One of my East London primary school teachers told the class that the only place we could view the horizon as a complete circle was at sea.
She obviously hadn’t visited the Fens.
My husband, an ex-policeman, appreciates the silence here (when the banshee winds aren’t howling around the house) and often comments on the absence of traffic jams and flashing lights and sirens. He loves being able to look out of our windows onto fields in three directions (the fourth being our tree-bordered garden.
The downside to living in the middle of fields is that when there are flashing lights and sirens, they are travelling roads that are some distance away, so he has to use his birdwatching binoculars to see what’s going on. (It seems, you can take the man out of the Force, but you can’t take the Force out of the man.)
I have now been here, full time, almost ten years but have yet to experience a Fen Blow when, I’m told, the topsoil lifts from the fields and deposits itself on the surrounding landscape (and us). Nevertheless, we have experienced some fairly spectacular winds that bend our bordering shrubs into curves and blow garden furniture into the dyke. Walking the dogs along the droves, we’ve had to battle to make progress when walking into the wind.
That isn’t the only downside to dog-walking in the Fens. We sometimes looked after my daughter’s greyhounds for a few days – ex racers from Walthamstow dog-track. Walking them off-lead had never been a problem in the forest; squirrels run up the nearest tree and the dogs stand beneath, asking them to come down.
A hare running across fields is an altogether different matter. Once the dog saw the rabbit, it was gone – three fields away and into the sunset. When we, eventually, returned to where we’d originally parked the car, the dogs were resting in the grass waiting for their chauffeur to arrive. Sadly, we had to give up letting them off-lead on their Fenland walks.
I recall attending a friend’s party in the seventies in the Fenland neighbourhood of Elm, on a snowy January evening. We navigated unlit roads carved through the snow by earlier motorists, with no clue where the road ended and the verge began. Parallel black gouges in the snow lurked just outside our headlight beams: drainage dykes, waiting for us to make a wrong move.
Had I ever seen the roads in daylight and snow-free, I would have worried even more. Vehicles regularly dragged from Fen drains and rivers bear testament to the idiocy of drivers who hurtle along these roller-coaster roads, bumping over dips and and potholes that can appear overnight.
The party-giver had moved to a run-down cottage in Elm to make a fresh start. Facing fields across a dark, empty road with neighbours at a distance, it indeed felt like the last outreach of civilisation.
In 2007, when we were house-hunting, we viewed a house in Elm along that same road. The lonely cottage I’d partied at so many decades ago was flanked by a neat row of newer homes with even more houses built in what looked to be their back gardens.
This jigsaw planning seems to be a feature of Fenland residences. Soon after we moved here, I found myself delivering catalogues around Whittlesey, and was fascinated by the unexpected driveways and alleys leading to houses built virtually in the back gardens of their neighbours.
Many Londoners are unsettled by the eerie flatness of a landscape consisting chiefly of sky. They are unsettled by surroundings that are silent as the grave. My children used to suspect I was a witch (a belief, fostered by me, born of my spooky ability to know when they were up to no good), so maybe the eeriness suits me. Some of our visitors call it boring, perhaps to deny the unease.
But I have learned to sleep without the accompaniment of traffic in the street outside. My view this morning was of mist rising over the fields. Next month it will be different again, and the month after that… How is that boring?