I’ve been wanting to go back to RSPB Lakenheath for ages, but I’m still off people, even though the reserve is now pretty much completely open I’m…not. If you don’t know the place, it’s a long sausage shape basically, which is mostly fen and some fen-friendly trees, like poplars and alder; along the northern edge of the whole length is the Little Ouse, and parallel to that on the southern side is the Ely-Norwich railway line. On the eastern edge is the visitor centre and car park.

I’m telling you this, because the paths you can take within the reserve go from the entrance to about halfway, up to the start of Joist Fen, and then they stop. You have to either come back the way you came or take the river path back.

The remaining western half of the reserve is for RSPB access only and you’d probably get sucked under by the mud anyway. That other half is wild and swampy and the birds love it. You just have to view it from a distance is all. And I really wanted to go. But, like I say, people.

There is a way to get to that very far end, but it’s all walking and pretty wet, and one of the access roads to get you to the start of the footpath is currently impassable. Still, 5am start, and a planned route, and before 6 I’m at the start of the footpath wondering what on earth I’m playing at, walking up to the railway line.

The path is tough going at the moment. Last time I was here was a couple of New Year’s Eves ago and the wind was ripping through the tops and the crows and rooks were racing me to their roost on the fen, but it was easily walkable. Now, high Summer and no-one’s been along here in forever. It’s warm but sopping wet and consequently is filled with nettles and burrs and all sorts of creepers and bindweed-stengthened undergrowth.

Over the railway line at last, and I pick up the path on the otherside and it’s more of the same. The world population of slugs and snails is enjoying the warm and damp.

It’s very fenny on either side, lots of reeds and bullrushes and dead trees poking up bleached from the silt.

At the top of the path, before it hits the Little Ouse, is a big right angle on the path and here is an old pumping station and derelict engine house. The pump is humming quietly to itself, steadily keeping the place wet or dry or whatever is required for the time of year.

I’m at the far end of Joist Fen here. The edge of the reserve that you can only guess at distantly when you walk it normally. About 2km from the very edge of the paths. There’s a viewing station over there, where you can watch hobbys in May and June. I fear I’ve missed out on that. I saw fifty last year, all scooting about, catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing. They’re amazing birds, probably my favourite bird of prey and fuck me if that isn’t one right there, over the old pumping station and right in front of me. He swoops to a halt above a tall willow and hovers, twists, turns, posing in the sunshine very considerately showing off his scarlet trousers, his silver back, the flash Jon Lord moustaches. No doubt, he’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Hobbys, I tell you…astonishing…and clocks me. And that’s enough, he’s off. Worth the walk for that alone.

But there’s more. Four bitterns, or the same bittern four times, but I’m going for the first thought; two marsh harriers, a million sedge warblers, reed buntings, whitethroats all over the place, and swallows and martins along the ditches and drains.

Later, looking at the brilliant National Library of Scotland side-by-side maps, I realise that there used to be a pub here, by the pumping station, the Green Dragon. It closed in 1960. There may be traces of it left, but the maps indicate it’s in the overgrown flooded area, so you’d be hard pressed to find it. I might try next time, though.

I don’t see anyone, not a soul. Mission accomplished.

Long walk back, mind.