A special Save Honey Hill Calendar 2023 has been created in order to raise funds towards the legal costs of the the Save Honey Hill campaign. It is illustrated by photographs of the open spaces around the Honey Hill area, the photographs having been taken by local residents.
The deer on the front cover looks directly and challenging at us and reminds us of the wildlife that will be displaced if the sewage works goes ahead.
The back cover shows the selection of photographs which reflect the seasonal changes in the landscape in the general Honey Hill area.
The calendars will be A4 size and cost £10 each, which includes an envelope, proceeds going towards the Save Honey Hill fund. They would make an ideal Christmas present for friends and relatives.
With her marriage on the rocks and children leaving home, Liz writes saucy songs to help her cope with life, but when a billion-pound private water company reveals its plans to build a sewage plant next door, can Liz and two small villages in the Fens harness the power of song to save their community – and her future? Comic songwriter Liz Cotton and her cat Purdy star in this comedy about the environmentally disastrous national infrastructure project planned for Cambridge.
After wonderful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Liz brings her very rude and equally funny show about Anglian Water’s plans for relocating the Cambridge sewage works to Cambridge Greenbelt slap bang in between Fen Ditton and Horningsea.
Dr Erik Grigg Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln
The High Dyke in Cambridgeshire is an example of a little understood type of feature, an early medieval dyke. By dyke I don’t mean a drainage ditch (though it is in an area that understandably has quite a few), but a long linear bank constructed from material dug from an adjoining ditch dating from what used to be called the Dark Ages, that is, the centuries after the end of Roman rule. It is often considered to be part of Fleam Dyke, another better-known earthwork that also faces south (that is the bank is on the north side of the ditch) a few miles to the east (Malim et al 1996). There is a large gap between the two and Fleam is slightly curved while the High Dyke is dead straight, even if they were built for similar reasons and during the same broad period of history, the High Dyke is surely worthy of consideration on its own.
Such features are hard to put a date on as we have no documents recording them being built and unlike graves or settlements, a hole in the ground and a bank of earth rarely have any finds buried in them (though they often bury older features). High Dyke is unusual as a series of early medieval artefacts have been found in the monument, but these were not properly recorded using modern archaeological methods. In 1947 a shield boss was dug up, ten years later a group of skeletons with classic ‘Anglo-Saxon’ grave goods (a sword, a pommel, various spearheads, a knife and some brooches) were found and in 1963 another shield boss discovered (R.C.H.M.E. 1972 pp. 144-47). Late Roman coins found under the bank of Fleam Dyke and radiocarbon dating of organic material from the ditch fill confirms it also was built around or just after the end of Roman rule.
Late Roman coins found under the bank of Fleam Dyke and radiocarbon dating of organic material from the ditch fill confirms it also was built around or just after the end of Roman rule
Such earthworks have fascinated me since being a teenager when I discovered similar enigmatic dykes in Dorset, so much so that when I did a PhD at the University of Manchester a decade or more ago, I spent seven years visiting, surveying and writing about them (Grigg 2018). Although there slightly similar earthworks dating from the prehistoric and some later medieval dykes, the hundred I studied all seemed to be similar in location and size (up to two miles long with banks one to two metres high and six to ten metres wide) with archaeological finds or records of medieval charters (these often mention them as landmarks) seeming to confirm that the period 400 CE to 850 CE saw a lot of digging in this country.
The items found at High Dyke are unusual but not unique. Bodies and weapons have been found at other early medieval earthworks including Bran’s Ditch, the Devil’s Ditch, a linear earthwork at Heronbridge in Cheshire and various other such dykes. In the centuries after the end of Roman rule and before Christianity became the dominant religion, people were often buried with weapons so these finds could just be disturbed graves. Though not everyone buried with a sword and a shield was necessarily a warrior, the fact that it was common to bury people with weapons does suggest a society that valued being able to handle such things. The finds from the High Dyke could mean that the ditch was used as a convenient place to bury somebody who the mourners thought should be placed at rest with a sword and shield. However, at some sites the bodies are in unusually large numbers or there is evidence of cut marks to the bones or they have been buried in pieces (just a skull or the skeleton being incomplete) which suggests that we may be looking at people who died violently. They may have been executed or died in a fight. This does not prove that these earthworks had a warlike function (they may have had more than one), but with no domestic objects coming from any of these earthworks (unless they are residual Roman finds from under the banks or the odd brooch found with a body) we cannot rule out people who first used the dykes had some interest in death and violence.
However, at some sites the bodies are in unusually large numbers or there is evidence of cut marks to the bones or they have been buried in pieces which suggests that we may be looking at people who died violently.
There are famous early medieval dykes like Offa’s Dyke and Wansdyke that meander across the landscape for long distances, but they are not typical, High Dyke is in being just over a mile long. Most seem to cut across roads, they bisect ridgeways or causeway or slice valleys that carried trackways. Archaeologists have debated for years if they ever had gateways, but I have yet to see any convincing evidence of one. My theory is that they were designed to block routeways, they are rarely aligned with county or parish boundaries (High Dyke is ignored by both) so rather than being borders, they were probably set back from them and were places where the locals could gather if they got warning of a hostile raiding party to bar their access. Some have suggested that they had wooden palisades on the banks, but there is no evidence of postholes found in any of them. The bank at High Dyke has been severely damaged by having a later road running along it, perhaps this sort of destruction is why the postholes are gone? Well, if we look other structures with earth banks like prehistoric hillforts, Roman marching camps or medieval ringworks (castles with just donut-shaped earthworks) or Anglo-Saxon burhs (forts or fortified towns), we can always find the postholes somewhere; if these dykes had a palisade, then if is incredibly unlikely that no excavation has ever found a posthole.
The High Dyke is unlike the other nearby Cambridgeshire Dykes like Fleam Dyke that seem to block access along the Icknield Way to anyone wishing to enter East Anglia from the Midlands. Unlike most early medieval dykes that usually cut a road, High Dyke seals off the entrance to what would have been a peninsula of high(-ish) ground surrounded by fens (now it is the River Cam on the west, the Bottisham Lode to the north and Quy Water to the east). Does that mean that this peninsula (which is covered by the northern half of Fen Ditton and the village of Horningsea) was a special place, say with ritual or religious significance or perhaps the headquarters of the local elite? Not necessarily. There is evidence of some Romano-British settlement in this area but nothing special, no feature that suggested that it was unusual (though who knows what lies awaiting discovery). The earthwork itself probably required the shifting of ten thousand cubic metres of earth, my calculations suggest that with early medieval tools between 40 and 70 people could have built it over a Summer (the soil would have been too damp in other seasons). It was quite an easy job to do for the inhabitants of a couple of villages, a few hamlets or half a dozen farms to build this unusual feature.
Unlike most early medieval dykes that usually cut a road, High Dyke seals off the entrance to what would have been a peninsula of high(-ish) ground surrounded by fens
There are other earthworks that might date from this period that cut off peninsulas that like the High Dyke do not seem to contain any known sites of important archaeological significance. Park Pale near Topcliffe in Yorkshire, various dykes in Cornwall (like Bolster Bank though they are undated), Dane’s Dyke cutting off Flamborough Head (though that might be prehistoric) and Horning Dyke in Norfolk are all examples of dykes that cut peninsulas. Perhaps they just made a defensible small area where the locals could retreat to. Early medieval warfare probably involved a lot of intimidation, shouting, burning down of farms and chasing unarmed peasants, but when faced with a determined group of people on a large bank across an equally deep ditch, most raiders would probably go to where pickings were easier. The trouble is with this period is we can let our imagination run away with us, though I believe my theory about it being a period of frequent small-scale raids and dykes being “stop lines” dug by local farmers (and as other historians have said, moving earth is very much a peasant’s solution to a problem) is based on a sound analysis of all the evidence.
….my calculations suggest that with early medieval tools between 40 and 70 people could have built it over a Summer
High Dyke has suffered much in the past, not least through roadworks. I hope it is preserved and appreciated for future generations who will probably ask new questions, use different techniques and come to slightly different conclusions. Increasingly we are looking at features and asking how they fit into the wider landscape, just what was behind the High Dyke is likely to become a more important question to future researchers. Never forget that we never know what is under our feet and when we dig it must be done with care and carefully recorded for future generations, we can only excavate things once and who knows what new scientific techniques will be added to the archaeologist’s arsenal in the future.
Malim, T., K. Penn, et al. (1996) “New Evidence on the Cambridgeshire Dykes and Worsted R.C.H.M.E. (1972). An Inventory of the historical monuments in the County of Cambridge, Volume 2 North-East Cambridgeshire. Published by Trinity Press. [Pages 144 to 147 give a good account of the dyke]
Our comedy protest song is against the unnecessary relocation of Cambridge’s sewage works to Honey Hill, a beautiful, unspoilt site in Cambridge’s Green Belt. The climate impact of demolishing one functioning sewage plant and building another, just 1.5 km away will be enormous.
The song was written by local resident Liz Cotton and was recorded in the village church. The music video is part of the Save Honey Hill campaign, active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anglian Water will be submitting its application later this year to the government’s Planning Inspectorate.
Anglian Water have just announced the start of the phase 3 consultation on relocating the sewage works to Honey Hill, between Horningsea and Fen Ditton.
Phase 3 Consultation
Anglian Water has scheduled the Phase 3 Consultation for the 24th February to the 27th April 2022. All residents will have the chance to comment. Those comments will go to the Planning Inspectors; it is a real chance to get over to them our objections and, if the application is agreed, to lessen the effects on our communities. This is also the final consultation before Anglian Water submit their Development Consent Order application to the Planning Inspectorate.
Anglian Water have said they will run some face to face meetings. So far they have said the following:
Wed 9th March – Online – 19:00 – 20:30
Tues 15th March – Main Hall, Milton Community Centre, 14:30 – 18:30
Wed 16th March – Fen Ditton Village Hall, 11:00 – 15:00
Fri 18th March – Main Hall, Quy Village Hall, 11:00 – 15:00
Sat 19th March – Tillage Hall, Waterbeach, 11:00 – 15:00
Tues 22nd March – Horningsea Village Hall, 15:00 – 19:00
So look out for a leaflet from Save Honey Hill telling you what we consider are the important issues and please do complete the consultation when Anglian Water delivers their leaflets (you will be able to do it online or on their form). They will contact 10,600 properties so there is a good opportunity to make our voices heard.
As soon as the Save Honey Hill group have viewed the online consultation then we will publish guides to make it easier to comment on the consultation.
Everyone can help by completing the Consultation when Anglian Water publishes it. State your objections and let Anglian Water and the Planning Inspector know what you think must happen to make the plant less of a huge industrial blot on our landscape.
You can view the consultation now, however, as of the 24th many pages are not working. For example the interactive map does not even show the proposed sewage works site
Liz Cotton interviews travel writer Phoebe Taplin, author of Country Walks around Cambridge.
LC: Phoebe, you have been writing about walks all over Great Britain for many years. What makes for a really great walk, in your opinion?
PT: You can have a great walk in all kinds of landscapes, but my favourites usually have a mix of natural and historical interest plus somewhere to stop for refreshments.
LC: Can you tell us about the Harcamlow Way and why you wanted to walk it and write about it?
PT: The Harcamlow Way is a 140-mile walk, devised in the late 1970s by Fred Matthews and Harry Bitten. The whole route, as the slightly awkward portmanteau name hints, runs from Harlow to Cambridge and back in a giant figure-of-eight. When I first moved to the area, more than a decade ago, I saw the Harcamlow marked on Ordnance Survey maps and followed it to discover the local countryside in more detail. I loved it so much I walked it all several times and, when I realised the original guidebook was long out of print, I decided to write two new ones to help celebrate and preserve the route. The walk now has some colourful figure-of-eight waymarks along the way, which were put up by the Redbridge ramblers’ group.
LC: So you must have walked all around Honey Hill?
PT: Absolutely! The Harcamlow runs near the River Cam through Fen Ditton and Horningsea and through the fen to Anglesey Abbey. Then it turns south again along Quy Water and over the fields to Quy Mill before it heads off towards Fulbourn. So the route makes a big loop around Honey Hill and it’s actually one of my favourite walks: past Baits Bite Lock, Biggin Abbey and the wild areas around Quy Fen. It passes the line of Fleam Dyke, a huge earthen bank and gully that survives further south and was probably built in the seventh century to defend East Anglia from the Mercians. It’s the ditch that gave Fen Ditton its name.
LC: And what have you most enjoyed on your walks here?
PT: So many things! I love the variety of wildflowers out in the fields and fens in summer: the water lilies and forget-me-nots, meadowsweet and bedstraw, clouds of white blackthorn blossom in early spring, the hops in the hedges and carpets of golden buttercups in summer, and the sound of the skylarks singing as they rise out of the fields.
LC: Did anything surprise you?
PT: I was amazed by how beautiful the landscapes around here are. I had an image in my head of Cambridgeshire countryside as flat and monotonous, but there’s really varied scenery along the Harcamlow Way here: river and fen, ancient churches in pretty thatched villages, wide open fields and tree-shaded corners. And I was really delighted to find how rich in history these peaceful landscapes are. The idea that Horningsea was a major centre for the Roman ceramics industry, churning out big pottery storage jars, is so cool.
LC: I know you’ve also written about other nearby villages, but can you tell the reader more about why Horningsea and Fen Ditton are so popular for visitors?
PT: People who live here already know why they are popular! As well as the wildlife and the history, there are some outstanding pubs here. Step into the little whitewashed Plough and Fleece on a Thursday night and it’s full of music and song with those gleaming horse brasses over the fireplaces and big candles in the cast iron range at the front. And the garden has those rattan chairs, ringed by hawthorn, sycamore and eucalyptus trees with a view over a field of horses.
There’s some lovely food at the Crown and Punchbowl too, a few doors down. And, heading the other way, that incredible riverside garden at the Plough in Fen Ditton… and that’s even before you get to the King’s Head and the Shepherds! These have to be the best villages in Britain for a rural pub crawl. We’ve had some great family walks along the Cam: spotting dozens of different types of geese and ducks in Ditton Meadows, the cherry blossom in the churchyard and rowing boat-shaped weather vane on top of St Mary’s. And watching the real-life boats on the river, of course, training in all weathers.
LC: You must have been shocked to learn of the plan to build a sewage plant on Honey Hill?
PT: Horrified. What could they be thinking of? The landscapes around Honey Hill are so full of wildlife and so rich in history. It seems quite cynical to abuse the regulations in this way that are meant to stop people building on the green belt.
LC: Finally, where can we buy a copy of your book “Country Walks Around Cambridge”?
PT: Since the Visitor Information Centre in Cambridge closed, you can only get it on Amazon now – or in the half-timbered Tourist Info Centre by Saffron Walden’s market. I wrote in the introduction back in 2015 about this area’s sights: “windmills and watermills, landscaped gardens and wild woodland, fields of poppies or glades of snowdrops.” So often, as the old Joni Mitchell song goes: “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone”. I want to say thank you to everyone campaigning to celebrate and protect these beautiful places.
“Anglian Water is proposing to decommission the current site and build a new facility on land to the north of the A14, between Fen Ditton and Horningsea.
It was the impact of this proposed relocation that was criticised at the city council’s Planning and Transport Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday (January 11) when the plans were discussed.
Andrew Martin, representing the Save Honey Hill campaign, argued at the meeting that it was a “disgrace” that green belt land would be destroyed.”
“The very hidden consequence of NECAAP is the destruction of a large area of green belt at Honey Hill.
“It’s a bit ironic really that we are all talking about open spaces, green spaces and all that and yet this development and this potential move of the sewage works to there will result in a million tons of concrete being poured on to this site.
“It is a fantastic area, I use it for walking my dogs, cycling and people ride horses round there, it’s a very tranquil part and it’s only four miles from Cambridge.
“So we’re here talking about green space and open space and here we are doing a great disservice by planning to actually destroy it.