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Before the Fens were drained the Isle of Ely was only accessible by river, or via the three causeways that reached across the Fens from Stuntney, Earith and Aldreth. Of these, the Aldreth Causeway is probably the earliest and has always been the most important. It is part of the ancient road from Cambridge to Ely which may have its origins in pre-history.
It was made famous by the story of William the Conqueror and his attempts to oust Hereward the Wake and his men from Ely. In 1071, in an attempt to reach Ely, the Normans built a causeway across the fens. However, during William’s first attack the weight of the troops in their armour was so great that the causeway sunk and many soldiers drowned.
William’s second attempt to storm the island is recorded in the 12th century ‘Deeds of Hereward the Saxon’. This time William’s men built new defences and also recruited a local witch to help them. In retaliation, Hereward’s band set fire to the surrounding reeds and the ensuing heat, flames and smoke drove off the King’s men for a second time.
Ultimately, it was not military might that enabled the King to take Ely. The abbot and monks of Ely decided to side with William and guided the Normans safely onto the isle.
Since those times the causeway remained an important route through the wetlands right up to the twentieth century, when it was superseded by surrounding roads.
This walk features in the 'Pathways' book - for more information click on the link on the Walkingworld homepage.
England - East England - Cambridgeshire - Fens
Ancient Monument, Birds, Butterflies, Mostly Flat