Last weekend we got the opportunity to attend a brilliant event with the National Trust to mark the launch of the Great British Walk Festival.
Now, for someone who doesn't drive, I can on occasion be heard grumbling about all the places I can't get to, not having my own a car. But it seems I had that all the wrong way round. What I should of course be doing, is celebrating all the wonderful places and hidden gems that can only be explored on foot.
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one such gem. It was the first ever nature reserve that the infant National Trust purchased (for a mere £10), and has been in their expert care ever since 1899.
A hugely important wetland area in terms of diversity of species, it offers many treasures if you get out and explore. Much of the area is accessible with buggies or wheelchairs, with special raised boardwalks, and of course, this part of the world is famously flat.
It was a glorious day, and our guide Lois talked us through the history of the area, how the wind pumps worked, how historically the area supported the local residents. She was a wealth of knowledge about the plant and animal life and Ruby was very happy to follow her around soaking up the information. We had a giggle listening to her tell Lois about some dragonflies we'd seen on holiday who were 'having a cuddle in the air'.
We headed out to the Butterfly Walk where entomologists and lepidoterists have for hundreds of years studied the huge range of insects and butterflies. We were loaned nets to catch our own bugs, and identification sheets to see if we could work out what they were - although with 1,500 different kinds of beetle alone, it was no easy task!
After the creepy-crawlies, we ambled back to the visitor centre, stopping off at one of the bird hides for a bit of twitching. There was a huge variety to see, both on the water and on the well stocked bird feeders. We saw Coots; Goldfinches and Collared Doves but luckier (and quieter!) visitors might spot Hen Harriers; Cuckoos, Barn Owls and Widgeons at Wicken.
After that it was time to re-fuel with some lovely lunch (they have a great cafe on site, but it is rather plagued with wasps from the nearby orchard which was a major problem for me. Maybe they should check-out my top tip for keeping wasps away!)
Once we were all fed and watered, we headed off for more activities. Pond-dipping was first for us, and Ruby thoroughly enjoyed this. It was amazing to see what's lurking below the surface and we were very lucky to see a Great Crested Newt. These are specially protected and as such he was only allowed out of the water for a very short time.
Next we headed off on a boat trip up the lode - a kind of Roman canal, if you will. We were paired up with Alice and her family, and after allaying their fears - they misheard the skipper and thought he'd said "you girls sit up at the shark end", when he actually said the sharp end or front of the boat - we were in great spirits as we leisurely set sail, taking in all the beautiful water lilies and reeds. Sadly we didn't see any Otters or Water Voles, but I gather there are many.
Our final activity of the day was geocaching. Now, we've tried this before on a phone app and never managed to find them. This might be because they were mini caches locally which apparently are hard to find. But we needn't have worried, this was a special trail for us, and armed with the pre-loaded GPS receiver, the girls hurried off in search of treasure. At each cache they collected components to make a little dragonfly, and they thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
We had a truly fabulous day. It was brilliant to be in the great outdoors, catching up with other bloggers Jax; Cerys; Alice; Claire and Alex and their families. Wicken Fen is a true joy to explore, we loved it so much we didn't want to go home - but more about that in my next post! Go check out the map of the Great British Walk page and find somewhere new, local to you to explore.
Disclosure: We were invited to this event by the National Trust who provided all the activities, expenses, refreshments and a goody bag. All views expressed are my own.