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lyking-hythe:- The landing place of the fen dwellers

Lakenheath is only a few miles from the county borders with both Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and is positioned right on the join of two distinctive regions of land, the Fens and Breckland.

The Fens are low level flatlands, originally an area of marshes, bogs, and small islands populated by independent people. Now they have been drained, and lots of rich, peaty, farmland has been produced. The drainage first started on a large scale in the 17th Century, by windpumps. In the 18th century, steam pumps were brought in and today electric and diesel pumps keep the water at bay. The whole area is covered in a network of long straight waterways, from the size of ditches to massive rivers.

Lakenheath High Street is about 10m (33ft) above sea level and the parish dips down to sea level, or 0m, about 2 miles further West. The 'high point' of the village is 31m (102ft), at the trig point on Maids Cross Hill, some 1/2 mile to the East of the High Street, and most of the buildings in the village have developed up the sides of this hill, a 'first' hill of the Breckland.

Breckland is a unique area of landscape. It is a low chalk plateau, with sandy soil. People have lived here, between ice ages, since the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic period). Excavations in the area have produced tools dated to half a million years ago, making them the oldest excavated sites in Britain. Light woodland, which formed some ten thousand years ago, following the last ice age, was cleared when man returned and started farming, but that ceased and the land became heathland (Breckland) for a long time. From the early 1920s the Forestry Commission have planted the Thetford Forest on large parts of the Breckland. It is now the largest lowland forest in the UK, at about 20,000 hectares (23,000 acres) and has 1.5 million visitors a year and there are few areas of the natural Breckland left. One small part is to the left of the A1065, just past the end of the Wangford New Road, on the way to Brandon.

Running through Lakenheath is the B1112 road and parallel to it is the Cut-off Channel, a waterway which is part of the Fens drainage system. The Channel runs from Barton Mills and joins the River Great Ouse at Denver sluice, near Downham Market. It was built in 1964 and was part of the flood protection work started after the major 1947 floods. Floodwater from the three Breckland rivers, the Lark, Little Ouse, and Wissey, can be diverted into the Cut-off Channel, and even water from the Great Ouse can be made to flow backwards along it as far as Hockwold, the next village along from Lakenheath. At Hockwold there is a tunnel, that runs underground all the way to Kennett. Water can be transferred all the way to the rivers Stour, Colne, and Blackwater in Essex, and thus out to sea, as well as into the Essex reservoirs at Abberton and Hanningfield.

Perhaps surprisingly to modern residents of Lakenheath, the village used to be accessible by barge and other rivercraft, along Lakenheath Lode. This channel connected with the River Little Ouse at Botany Bay, near Sedge Fen, and ran from there into the village. The Little Ouse is still navigable as far as Brandon, but the Lakenheath Lode has long since silted up or been filled in but the section from the railway to the Brandon River is navigable by canoe or small boat. As recently as 1900, barges of 25-30 tonnes were travelling to and from Lakenheath. These were carrying sand and gravel from pits on Lakenheath Warren which had been redeveloped by Prince Duleep Singh of Elveden Hall, who had bought land in the Lakenheath area in 1863. Lots of cargo was carried on the waterways of the Fens, to and from harbours at the sea. Unfortunately this traffic died out gradually after the railways came in the mid 1800s.