

  2. Paddy Tobin says:

    You are so very fortunate to have such a beautiful area for walking. We miss our walks very much as we are being very careful re covid and rarely leave home these days – groceries delivered etc. By contrast, at this time last year we averaged 10 – 15Km each day walking. I long to be out and about again.

    • I can see how you must miss your walks, as that is a gigantic change. I am lucky and my walks have been remarkably people free, unlike better known local destinations. Hopefully you will be safely roaming again come summer.

      • Paddy Tobin says:

        Yes, hopefully we will be out and about again and I think we may go wild with the freedom when it comes!

  3. Flighty says:

    Interesting post and pictures. Disused quarries become fascinating landscapes. xx

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    There is much to be said for getting outside daily for fresh air and exercise, good for body and mind. (I’d be [more] insane without it! πŸ™‚ ) You’ve discovered some nice views, too. And I learned a new word: clunch. (Even spell check doesn’t know it!) πŸ˜‰ A good Scrabble word, too.

    • Daily walks (and the garden of course) have saved my sanity over this last year! It has been interesting to learn more of our local environment too. Local clunch pits were dug for coprolites and that is another nice word … although it obscures their earthy origins!

  5. Chloris says:

    I don’t live that far away but I never knew about any of these beauty spots. Wonderful. I shall do some exploring if this lockdown ever ends.

  6. Lovely to see these views of the English countryside, which I miss so much. It’s an almost otherwordly landscape in those quarries and pits, and certainly not a side of Cambridge I ever saw, despite spending three wonderful years there!

  7. Cathy says:

    This was fascinating to both read and see, Allison, not being a kind of feature I have encountered before. Thanks so much for sharing it

    • You are welcome! I spoke to a lady sitting on the seat at the top of the Orwell pit. She apparently does the same thing every day, but she didn’t see the attraction of exploring other local quarries. I like the idea that I might be walking over the bones of exotic ice age animals (some of which are displayed in the Sedgwick museum in town).

      • Cathy says:

        I have always been fascinated by landform and the like, but although I did 2 years of Geology at Uni I am very rusty – although I do still have my notes!!

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