There is so much beauty on the edges of our fair city - Peterborough Civic Society

Thorpe Hall
Thorpe Hall

One of my Twitter acquaintances recently contacted me and said that he was travelling by train to stay in the centre of Peterborough for a couple of days. Not being a frequent visitor to our fair city he asked me what attractions he could visit within easy walking distance.

Of course I mentioned all the usual suspects – the cathedral, museum, St John’s church, Lido as well as a decent range of pubs, bars and restaurants.

Canary Cottage, Knarr Farm, Thorney.'Photo: Historic England Archive. 2K/29232

Canary Cottage, Knarr Farm, Thorney.'Photo: Historic England Archive. 2K/29232

It was then I realised just how many places there are to visit which are not within walking distance of the centre and which require a bus, taxi ride or very stiff walk. I refer to these as the ‘on the edge’ attractions, ones that require a little more effort to reach.

Let’s just think for a minute about where these places are.

If the visitor to Peterborough has a strong constitution and doesn’t mind walking or cycling then I would suggest a route from Rivergate beside the Nene Valley Railway (itself adjacent to Railworld complete with its wildlife haven) towards Orton Mere and perhaps Ferry Meadows. Depending on time and stamina the visitor can make a diversion back via the grounds of Thorpe Hall. Although the main building is a Sue Ryder hospice, there is a café as well as very peaceful grounds to wander round. In my opinion not enough Peterborians go there let alone visitors from outside!

Flag Fen (or more accurately Flag Fen Archaeology Park) is an attraction devoted to the Bronze Age finds that helped us to understand so much more about how our distant ancestors lived 2,500 - 5,000 years ago. The centre is also right on the edge of the Fens, an area so close to our city centre but one that is so singular, distinctive and evocative.

John Clare Cottage

John Clare Cottage

Let no-one tell you that the Fens are boring! Where else in this country can you get such dramatic and expansive skies?

Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre is an extremely well-organised and fascinating place to visit, particularly for children but, due to its distance from the city centre it definitely falls into my ‘on the edge’ category.

And then of course there is the magnificent Burghley House near Stamford. I am constantly reminding people that this splendid nationally-important Elizabethan building is in fact in Peterborough, not Stamford (albeit just) and is a great place to visit. Even if you don’t fancy paying to go round the house itself or shelling out to walk round the Gardens of Surprise/Sculpture Gardens, you can always go to the surrounding park for nothing to stroll and have a picnic.

Perhaps my favourite ‘on the edge’ destination is John Clare Cottage at Helpston. The cottage (or rather collection of cottages knocked together) provides a fascinating insight into one of England’s most famous, influential and, in my opinion, accessible poets. In addition there is a lovely little shop and café that serves wonderful buns!

Getting to many of these attractions isn’t always easy. Perhaps Peterborough needs to find a way to connect them, both in people’s minds as places of interest and also physically. In the same way that we have a Green Wheel that connects places for cyclists and pedestrians, perhaps we now need a circular bus route that makes it easy for Peterborians and visitors alike to access these ‘on the edge’ places. Now there’s a thought!

Your granny may not thank you for adding her to the council’s list of Heritage Assets, but it’s good to see that the council is seeking nominations. Up to now the council has held a list of Buildings of Local Importance, i.e. buildings not important enough to be on the statutory list of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Importance, but still with local significance. Examples include King’s School, City College (Brook Street) the Brewery Tap in Westgate and many less prominent buildings. And if they are on the list then their heritage significance needs to be taken into account when proposals to change or demolish them come forward.

This list is now to be widened. Not only will buildings be eligible, but also other features which help to give a place its identity and heritage value and which are important to us as residents. Example might include parish pumps, parks, WW2 pill boxes, buildings with a blue plaque on, structures with character, public sculpture, old quarries, and I know the council is particularly on the look-out to include railway related buildings, structures and sites. Time to put your thinking caps on and send in suggestions to builtenvironment@peterborough.gov.uk or call 01733 864487.

Last week the Peterborough Telegraph reported that Canary Cottage near Thorney had received Grade II listing thus recognising its national as well as local importance.

The following day The Guardian also ran an article about this iconic building, built in about 1750, described by Historic England as a “rare surviving example of a mid-18 th Century fenland cottage”.

Just goes to show – your local newspaper is ahead of the game!

By Peterborough Civic Society’s Toby Wood and Peter Lee.