I just realised that although I said I was going to start on the Ely visit next, I still have to finish off the visit to Peterborough. The subject is Orton Mere.
If you travel south on the Great North Road (or A1 as it is now less interestingly known) you turn left at Alwalton and carry on a few miles until you come to a set of traffic lights. On the right is the village of Orton Longueville and on the left is Orton Mere. The village is a lot more interesting than you would think from the Wikipedia entry, though maybe that’s just my view. My childhood memories are, I suppose, of limited interest – probably limited to me and a few of my contemporaries.
For now, turn left and go down the hill to the car park. There are now several ponds, a flyover and a golf course. In my day there was just the one pond. Where the flyover now towers above you, there used to be tanks where effluent from the British Sugar factory was piped – I’m not quite clear on the process as we rarely went there due to the high sides, scrub and quicksand-like nature of some of the tanks. The golf course was just water meadow.
The reed beds, I recall, used to support a large population of Reed Buntings.
We didn’t use the name Orton Mere, it was “the pond near the Staunch”, and I only heard the name in the 1980s when they started to develop it. The name Orton Mere seems to be used for the wider area these days, as in this news article. Whenever there’s a drowning, and there have been a few over the years, Orton Staunch seems to be known as Orton Mere.
We used to have rafts down at the pond, which was less reed-fringed in those days and had shallower beaches. Someone had made them from railway sleepers and they just stayed there to be used by generations of kids. My mum used to go mad with me for doing it, as I couldn’t swim in those days. The poles which went with the rafts were about a foot shorter than the depth of the pond, and sometimes called for interesting contortions, with hands underwater, to get back to shore, so she may have had a point.
There used to be a large tench in the pond during the 1980s, after Health and Safety had landscaped the pond and burned the rafts. I recall seeing its dorsal fin breaking the surface once and it was huge. I can’t remember what its reported weight was when it was caught, but it was a good size.
I’m not sure what a staunch actually is, but from what I’ve seen on the river it is a set of vertically acting gates that controls the flow of water. This sets up a series of currents and undertows, which is why a few people have drowned there over the years, and scours out channels down stream of the gates. These used to attract large numbers of chub, which, according to Wikipedia, are easy to catch. This takes a bit of gloss off my memories of summer evenings spent catching good numbers of chub, but in time I’ll forget Wiki, whereas I will always remember the summer evenings.
The photographs show Orton Mere with no filter, Dramatic filter and Landscape filter. Even with no filter it looks the sort of place you’d find secretive fish and arms raising swords from the depths.
You can’t fish there now because the area is reserved for canoeists.
Looking for links I found this one relating to helping with eel migration. I remember seeing the glass eels trying to make their way up the stream when I lived there, and had been thinking about them recently after reading an article about declining eel numbers. It’s nice to see something being done for them.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about is an overcast day back in 1970. I was walking home from school when I noticed the police had closed off access down to the river. Two brothers from school had been canoeing during a games lesson and had drowned after getting into difficulties. This was in the days before risk assessment. We weren’t close, as I was only 11 and they were in their late teens, but we played rugby together. In those days all ages used to train together, and one or two of us even played in school matches with the big boys – unthinkable in these days. To be honest, the Bukowski brothers were very big boys compared to me, and scared the life out of me, though I tried to hide it.
So there you go. I suppose it’s a sign of getting old when your memories run to this length…