Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fenland droves

click photo to enlarge
To most people the "drove roads" are the old routes frequented by the drovers, those men who walked the cattle sheep, pigs and poultry from the Highlands of Scotland, the Welsh mountains, and the upland Pennines, to the markets of England, travelling hundreds of miles on foot, sleeping under the stars, their final destination often being the metropolitan bustle of London's Smithfield and Cheapside markets. The tracks across the Northern Pennines such as the Driving Road and the Maiden Way, courses that thread their way down in to Cumberland and Westmorland, can still be followed today. Hambleton Drove is another such route, winding from County Durham to the city of York. The coming of the railways brought the ability to transport animals quickly and inexpensively from farms to market, and as their web of steel spread across the country during the nineteenth cenury, so the drovers, the special purpose of their roads, and a way of life, faded into history.

However, there is a second kind of drove road to be found in England. Lincolnshire's Fens abound with them. Here the word "drove" is used in preference to "road" because it more accurately describes the intention of this network of roads that spreads from the villages, hamlets and main roads, out into the wetlands and fields that were formerly seasonal grazing for livestock. In winter animals would have been kept on drier land that was less subject to inundation. As the rains receded and as spring brought drier weather, the cattle and sheep would be driven down the drove to the, by now, lush grass. But, as with the long-distance drove roads, the Lincolnshire variety has also become a relic of the past. Today the wetlands are drained and grow cereals and vegetables. The few resident cattle and sheep that are found on the Fens frequent the same fields all the year round, though animal transporters do bring in sheep from the uplands during the colder months to eat unsold crops. Lincolnshire's droves now have a new purpose, as access routes for tractors, ploughs, combines and lorries that service this highly productive landscape.

Today's photograph shows one such drove near the village of Bicker. It is a single track road that leads from the village and its surrounding farms down to near the South Forty Foot Drain. My photograph shows it after a short, sharp shower had made a puddle by the field edge. I used the reflection of the sun in it to give some extra light to the rapidly darkening evening scene.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 29mm (58mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On