Dark Dreams of the Fens

I have a recurring dream I am back in the Fens. The road is straight and the black earth rolls away from me for mile upon mile. Even the nearest hedgerow is leagues away. Only icy culverts break up the monotony and given the flatness that pains my eyes, the sky takes on a new brooding force, exposing all under its withering glare.

I came here so many years ago to apply for a job in King's Lynn of all places. I had no perception of King's Lynn but the monstrous gran silo in the middle of the town unnerved me. I hadn't expected it to feel so remote - so end of the line. The people who interviewed me in the beaten up office unnerved me too with their great hooked noses that were like aberrations. Was this what happened at the end of the line? Your features grew to resemble the gargoyles on the great churches that towered over the lands, as you withered away in obscurity.

King's Lynn

I didn't get the job. But the man with the hooked nose offered me another one in Norwich. The favored candidate's mother had died so he could not take the position. Norwich was the end of the line too but compared to the Fens it felt like the great city.

Over the next few years I got to drive across the Fens on many occasions. I hung on lonely roads beside long silver canals that ran to the horizons. I followed the power lines. One time I tried to find The Wash, the indistinct and muddy sea where King John lost the crown jewels back in 1216. There's a story that he was poisoned by a renegade monk soon after and the hapless king died days later.


There's much about the Fens that suggest an end game. I never found The Wash - just giant pylons and windmill stumps that ran away into the North Sea. But I found Wisbech once, a place that made Lynn look cosmopolitan where heads and bulging eyes swiveled and a hush fell on the bar when I walked in. The bleakness of such places appealed to my restless soul. I drove through the tulip fields of Lincolnshire and south to Ely, a city named after the eels that squirm in these waterways, where a great cathedral with a glittering lantern rises from the Fens.


Graham Swift set Waterland here, a brooding tale of incest and dark practices in the marshes. The book is perhaps better then the film, but the film stars Jeremy Irons which makes up for any deficiencies. The book draws hard on the history of this isolated and reclaimed land.

Today the Fens with its vast industrial fields and over sparse horizons is a world apart from the fog and mist bound fens of Medieval times where people feared to tread because of swamp spirits. Only in preserved places such as Wicken Fen can we catch a glimpse of the mysterious marshes of yesteryear.

Wicken Fen

Still the landscape haunts me. It creeps up on me at night and I have that odd feeling that I am back in the Fens and sky is too big and the iron bound cold of the place in winter is back with me.


  1. Those places all look quite beautiful. Nice photos and writing!

  2. Nicely done, David. I enjoyed this.

  3. I would love to visit those places...with a metal detector and a spade.

  4. Thanks for the lovely and haunting tour. I've read of the Fens many times but have never had a glimpse of them in the present day.

  5. Great pictures, but love the mystery surrounding the Fens. Sounds like a great place for a novel! One you're writing - I'm sure?

    Your descriptive work would entice any reader!

    1. yes like Graham Swift's - I'm not but should for real :)

  6. Thanks for a glimpse into the Fens. I'd wondered if the marshes haunted Brits in life as they had done in history/novels. Hope the Fens are in a novel you're writing as you've got the descriptive touch.

  7. I see why the landscape haunts you. In fact, I think I'm going to have nightmares tonight. Your writing style is very nice and descriptive, as always.

    Be well, David.


    1. you too Robyn - hope you didn't wake up screaming xx


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