A night on the Fens

Living in Cambridge has its advantages: friendly Nobel Prize winners, a near complete absence of hills, and countryside almost everywhere. So it doesn’t take long on my bike to end up in a small village of thatched cottages surrounded by fields where it will forever remain circa 1953, only with twenty-first century volumes of traffic.

One particular ride recently took me north and off the tarmacked roads and onto a grassy and overgrown footpath loaded with nettles to a National Trust-owned campsite in the Fens. My route led me further still, beyond a bridge made from thin handrails and a single-width plank of wood, a kissing gate I manage to ‘fold’ the bike into, and one final gate padlocked shut which I haul the bike over with as much elegance as I can muster after 20 miles of cycling.


It is an idyllic Fenland spot and my aches are soon forgotten. Despite the forecast threat of rain, the sky is clear long into the night. Wild rabbits hop about under the basic wooden shelters available, a bird of prey hovers over potential prey in the next field, cows approach the barbed wire fence for a closer look at me, and just within sight sheep bleat what I assume to be contentedly.


As soon as I take in these surroundings I feel free of the constraints of time and the real world. The only thing that matters to me now is when the sun is going to set (and when the spiced couscous I’m heating up with solid paraffin blocks will be ready).

I sense that with some simply improvements – like running water (I wash my hands with water I’ve brought and some toothpaste, until they’re minty fresh) and maybe a sofa – this simple place of simple pleasures could well be home.


It all ends too quickly: the campfire I’ve happily ignited with the last of the wood I have brought, the night with the birdsong of 4am, the peppermint tea I brew before leaving, and I realise it’s time – and the right time of year – to start doing more and more away from the daily grind.

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