England’s Fens

The Mists and Mysteries of England’s Fens

Jamie knows you don’t need mountains to create spectacular landscapes.
By Jamie Overland – subscribe to Jamie’s YouTube channel

The Fens can be a desolate place. It’s a flat 15,000 square mile expanse of reclaimed wetlands in the east of England, from Lincoln in the north to Cambridge in the south, an area known as East Anglia.

Some would say it’s not the most photogenic of landscapes. Having grown up in the Fens, I beg to differ.

The Fens has character, especially in the early morning mist and fog, or under dark stormy skies. In fact, the Fens is famous for its uninterrupted big sky panoramas.

Woodwalton Fen: leading lines made to order

The Fens Has Always Been a “Man vs. Water” Battle

The Romans tried to control the water coming into the flat marshy Fens by building barriers. But once they left, nature quickly took over again.

In the twelfth century, Benedictine monks started the massive project of building better defences and drainage systems and reclaiming the rich land for agriculture. This was accelerated in the seventeenth century, by businessmen led by the Earl of Bedford.

Since then, much of the Fens has been drained by the creation of man-made rivers. Today, it’s some of England’s richest farmland.

There isn’t much of the original marshland Fen remaining. However, some areas do still exist and are preserved and protected as National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Plenty of small ponds and waterways for reflections and interesting plant life

The Silver Birch Forest of Holme Fen

One place I’ve enjoyed photographing is Holme Fen, near Peterborough. Holme Fen, part of the Great Fen, is the largest silver birch forest in lowland Britain, 2.75 meters below sea level.

Silver birch trees are very photogenic and there are plenty of compositions to find in the fen woodland.

The best time to visit is in the early morning mist or fog. I was lucky enough to experience a lovely foggy morning in Holme Fen, where the forest turns into an ethereal wilderness. The maintained paths and tracks, aid your compositions providing great leading lines into the disappearing mist.

The Holme Fen silver birch forest, early morning just past sunrise

Woodwalton Fen, Like Entering a Lost World

Another nearby remaining section of the ancient wild Fen, is Woodwalton Fen, also part of the Great Fen. A visit here is like entering a lost world.

Charles Rothschild, known as the “Father of modern conservation” acquired this Fen and nearby Wicken Fen and established the first nature reserves in Britain.

Rothschild sold Wicken Fen to the Natural Trust in 1899 but kept Woodwalton.  Woodwalton is still kept today as a natural fen marsh and woodland.

Again, early morning mist and fog is perfect to capture atmospheric images here with a mixture of marshes, drains, lakes and natural woodland providing plenty of great compositions.

Woodwalton Fen is full of wetland wildlife, birds and insects. I spotted this lonely swan in the mist one morning. For me, it perfectly depicted the tranquility of the place.

A white swan is a symbol of new beginnings, a fresh start. Your good luck when it appears

Look for the Wind Pump in Wicken Fen

Nearby Wicken Fen is a haven for landscape photographers and birdwatchers. The iconic wind pump provides a great subject to shoot amongst the reed beds. Nearby, you’ll find a family of horses and ponies. On a frosty winter morning, compositions are plentiful.
You can’t pass by a windmill without looking for interesting compositions

Getting to the Fens

All of these Fens are marked on Google Maps.

Both Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen are accessible off the A1. However, you’ll soon be on very small country roads, so a reliable GPS is advisable.

Wicken Fen, northeast of Cambridge, is accessible off the A142 with a turn-off west onto A1123. Again, follow your GPS instructions.

Hard to resist a shot of horses in the landscape

Parking in the Fens

You can park free of charge at these Fens. Generally, there are laybys available, or simply park at the side of the road. Remember, you’ll be in a remote location so it’s advisable not to leave any valuables in your car.

Dressing for the Fens

Like anywhere else, temperatures vary from early morning (when you want to be there for the fog and mist) to midday. Ideally, dress in layers.

A waterproof jacket is always good to have.

The key is to wear good rubber boots, the taller the better. Watch your step. You’re in the wetlands and you can easily sink into wet ground. It gives a whole new meaning to “fill your boots”.

Check out these videos from Jamie:

A very foggy Holme Fen, where Jamie is joined by Gary Norman
The Great Fen, near Peterborough

Jamie Overland

Jamie was born in Wisbech, the capital of the Fens, and spent his childhood helping his parents on their arable farm, which is where he got his love for the great outdoors.

Today, he lives on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens. He’s been a keen photographer for the last 30 years, but it’s only been the last four years that he has discovered a real passion for landscape photography.

He now focuses his photography in locations in the flat east of England, showing some of the photographic potential this part of the world has to offer. He shares his journeys and experiences on YouTube.

Jamie Overland

Jamie was born in Wisbech, the capital of the Fens, and spent his childhood helping his parents on their arable farm, which is where he got his love for the great outdoors.

Today, he lives on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens. He’s been a keen photographer for the last 30 years, but it’s only been the last four years that he has discovered a real passion for landscape photography.

He now focuses his photography in locations in the flat east of England, showing some of the photographic potential this part of the world has to offer. He shares his journeys and experiences on YouTube.

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