So Sunday was a different day as we’d just heard about a little area in Longthorpe which has recently been transformed and couldn’t resist going to take a look at what all the fuss was about…down at Holywell Ponds.

It wasn’t too difficult to find as it sits near Thorpe Hall’s vast estate of land. There are a few footpaths to this small area by foot but we got to it through Longthorpe. We found the signpost and walked along a woodchip pathway – great as it had been raining the night before and didn’t want to get too mudded up even though we had wellies on! LOL.

The area is quite large as you start at the top of a small hill walking down towards natural green fields. Then all of a sudden you’ll see their spirit tree with all its colourful ribbons and tags, just turn left and you’ll see the large pond area, move further down and you’ll see the grotto hidden under the hill you just walked down. Marvellous, isn’t it!!! I went down for a closer look, careful to not slide on the muddy stones and end up in the pond myself. I found an amazing grotto with fresh clear water running down a water run out onto the stones and into the first little pond area. It looks fabulous. And because I now know what it looked like originally, which was extremely overgrown I can appreciate it much more. It has been lovingly cleared, cleaned, tendered and appreciated.

A bit of history: This area of ponds originally belonged to a medieval manor, it’s no longer here, unfortunately. The upper-class people living here would have used these ponds for their continuous food source of non-seafish (all part of their upper-class diet). Fresh oxygenated water travels between them, keeping the ponds fresh originating from the spring in a possibly 18th Century grotto – it’s just the first part of this lovely area that we came to see. Reading from the info board, the grotto formed part of Thorpe Hall and along with the spring would have formed part of a distillery! It was used to make peppermint water (don’t all rush at once LOL! )

So anyway, there’s a whole story to this. I spoke to Samia Merrington about her story on doing to fabulous job. During lockdown she was running near here in late September 2020 and stumbled across it, on inspecting what she come across she could see the potential of clearing it out. Samia loves the idea of self-sufficiency, keeping areas clean of litter (as she still does on her walks around Longthorpe) so wasn’t frightened to dive in to do some hard work and she decided to clear it up a little… but in secret. It was a personal project that during Covid that she could put some sense into, some love into it and it was great to be outdoors, working with and for nature and caring for the environment which she is so passionate about. On her initial 20-30 minute visits, it was about clearing lots of lots of weeds out, clearing the algae to this run-down forgotten area whilst also walking the dog. Another dog walker happened to see her on one of her visits, stopped to chat and see what she was up to and then joined in – the word spread around the community and then there were more……the creation of a group called Friends of Holywell was born. It took around 3 months to get any sort of change done that was noticeable. The council got to hear about it and as it is a registered nature reserve, were all for her continuing on with the good work. More people joined in from the Longthorpe area and progress could be seen after 6 months.

Now in 2022, after more than a year of cleaning and clearing in all areas, it has been completely transformed. Thanks to everyone involved, especially to John Sidaway, a 72 year old retiree, who has been helping with the financial and administration side of things, paperwork that needs sorting and regulations that need adhering to – a secretary, chairman all rolled into one. A person that Samai thinks very highly of for being her partner in crime, so to speak!

The whole area has been tidied up so you can see how lovely it is, they’ve even done some planting too so I can’t wait to see what will come up in the springtime sunshine. This is purely a voluntary group of people doing the right thing to a forgotten area and if you want to help, they’re more than happy to accept. The whole area has been cleared up to show off at 8 ponds around the area coming off the spring of different sizes. You can walk around all the pond areas, there are small bridges and see how fabulous they are.

Inside the grotto itself is the natural spring of water feeding all of them. The volunteers have even discovered that three or four species of bats including Pippistrelle reside here. Bat Experts have been called in to monitor the situation so they will be taken care of. Along with them and other wildlife they also have found newts, so great care will be taken as they work to improve the area there for them all. Whilst there I even managed to get a photo of the resident heron waiting for some lunch!

I didn’t know this place even existed until I saw the article in the PT let along being aware that anyone was transforming it. The group have plans and now want to do much more. They’d like to put up information boards, Peterborough City Council has already provided the woodchips for the paths (thankfully making it a lot easier to walk on), they want to get schools involved for education and keep the area in good show for anyone who wants to use it. The end goal is to have this area a peaceful haven that the whole community can enjoy. Somewhere to come and walk, to sit, to chat, to get involved, to be at one with the nature surrounding them, birds in the trees and more. A place that is great for your mental health.

It may not be far from the main road, but it is a peaceful walk, as we found out on Sunday morning and came across other dog walkers enjoying the area too. There’s a lot that has been done here, but much more that can continue. The educational side that can be fulfilled with little tours, information boards and benches to sit on. Local primary schools will also be asked to get involved in designing pieces for the information boards too.

Can you help?
They are currently looking for volunteers, a Project Manager, someone passionate about the area that can speak about its history (Tour Guides), a Secretary to look after all the administration, funding, etc. Maybe someone businesses can help with building benches, creating the information boards from wood or even the printing. They also need insurance each year if anyone is interested in any form of sponsorship.

Samai, who is originally from France has come to live in our Peterborough. She LOVES the place, she’s passionate about being in a place that is so wonderful with everything around her. So let’s take a leaf out of her book to fall in love with our city again, as we do at We Love Peterborough. ‘A few hours each month of your time will transform ours’. How right is that!

If you’re interested in helping, you can apply to Samia Merrington directly who has a page on Facebook called ‘Friends of Holywell‘ and if you feel like donating because you can’t help in person, they have a GoFundMe page: Friends of Holywell.

Photographs taken before the makeover work. Volunteers at their jobs. Samai & John. School children visits. The volunteer group.

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