Silver linings

Grantham sunset

Second trip to Doncaster this week – feeling tired of travelling and so badly wanted to stay in my garden this morning, destroying more leylandii in the spring sunshine. But the training session I went for was good, a rare chance to get together with fellow trainee mediators; fun, informative and confidence-boosting. And later, while hanging around between trains on my way home, I watched the sunset and regretted the absence of my camera. Silly me – my iPad is also a camera – so here is that sunset sky over Grantham.

I love this sort of sky that looks as if painted by Turner – when you look at it full size, you can see the brush strokes.

Writing this on the little train. Back in lovely Heckington in a few minutes; too dark for gardening now. A quarter of a century ago, in my little garden in Brixton, I used to rig up lights so I could garden in the dark!

Spring in the dog field

Ploughed earth

A short while ago the fields around were still covered in stubble, but now they have been ploughed. This the third field that the dogs and I cross on our regular walk and I am fascinated by the red-brown soil turned over in fat, slug-shaped ridges, such a rich colour, dense and fat and tactile, like something to be moulded or even eaten.

On the far side of the field is Naughty Doris, spoken of in Spot The Dog. She might be hunting in the hedgerow or just eating grass.

The picture below is the view looking back towards the village when we are on our way home.

Hall trees

Of clay and continuity

Pheasant plate

Last month I mentioned my bay tree that travelled with me from Brixton to Manchester and then, twenty-two years later, from Manchester to Heckington (Vegetable Stories).

Pottery and cooking pots hold other connections, threads running through my life. The ‘pheasant plate’ above was made by a lovely potter called Jill Fanshawe Kato; and I bought it in my mid-twenties, my first serious bit of ceramics buying. I’ve always treasured it, and used it, remember many midnight hours, the party over, friends gone home, after too much to drink, washing it up and putting it away so it didn’t get muddled with other dirty dishes and get broken in the morning.

I remember its first appearances, holding plaited bread for parties in a flat in Victoria. I remember a sort-of-Chinese chicken and beef salad in Brixton and Moss Side, terrines and roast lamb stuffed with spinach in Chorlton.

So when I look at this plate, sitting on a window sill just by me now, it seems to hold all those parties and dinners and friends in all those places; it holds that moment when I felt so grown up, buying a piece of art for myself; within it are centuries of Japanese pot-making, a modern English potter’s love of birds and the pheasants that live in my mother’s garden.

A lot to hold; but clay is dense and deep and weighty, can take it. At my pottery class (Too late, too late…), I’m getting used to the feel of it again after many years; takes me back to London days, ‘my salad days’ when I was young perhaps, but not so green that I couldn’t tell a good pot when I saw it.

And we did eat a lot of salad back then, come to think about it…

It’s not Manchester!

‘Blimey, it’s not Manchester, is it!’ was a response to my Star Fen post – meaning that it’s quiet and rural rather than busy and urban. I was having a similar thought yesterday while waiting at Piccadilly station for the train to Doncaster, first leg of my journey home (as in Heckington, Grantham, Doncaster, Manchester).

I’d had another quick overnight visit to see daughter and grand-babies, with bonus of nice dinner with friends on Wednesday night. I was tired after two days of walking around with a rucksack. I sat and watched the crowd, thinking about how I loved big city bustle in my twenties – loved London, found Manchester a bit too small (!). Back then the crowd meant invisibility, anonymity and hence freedom, a space in which to be myself. Now, in my fifties, I feel constrained and oppressed by the presence of so many people, so near to me and yet so unconnected. I can’t take them all in, can’t experience them as individuals; and the noise is too much.

Now my sense of life, lightness, energy comes from a wide open space with no people in it. Funny how the desire for liberation remains but one finds it in different places.

A walk on Star Fen

If you walk about a mile out of the village from our house, you find yourself on ‘the fen road’, Littleworth Drove and off this is Star Fen Road. It leads you past farmhouses and smallholdings, most with chickens roaming around, some with pigs, sheep, horses, llamas (yes!). It is very quiet here. When you turn onto footpaths you are on your own, surrounded by ploughed fields as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by drains and hedgerows, and the odd scarecrow.

These are pictures from my walk round Star Fen on Monday (without dogs this time – see Spot the Dog). I hope they give you a tiny idea of the qualities of light and colour you find here, that give me such a buzz. As with previous galleries, click or tap on a picture to see bigger versions that you can scroll through.

Car Dyke, in the bottom left photo, was made by the Romans; that gives me a buzz too.

Spot the dog

imageCan you see a long-legged, tan-coloured lurcher in this picture? Nope? Me neither.

This is the view I was looking at for some time on Sunday, while calling and waving my arms like a lunatic. We thought it would be nice to take dogs out for a different walk; set off on grassy footpath past fields full of bunny rabbits and a small sewage works, up onto the banks of one of the long, straight drains which run through the fenland fields.

Lovely sun, clear sky, long views over the land; then off goes naughty Doris the lurcher, hops across the drain and speeds off into the distance, at least three fields away and doesn’t come back for ages.

She’s part Saluki, we were told by the rescue place; and it shows. Like Greyhounds and Afghans, Salukis are called sighthounds or, in the past, ‘gaze-hounds’; domesticated thousands of years ago, they were used for hunting by sight and speed in wide open spaces like deserts.

Certainly Doris’s gaze is always on far horizons; on crows in a field, a plane in the sky. Fortunately, this time she didn’t see all the way over to the smallholding we found later, with all the chickens running loose…

Have to find a different walk next time.

Too late, too late…

Aswarby church
On Friday I went to a pottery class at The End Room studio, about 20 minutes drive from Heckington. On the way, on a whim, I took a turning off the dull and dangerous A15 (Peterborough to Bourne, Sleaford, Lincoln and the Humber Bridge) and found myself in another world: the tiny village of Aswarby with its lovely church bathed in afternoon sun. But before I could get my camera out, the sun slipped behind a cloud – so you can’t see it in the picture.

I’m getting used to the contrast between A-roads busy with lorries trundling food to the rest of the country and quiet villages just round the corner. Very different from Heckington these, often with no shop, no community building except the church; but so beautiful. There are huge old trees in stretches of greensward, sheep or cattle quietly grazing and, if you’re lucky, golden sunlight over everything.

I left the pottery in the village of Newton after four in the afternoon when the last rays of sun lit up the village church like a spotlight. More beautiful still was the same light falling on grass through a thorn hedge- but I was too slow again, too late to capture it.

‘Too late,’ my mum used to say, throughout my childhood, ‘too late, saddest words in the English language.’ Seems to be a quote from a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, but don’t know if he had it from somewhere before that.

Why so sad? Why so hard to let go of what is past, of things over which we have no control – like the chancy fall of light from one moment to the next?

Was the light any the less because I couldn’t grab it, bring it here to show you? Ho hum, enough musing for a Monday morning!

Newton church

Why do they do that?

By which I mean, why do people plant leylandii hedges? I don’t wonder when I see an isolated house out on the fens: the square of tall conifers marking the boundary and providing a necessary windbreak. But, boy, do I wonder why in a village garden where you could just put up a fence for privacy or shelter.


Here are the stumps of ones cut down by daughter’s partner (see the wheels on the bus post). We’ve now felled another stretch along the back. They were planted by the people before the people we bought the house from; and they have been nicely kept, trimmed and dense with no brown straggly bits. But still, not what you want surrounding the beautiful, productive kitchen garden I have in my mind’s eye.


Here are the ones still to come down. I’m told some birds like to nest in them, so we’ll leave them now until the end of the summer, much though it pains me. There are quite a few pretty trees at the southern end of the garden – once the leylandii are gone, we’ll be able to see how much shade the nice trees cast!


And here is one pile of trees and branches to be cut up and moved. Apparently the wood burns well once seasoned: how satisfying it will be to watch them sizzle of a winter evening! What a vandal I am.

Think of us slaving away / having fun over the next few days.

Wind farm postscript

imageReading comment about pylons and turbines, on my wind farm post earlier today, reminded me of another set of giants in a flat, farmland setting: the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory telescopes at Lord’s Bridge in Cambridgeshire.

These majestic structures are only a couple of miles from where I grew up in Grantchester. On walks with my friend from up the lane, I used to pass right beside and underneath them. They were an everyday mystery, part of the landscape and alien, on a different scale from our other surroundings, their focus on distant galaxies while we two teenagers and my friend’s family dog wandered minuscule beside them.

The photo above is not mine – I found it on a nice site about cycle rides around Cambridge and Ely, called Fenland Rides. Have a look at it here.

Heckington Fen wind farm

Wind farm from car

It’s strange to have the area in the news briefly, when most people we know from our old life had never heard the name Heckington before. Ecotricity, green energy developers and suppliers, has had plans for some time for a big wind farm development on Heckington Fen, a few miles away from us. It’s been in the news this week because it has finally been approved.

The pattern of development here is interesting. There is a string of villages along what is called the fen edge, from Heckington and southwards to Bourne, each with a rectangular parcel of fen stretching eastwards from the village. So Heckington Fen itself is quite a way from the village it belongs to. There is a much smaller settlement, East Heckington, which will be more immediately affected by the development.

There is no doubt that gigantic turbines change the view across this open, agricultural landscape, as electricity pylons did when they first appeared. And, like pylons, they have a strange grace all their own. When I hear people call them ugly, I think, no, ‘ugly’ is Aberfan, is Chernobyl, Windscale. Our insatiable desire for energy, at low cost and with a childish disregard of consequences for other people in other places, other times, is certainly ugly when you look it in the face.

Enough of that: this was meant to be a cheery note to say the wind farm will be an interesting development in the area. Wind energy was used in the draining of the fens, before the arrival of steam, as well as for grinding corn and powering sawmills. See my post on Heckington Windmill, about which I will no doubt write more in future.

Photo of a wind farm above was taken from the window of the camper on our drive through the wolds. One below is a huge offshore one that you see from Skegness beach.

Skegness wind farm