I’ve been lucky enough to travel much of the world, but one place that always feels like home is Wicken Fen. If you don’t know of it, it is a patch of Cambridgeshire countryside that has been allowed to return to the state it was in before the Fens were drained. As a result, it is home to a huge variety of flora and fauna seldom found anywhere else.
I have been there countless times: taking the boardwalk through the soggy marshes that almost a millennium ago allowed Hereward the Wake to keep William the Conqueror’s invading army at bay. I’ve holidayed there, helping with the reed harvest; I’ve joined the hunt to spot an extremely rare beetle known to make its home on Wicken Fen; I’ve spent countless hours bird-watching in this peaceful spot; and I’ve written about Wicken Fen for newspapers and magazines all over the world.
Sadly, it seems unlikely that I will ever go there again. The National Trust (motto: For Ever and For Everyone), which owns and runs this unique corner of England, seems to have decided that it doesn’t like travel writers.
My NT Press pass was withdrawn a couple of years ago, as was my copy of the Trust’s annual handbook which contains vital information on opening dates and times. When I called to protest they first said they didn’t know me (Really? My name appears among the list of contributors in several of their own guide books), then said I hadn’t written enough about their properties in the past year (in fact, I had sent them copies of published articles about Scotney Castle, Bateman’s, and several other of their historic homes).
Begrudgingly, they sent me two tickets allowing free entry to any one property of my choice – but no Handbook. Accordingly, my attempt to show two Australian writers around the Clergy House in Alfriston – the Trust’s first ever purchase, and the home of its famous oak leaf logo – ended in disaster, as we arrived on a day it was closed.
This year, my frequent calls and messages to the Press Office have been totally ignored. No Press pass, no Handbook, no tickets, no nothing. And I am not alone: a brief note about my predicament on Twitter attracted a flurry of responses from travel writers and photographers who have been similarly treated.
In fact, there are probably dozens of us. “Press passes?” said a friend who works on the gate at Bodiam Castle. a major National Trust property, “We used to get people coming in with them, but I don’t think I’ve seen one for a couple of years.”
So, if you don’t read much about the National Trust in future you’ll know why. People who want to write about, or photograph, their “for ever and for everyone” properties will first have to pay the Trust’s hefty entry and parking fees. My bet is that most, like me, will find somewhere else to write about.
Britain is full of public attractions that are not owned and run by arrogant money-grabbers, and don’t have over-stuffed Press offices that ignore the Press. And I look forward to visiting them and publicising them.
But oh, Wicken Fen. I will miss you.