I HAVE ALWAYS strongly believed that the best thing about my hometown of Peterborough, England is the East Coast Main Line that runs straight through the middle of it. You can be in London within the hour. The same train line which offers a great escape also delivers you into the heart of it, where people tend to avoid eye contact and seek out confrontation.
That being said I do not want to come across as too critical of my hometown. To the credit of our council they have tried to rejuvenate the town with a regeneration project which has so far seen the raised flower bed in Market Square (which used to house the Christmas tree) replaced with modern jet fountains that have mostly been switched off this year due to our ongoing drought. The wettest drought I have ever heard of. This defunct decoration seems somewhat out of place in a town where anything that stands still for more than five minutes is smashed.
And Peterborough can lay claim to the magnificent 12th Century Gothic Cathedral, which is best seen illuminated far, far away in the distance as you are leaving town. Bask in the glory of the beautiful architecture, currently shrouded in scaffolding as it has been for years since suspected arson.
The Fenland cities are all very much the same. People here fall into two categories: those who are desperate to leave and those who will stay forever.
However, venture out of the cities into the countryside and the flat-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see land does hold it’s own unique charm. The uninterrupted skyline seems odd at first, as confirmed by out of town relatives from the mountainous Lake District (“Where’s all the bumpy stuff?”). The endless view across the hazy former marshlands evokes a feeling of isolation. It can make you feel insignificant and significantly alone, in the middle of nowhere, wearing your inevitably wet boots.
Then, you realise that you can see the speck of the glider three fields away, see the endless drainage waterways crisscrossing across the landscape, see the church spire in the next village. The long-lasting early morning mists sweep across the fields, bringing with it the faint smell of onions and the sunsets paint streaks of pink and orange across the silhouetted horizon.
This is where we find ourselves. Despite the delicious smells and clinking sounds coming from the back seat we take a detour. Perched on the bonnet of the car in a muddy lay-by on the road to Holme, among the swaying barley, I pry open a bottle of Cornwall’s finest to enjoy as we watch the colourful light show.
An antiquated combine harvester is parked in the middle of the field, dust still flying in the air, muting the colours. A young farmer sits slumped in the rusted seat holding a can-shaped object in his hand. He will be here all night if necessary, while the weather is still relatively dry the harvesting must be done.
Every year as the temperature drops and the season changes I am reminded of this quiet charm of the Fens. It is easily overlooked in our wet summers. The changing trees are startling surprises of orange and red against a grey background. The grass is scattered with polished red conkers while the pavement glitters with the dawn frost.
As I walk to the bus stop in a sleepy early morning haze I can smell the remnants of bonfires and look forward to mulled wine and fireworks. Mornings are now wonderfully bright but freshly cold and the coat and scarf so willingly shed just a few months ago have been retrieved.
The late bus trundles down the road having been diverted by the semi-permanent roadworks. Former marshland does, unfortunately, equate to constantly sinking roads and pot holes large enough to swallow a small child.
“A single to Peterborough please.”