Those who, very properly, seek to know from the reports of the Land Utilization Survey how Cambridgeshire lives, will be confronted, in the one dealing with Cambridgeshire proper (that is, excluding the Isle of Ely) with Rupert Brooke's verse, which must be quoted: This is a good beginning, for, truth to tell, the county in question is by no means among the larger or more populous of all England, and is further reduced by its division into two jurisdictions, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, and still further by the fact that, perhaps partly from ancient sentiment, and partly from the nature of its soil, the centres of population on which its villages depend are nearly all just outside its boundaries.
We had better establish here and now the little-known fact that this, north Cambridgeshire, legally known as the Isle of Ely since the Norman Conquest, is the real fen.
Cambridgeshire, where this Fen country really is, is a deeply interior part of England, with a belt fifty miles broad separating it from the North Sea.
Norfolk and Suffolk have little part of it, and that only for administrative convenience.
The Isle of Ely merges insensibly into southern Lincolnshire, the appearance, cultivation and climate of which it shares.
The double county you will find there depicted is a shire of England, in all some forty-five miles from north to south, just missing the Wash, on the shores of which Lincolnshire and Norfolk meet, and just losing Royston, at the southern extremity, to Hertfordshire.
It is some twenty-five miles broad at its widest, from Newmarket Heath (the town is in Suffolk, but not the railway station) to just outside St Neots, which is in Huntingdonshire. It is cut into two fairly equal parts by the course of the Great Ouse through Ely, which is a kind of minor capital of the northern half.
The area of the whole is just over half a million acres (half the size of Norfolk) three hundred and thirteen thousand three hundred and ninety-two acres in the Cambridge part and two hundred and thirty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty in the Ely part. In the Cambridge area you can see some signs of cement works, but ninety percent of the land is under crops and grass.
In the Ely part the proportion of agricultural land is lower there are sixty thousand acres of wild fen, and immense artificial waterways.
The Isle of Ely is quite unmistakable to anyone who has to cross it by road or rail.
It is prehistoric marsh, which has been embanked and drained on various occasions dating from Roman times; a more vigorous effort was made under expert Dutch supervision in the seventeenth century, and later still - in the later nineteenth century.
Wentworth Day (whose family has owned land in the district for centuries), described in his Farming Adventure how his mother, visiting cottages in what were even then inaccessible fastnesses, found conditions that might have seemed more natural in Asiatic Russia.