2010-08-02 52 0
On an area of open land called Lakenheath Warren, just over the A1065 from Lakenheath RAF airfield. Public bridleways run over some parts of the Warren, so it looks like it will be accessible.
This was a bit of a "will I, won't I?" expedition -- at 36km from home as the GPS flies, it was further away than any I'd been to recently. On the other hand, it was easily accessible by road, and I had to drive to work anyway, so I'd already be part of the way there. In the end the ayes to the right won out, although it was nearly scuppered when I failed to wake at the appointed hour in the morning, and got to work a teensy bit late. However, it turned out that I had very little to do, so after four hours at work I called it a day and went geohashing.
The first bit of the drive was up to Newmarket through villages I mostly knew quite well. Newmarket itself is less familiar, but it's a nice-looking town which seems to have an interesting high street. I passed the clock tower in the centre of town exactly at midday. The traffic was light and soon I'd left Newmarket behind and was turning onto the A11 -- less interesting, but a good deal faster.
This took me a few miles north to Mildenhall, where I turned onto the A1065 and began to look out for places I might be able to park. The land to the west of the road was entirely taken up by the large RAF base, and to the east it seemed to alternate between pine woodland and open grass. Neither side had anywhere I could park for an hour or so, so I resorted to plan B -- the RAF base has a 'viewing point' with a small carpark open to any members of the public who wish to come and look at planes. There were about 15 cars there, all containing men (and a couple of women, I think) with stacks of binoculars and photographic equipment, and probably thermos flasks of tea and packets of sandwiches, too.
I reversed into a parking space, as I usually do, and then realised that this meant I was now facing away from the airfield. Everyone there must have been wondering what on earth I was doing, although I noted that planes were conspicuously absent at this point, anyway.
This was probably the nearest available parking spot, but it was still well over 3km from the hashpoint, so I set off along the road at a quick walk. There was a nice wide grass verge between the road and the large, barbed-wire-topped fence adorned with "keep out" notices, so I walked along that. After five minutes it began to drizzle.
The plan was to walk along the road until the woodland ended and I could walk across the open ground, or the bridleway that I noticed ran between the two. I did so. The woodland was not fenced off at all and I was hopeful that this meant that the hashpoint would be reachable. After a good twenty minutes of walking I came to a sign indicating the bridleway, so I crossed the road. At this point I decided that while there was still tree cover I might as well (ahem) "make use of it". I did so, then continued through the trees onto the path. Problem. The open ground on the other side of the path was fenced off. It occurred to me that in making use of the trees I might have missed a notice at the start of the bridleway saying whether this was private or military land, but I decided not to go back and check. (This was perhaps a mistake.)
I walked along the bridleway for about a kilometre. The ground was sandy and gorse bushes were trying to grow in any place they wouldn't be trampled by horse riders using the path. It was still drizzling, but my GPS was slowly counting down the metres to the hashpoint and I was hopeful that at some point there might be a gate into the field or whatever it was that the hashpoint was in.
I considered that it might be a military training ground and wondered if I might come across a group of RAF people. In my mind, I would ask politely if I might have access to the hashpoint, and they, being friendly souls with nothing else to do that day, would provide me with a military escort to the hash. Photos would be taken and all would be smiles. But in reality, nobody was about.
After a while I was 725 metres from the hashpoint and the fence was beginning to curve back to the north. I considered stopping and calling it a day. Then I noticed a signpost up ahead, so I walked on to that. That was when I found out why the grassland was fenced off. Lakenheath Warren is, apparently, a sensitive conservation area, and access is prohibited from April to October to protect ground-nesting birds. Damn.
So a few months earlier or later and this hashpoint would have been completely accessible. But today it wasn't. I considered walking around the conservation area to get a closer approach to the hashpoint -- from the south I might have made it to within 300 metres or so. But there didn't seem much point, as I wasn't going to reach it in any case. At this point it struck me that there was a gate into the conservation area next to the signpost, and although it was chained up with a large padlock, I could easily have climbed it and got my geohash. The temptation was strong. But no, quick on the heels of the inspiration came the second thoughts telling me just how bad an idea it was. I took a photo in the general direction of the hashpoint and contented myself with a closest approach of 725m.
I decided to walk back through the woods, which was a more direct route than back along the path and the road. As they were pine trees, the leaf cover was sparse enough to allow me a fairly good GPS signal all the way through. It may have saved me, ooh, maybe a hundred metres of walking. Just as I got back to the main road the rain started to come down more heavily, and I power-walked the remaining kilometre or so back to the car.
As I got back, some of the photographers were getting out of their cars and moving over to the fence. It looked like some plane activity was starting to happen, but I was soggy and wanted to go home, so I carefully ignored it all and drove off. The remainder of the journey was not very interesting -- along main roads until I got to the turnoff into north Cambridge, then a right turn and two lefts, and I was home.
| Benjw earned the No trespassing consolation prize