Thursday, 16 February 2012


Huntingdonshire lies literally at a cross-roads, and has probably done so since before the Romans came. We live on their Ermine Street, which became our Great North Road and now goes under the romantic name of "The A1". Roman Worsted Street is now the infamous, overcrowded A14. It's overcrowded today because the Roman road system radiated from London and they built so few cross-country links. The road names tell us that they were built for trade, but military needs came first. Conquest and commerce are inextricably linked of course: it's all about access to, and control of resources.

Passing-trade is our forte. We offer hospitality to those passing through and we service the needs of commerce by providing warehouses, conference facilities and distribution depots. It's not surprising that a lot of people stop here on their way to other places. Some even come here deliberately!

If Huntingdonshire is your destination for the day; it's a doddle. By car we are only just over an hour from London, Oxford or Birmingham. Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are not a lot further. We even have trains to London and York that run on time. We are a sales-reps dream come true.

At Paxton Pits Nature Reserve I meet both sorts of visitors, all year round. On Fridays we see people who are on their way from the Home Counties to Norfolk, Lincolnshire or even Scotland for a birdwatching weekend. Right now, the attraction is wintering wildfowl, with the chance of sighting a rarity such as a smew. In late summer we meet retired couples from all over the country who bring their caravans here for a week or two of exploration. They all say how much they like it here and some come back every year. 

But it's Spring that really brings the tourists to Paxton Pits and the attractant is nightingales. Already we have bookings for 14 coach loads of birdwatchers in April and May and many more will come in fleets of cars. And they come from all over the place. We are at the northern edge of the nightingale's range so its no surprise that a lot of our visitors come from the North, but we also get them coming from Kent where they have more nightingales than we do.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a strong network of members groups around the country and some of them come back every year or so. Havering, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Derby and Surrey RSPB groups have booked so far. We also have the Marylebone Bird-watching Society, a gardening club, some Women's Institutes, two Rotary groups and some University of the Third Age classes. 

Just think for a moment; a single nightingale or a smew at Paxton Pits might be worth several thousands of pounds to the local economy. Think of the money our visitors spend on food, drink and petrol alone. If only they would spend it all at our visitors' centre!   Where can I buy a petrol pump?