Following medieval tracks out across the fens, The Bishop's Way takes you along the route used by the Bishops of Ely to their Palace in Downham. Hundreds of years ago before the fens were artificially drained, Downham-in-the-Isle was a real island among flat and boggy reed fen. It was here that Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester set up his monastic settlement in 970. The estate grew and prospered for 500 years and played host to many bishops from Ely. In the summer months, when the roads were best, they travelled by horse up what is now Hurst Lane to their summer Palace. Today the views across agricultural land are very different to those the bishops would have seen. Today's fields are highly productive and produce thousands of tons of grain and root crops. The orchards, vineyards and fields of pasture have all been replaced except around Chettisham where cattle still graze. All along the route you can glimpse pieces of our medieval history along with the most modern farming methods. Look both forward and back as you retrace the steps of Bishop Athelwold and his successors.
The Village Centre was formerly the guildhall of this wealthy settlement. In the 1700's it was a workhouse and in 1779 donated to the village for use as a school by the Downham People's Charity, still in existence.
The Bishop's Palace in Downham has a long history of occupation and use. The Monastic property here was first described in 1086 when it was said to have sufficient meadow for all the plough teams, pasture for the cattle, woodland for 100 pigs and fisheries producing 300 eels a year. Little remains of the Palace today.
Butterflies such as the Peacock can be seen between the months of July and late September.
The City of Ely contains many beautiful buildings including The Bishop's Palace which was built at the end of the 15th century. Cromwell House, former home of Oliver Cromwell, is another notable building now used as the Tourist Information Centre.
The drainage of the fens in the 1800's led to the creation of a 'new' parish at Chettisham. It was first described in 1170 as "wooded assart" leased from the New Barns estate.
The hedges offer food to many common birds such as Blackbirds and Thrushes. Field ditches provide wet conditions needed by such plants as Bull rushes.
How to get there
- By Bus: A&P Travel Tel: 01353 720430, Neals Travel Tel: 01638 780066 and Stagecoach Tel: 01223 423578.
- By Train: Connections at Ely for Cambridge, Newmarket, Peterborough, Norwich and King's Lynn. www.nationalrail.co.uk.
- By Road: A10 to Cambridge, Downham Market and King's Lynn. A142 to Newmarket and Chatteris.
- Enquiries: Cambridgeshire County Council Passenger Transport General Enquiries Tel: 0845 045 0675
Circular Route 7 - 9 miles
Allow approximately 4 hours.
Footwear - Most of the route follows grassy droves which can become very muddy in the winter. Sturdy footwear or boots are recommended.
|The Bishop's Way Information Leaflet and Map||2.84 MB|