By the start of the twentieth century most traditional fen had gone, leaving four areas untouched. One of these was Wicken Fen, an area of over 240 hectares, which the National Trust preserve as a nature reserve using traditional harvesting methods. A windmill still controls water levels in the fen, and sedges [water plants] are still harvested for thatching and mat making. The most ancient fen is sedge fen, which is found right at the heart of Wicken Fen, and there visitors might if they are fortunate hear the booming call of one of Britain's rarest birds, the bittern, nicknamed the bull of the bog, a bird that nearly went extinct, but was saved by conservation efforts.
About nine thousand species of plants and animals have been found in Wicken Fen, some common,like dragonflies, but others rare, like the marsh pea, [Lathyrus palustris] whose purple flowers visitors might be fortunate to spot among the sedges. Purple loosestrife [Lythrum salicaria] adorns the fen, and you might find the rare marsh valerian [Valerian dioica] a pink flowered plant that thrives in an alkaline environment. Visitors can cycle down network of paths, walk or take an electric boat journey down the channel known as Wicken Lode.
Many visitors are drawn to the Wash, which is a wonderful site of special scientific interest for the bird life above it, the sea life below it and the seals that are born and rest on its sandbanks.
Another Fenland attraction is Flag Fen, an archaeological centre which contains the relics of excavations into the ancient history of the Fens. Francis Pryor who led the excavations discovered a system of fields and drove ways leading down to the Fen along which cattle could be led to drink. He was later to discover a system of boardwalks leading into an ancient lake, into which worshippers had cast votive offerings to the deity. This practice still has echoes today in the custom of throwing coins into fountains, and it is behind the Arthurian legend that the sword Excalibur was delivered back to the Lady of the Lake when he died. Though you must be clear, there is no Arthurian connection with the Fens. Not only is Francis Pryor [now retired] an excellent writer on archaeology, he created a popular visitors' centre that is well worth a visit.
Visitors will find much scope for quiet walking down country and cycling down country lanes where they might come upon villages with mediaeval churches and traditional village inns. Ascent on these walks is rare , which makes the Fens a good place for older people to stroll.
Ely was an abbey church that survived the Reformation by being turned into a cathedral. It was erected on the orders of William the Conqueror, though his building programme would not have paid the price of the blood that he shed. But nevertheless, the building is prestigious and worth a visit. I change trains for Cambridge at Ely; the station overlooks the River Ouse, and I am always enchanted by the marina with its plethora of small boats for cruising holidays or day trips.
I find Fenland an interesting place that I would like to explore more fully in my retirement.