I rarely have cause to go to Cambridgeshire, perhaps because the effect of the inclosures means it has few commons. So it was fortunate that when BBC Look East wanted to interview me at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, I could combine it with my visit to the Ramblers’ general council at the university later that day.
It was a lovely prelude to the weekend spent indoors. I had never been to Wimpole Hall before, it is owned by the National Trust and is, according to Pevsner, ‘without doubt the most spectacular country mansion of Cambridgeshire, more so perhaps because of its size and its setting than its architecture which, at least externally, is remarkably restrained and domestic’.
The house is largely 1740 although the seven-bay centre was built in about 1632. There is a two-mile avenue running south from the house.
The parkland is magnificent rolling countryside—who said Cambridgeshire was flat? It is an oasis of access land among the huge arable fields.
I arrived at the hall in the early afternoon of Friday 27 March to meet Paul Baker and Ben Robinson (from English Heritage) who were doing the interview for an eastern regional programme called VE Day: The First Days of Peace, Rebuilding the Countryside.
Every region has chosen a topic with which to mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of the second world war, and eastern region was looking at the landscape and people’s access to it.
So I walked through the lovely ridge-and-furrow parkland with Ben Robinson, making sure he was downhill of me to equalise our heights, and chatted about the increasing mobility of the population and the struggle for access to the hills, of which the Kinder Trespass in 1932 was one milestone. I spoke about the work of the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers in claiming paths for the definitive maps which were created by the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, and later the campaign to claim the commons.
The Ramblers’ Royston Group had been invited to join us.
Then Ben and I had to retrace the steps we took for the interview with a drone hovering overhead, so there will be aerial shots too. This was my first encounter with a drone (I’ve led a sheltered life).
It was a fitting topic for the Open Spaces Society’s 150th anniversary year.
Others featured on the programme are Alun Howkins, Professor of Rural History at the University of East Anglia; David Cain (expert on the 8th United States Army Airforce in the east of England);, Richard Taylor whose farm was requisitioned during the war for a USAAF airbase and is now a museum; and Mary Bailey, Ray Hubbard and Brian Ward who all grew up adjacent to USAAF airbases and remember the changes to the landscape and farming as a result of the war and the airbases.
The programme was broadcast on BBC One East at 7.30pm on Monday 11 May. For a while you can watch it here, my bit comes at around 24 minutes in.