To call the surrounding marshy spaces ‘liminal’ would be to resort to cliché: fenland is not a limit, not an edge, but a swathe of land that is plural, both land and sea at once, and alternately either; it is a palimpsestic landscape, where one thing overlays another. In the Ango-Saxon mind, this contributed to a very fluid idea of ‘desert’: monks sought isolation, equivalent to that of dry sand-deserts, at the northernmost corner of the Christian world, and found it in the gaping skies and uninhabitable marsh of the fens. St Guthlac set out to test his faith on one such fenland island, and found himself tormented by demons and apparitions. Even in their modern, ordered state, the fens retain an aptitude for soupy fog, illusionistic perspective, and shrieking winds. And they froze in winter, turning an impassible marsh into a frosty, mirror-flat rink. Sharpened animal bones allowed feet and belongings to glide for miles, and so fringe-towns and fen-islands became accessible.

Skater’s Meadow, Robert Hawkins (