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The Legend of the Fens

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The fens have their own special gods but it takes a special kind of person, and a special situation, to get the gods on your side. Mandru, the Celtic chief, knew just how to do it! Unfortunately, the Romans did not.

The Fenlands run from Lincoln in the north to Cambridge in the south. Only a sophisticated drainage system prevents the fens becoming water logged. However, legend has it that the fens were once much drier, providing a landscape of lakes and forests.

It was a landscape in which the Romans saw many opportunities; the large areas of dry wooded land, the fertile soil and the well-stocked lakes along with the beds of reed and alder, which could be harvested and used. The Fens were worth the time and effort it would take to claim them, or so the Romans thought.

To oversee the Fenlands, the Romans sent Valerian, a tyrant, who governed with little respect for the local people or their customs. Matters came to a head one day when he captured Rowena, daughter of the Celtic chief Mandru, and forced her into slavery.

On hearing of his daughter's capture, Mandru gathered his countrymen together. They made plans to overthrow the Romans but, while they were doing this, the Roman guards suddenly attacked and took the Celts prisoner to the palace of Valerian.

Here they were tortured and put to death - all except Mandru, who managed to escape. He went into hiding and carefully laid his plans. Unlike the Romans, he knew how to engage with the local gods of water, the sky and of dreams.

Several months later, a stranger came to town warning all the Celtic slaves to leave the town by nightfall.

That night, those who had stayed were awoken by a great gale; they saw the town gates had been opened, so they took a chance and made their escape.

They met up with more Celts who had escaped from other settlements. Some were unsure of what to do next but the stranger appeared again and revealed himself as Mandru. He told them the gods were very angry and that they must make haste to higher ground immediately.

The power of the storm increased to a tempest and, at midday, the Romans thought they saw a cloud moving swiftly towards them. The cloud turned into a great wall of swirling water, which swept up everything in its path, including the Romans and their houses. Where there had been forest, the land appeared like a sea scattered with small islands, so powerful was the water.

Mandru led his countrymen back, in triumph, to these lands and declared them for the marsh-men. The damp atmosphere often saw the fens covered with a thick long-lasting mist. In these lands, the hardy and resourceful marsh-men stayed, using all their skill as fishermen and wildfowlers to survive the hostile conditions.

Although the Romans continued to drain parts of the Fens, creating Akerman Street, a tract running from Kings Lynn to Cambridge, large areas were left alone. After all, you never quite knew what was lurking in the misty vapour of the fenland night!

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