There’s something magical about ancient earthworks. Their durability, timeless scale and the mystery that surrounds them create a thought-provoking window to another, lesser-known world.
Set in the heart of rural Cambridgeshire, Devil’s Dyke is often described as Britain’s finest Anglo-Saxon earthwork of its kind – and it’s certainly one of the best surviving.
The ancient monument stretches for seven and a half miles, and reaches a daunting 10m (33ft) in height. This archaeological treasure is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as it is a haven for wildflowers, butterflies and a range of grassland insects come spring and summer.
The dyke is made up of a defensive earth bank and ditch, originally built to control access from the nearby Roman roads, including the Icknield Way. Since its creation, a string of roads and railways have cut through the earthwork, breaking the bank in several places.
A number of excavation projects have been carried out, but still little is known about its creators. Archaeologists place its construction in the fifth or sixth century AD and believe the East Anglians built it to control the neighbouring Mercians.
But local legends tells a different story – involving the Devil. The evil one is said to have visited a nearby wedding, but after he was chased away by the wedding guests, he carved a large ditch in the ground with his tail.
However, the name ‘Devil’s Dyke’ is believed to be a post-medieval one, with references to ‘Reach Dyke’ documented during William the Conqueror’s seige of Ely in the 11th century.
The area sits between two very different ecosystems; rich, peaty fenland and a chalk escarpment. The chalk and clay earth make a unique habitat for wildlife, including flowers, birds and butterflies.
The dyke walk begins in the village of Reach, which sits between Cambridge and Newmarket. The five-mile trail starts at the Dyke’s End pub, leading along the base of the dyke before climbing to the top, offering far-reaching views across neighbouring Burwell and Swaffam Prior.
After crossing a few stiles, the circular walk crosses farmland towards Swaffam Prior village, which is home to twin churches and two windmills. The walk then trails back to Reach village alongside a young woodland on a clearly marked track, and arrives back at the dyke.
Main Photo: Getty
HOW TO GET THERE
Devil’s Dyke sits in the centre of a triangle created by Cambridge, Newmarket and Ely. From the A14, Quay/Swaffham Road and Burwell Road lead directly to Reach village. Newmarket is the nearest train station, which is a 15-minute drive from Reach.
FIND OUT MORE
Dyke’s End Pub
8 Fair Green
The Dyke’s End pub is the starting point for the dyke
walk, and serves up fresh,
local produce, real ales and traditional pub favourites to hungry walkers.
Cambridge Quy Mill Hotel
Cambridge Quy Mill Hotel is set in an historic water mill, and boasts leafy gardens and an award-winning restaurant.
Rutland Arms Hotel
33 High Street,
Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 8NB
0843 178 7163
On Newmarket’s historic High Street, The Rutland Arms Hotel is a former coaching inn with a stylish wine bar.
Mill Close, Burwell, Cambridge CB25 0HL
Burwell Museum is a quaint preserver of rural history, home to a Grade-II listed windmill.