Top Ten Tips for a Successful Fenland Coddiwomple

Paul Magan walking at Holme Fen - YouTube/Fenland Coddiwompler

Regular walker Paul Magan, also known as the Fenland Coddiwompler on social media, shares his top tips for anyone wanting to try out the walks and trails around the Great Fen.

Coddiwomple: “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination”.

There is a nice feeling standing at 978 metres above sea level on Scafell Pike, England’s highest land point, but there is also a certain charm standing 3 metres below sea level at Holme Fen Posts, England’s lowest land point. 

The Great Fen is a special place. As many of you reading this will be aware, both Holme Fen and Whittlesea Mere are Local Geological Sites (LGS), qualifying under all four categories – Scientific, Historical, Educational and Aesthetic. Add Woodwalton Fen, a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and there isn't really much more that you can ask for when going for a walk. Let's not forget you make the “experience”.

If I had to suggest my top tips for an enjoyable, memorable walk around The Great Fen, what would they be? 

Tip 1: Think Safety

If you are walking alone, if possible, always tell someone of your planned route and destination.

Carry your phone. With apps like OS Maps and What3Words there is no reason ever to be lost. You’ll also have access to a flashlight if ever needed. Just remember though, it’s not everywhere sadly that we get mobile phone reception. Whatever you do or plan, just put safety first.

Tip 2: Start Small

It is not always about a 10-mile hike or completing the Rothschild Way Challenge, it’s about getting outside, so start with easy walks. The last thing you need is to be put off by being too adventurous and finding yourself in difficulty. Be aware of your own limitations and that of anyone else who is in your group. 

Tip 3: Check Dogs Are Allowed

It’s always worth checking as well before visiting any area if dogs are actually allowed. If they are, always follow signage regarding leads at all time. Woodwalton Fen, for example, is actually a no-go with your pup but the Great Fen does have a few fantastic dog-friendly walks. Remember to please pick up their poop!

Dog walking in woodland

Couple walking dog through woodland - Ben Hall/2020VISION

Holme Fen Information Boards

Holme Fen Information Boards - Paul Magan

Tip 4: Plan Your Route

It is always nice to have a suggested route that you can follow, but unless you’re expecting a significant hike, with so many information boards around the Great Fen, a prepared route isn’t always required in advance, you could make your plan when you arrive. 

If a properly guided route is for you, visit The Great Fen website. You’ll find around nine suggested walks and trails, ranging from 0.75 miles for The Bungalow trail at Woodwalton Fen, to the mighty Fen Edge Trail which covers about 300 miles in separate walks. 

Tip 5: Check the Weather

Check the weather before heading off. If needed, make sure you and all the family has adequate protection from the sun, or are prepared for a shower. Think about the wind too. You may want to visit Holme Fen on a blowy day to listen to those Silver Birch trees creaking with age, but watch your head! Those No Camping signs are there for a reason.

Choose sensible shoes, or just good old traditional wellies – it can definitely get muddy and it’s not as if there is much hill walking! Apply common sense and never be afraid to turn back if you are uncertain of conditions.

Tip 6: Insects Bite

Insects, there to be enjoyed, but as we all know, a nightmare at times! When I am visiting somewhere like the Great Fen after heavy rain, I find spraying my clothes with insect repellent is an effective way to avoid bites for hours. Ticks are a particular concern, especially at Woodwalton Fen, so long trousers tucked into socks or boots is a must. And on that subject, please also think of your dog. Steer clear of long grass wherever you are and check both of you for hitchhikers as soon as you leave.

Tip 7: Pack Light, Pack Sensibly.

We’ve talked about carrying your phone, sensible clothing and insect repellent. For me, there is nothing I love more than just sitting at the edge of a lake or river, having a hot drink and a fry up, so I also carry a Trangia (cook system) most of the time.

However, the Great Fen is one area I visit that where the Trangia does stay at home. A flask and a sandwich on visits here! Peat soil and fire is a risk. Understand your environment and believe me, you’ll enjoy it more. 

Just think about how long you are out, the conditions, what you’ll need, pack light and pack sensibly.

Tip 8: Keep on Track

I know it’s tempting to head off-piste to explore, but to protect the plants and wildlife at these special sites from too much trampling and harm, stick to the paths. “Leave No Trace” - those bluebells and snowdrops have been there, and hopefully will be there, much longer than you and I! 

Tip 9: Make the most of your phone

Don’t think of your phone just for safety. Today’s phones are yesterday’s encyclopedias and modern technology can benefit a walker in multiple ways. There are apps available for everything these days. The Great Fen itself has an app, which is always great to have at hand when exploring the area. I even have an app on my phone which shows the stars, planets, satellites, and constellations - fantastic for visiting Woodwalton Fen for a bit of star gazing on a clear night. 

Most phones these days have cameras and the Great Fen is an artist’s dream. If you're unsure of any species you've spotted, take a photo and either email it to the team or post it in the Facebook monitoring group and someone is bound to help.

Holme Fen

Holme Fen - Paul Magan

Tip 10: Enjoy Yourself!

Lastly, and the most important by far, enjoy the experience, have fun and remember, because we only walk forward, stop at times and take in the view behind you. It’s amazing what we miss.

Get the family involved, young and old alike, there is nothing nicer than hearing a child building a den or playing hide and seek. If we do not teach our children about nature and give them the experience of its beauty, how will they ever grow to respect it?

Child exploring at Holme Fen

Child exploring at Holme Fen - Paul Magan

Thanks for reading this far, and remember next time you’re pondering what to do, think of a walk at the Great Fen.

Take care, keep safe.

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