Driving north from Ely across the East coast of England, medieval churches follow one another in procession across the fenlands which border The Wash, Britain’s largest estuary. Little islands of comparative elevation in a landscape as horizontal as any in England. It’s not true what Noel Coward said: Norfolk isn’t “very flat”, but the Fens certainly are. They are also richly agricultural, black-soiled, saved over the centuries from the reach of the North Sea by dykes and reclamation; but still vulnerable, increasingly so. 

There is a strange, haunting, beauty to this low-lying landscape which stretches northwards across Lincolnshire and penetrates south and east from Norfolk into Cambridgeshire. The Wash estuary which dominates the area took its name from the Old Anglo-Saxon “wāse” meaning mud, wet ground or mire. The meeting place of sandy soils and salty marshes provided cover for invading Vikings for 200 years and helped its isolated communities fend off the Normans after 1066, for a while at least.