Evening on Star Fen

Back home in the flatlands and out for an evening bike ride on Star Fen: I love this place for its pretty name and for being so quiet and remote, so close to our village.

The photos can’t do justice to the quality of the light at this time of day; nor to the cute and curious alpacas who live on the fen. The bike is my ‘second-best’ one, old but lovely, recently come here to live from my mum’s house and out for her first spin on the fen roads.

A day later I walked with Boston Ramblers on the last of their summertime evening walks. In July we walked until 9pm, but yesterday the light was fading fast when we finished at 8.15. We walked briskly by road and river at South Kyme (see South Kyme by Ferry Lane). I drove home into a dusky sky streaked with pink, watching the lights of combine harvesters on the dark road ahead.

Late summer is deceptive, a time of contrasts; in the still, slow heat plants are racing to reproduce and while some of us laze on bank holiday beaches farmers are working into the night to bring the harvest in.

Beauty, peace and engineering

Here are some more pictures from our recent trip along the beautiful Shropshire Union and Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canals. I resisted the temptation to post another video, this time of the boat slowly catching up with some pedestrians on the towpath.

Canal trips have some of the things I like most about England: lovely countryside, birds and waterside plants and amazing engineering. Locks are wonderful pieces of work. Some stretches of the northern canals are particularly amazing: I can never get my head round why anyone thought of taking boats and water over the Pennines.

There is something exciting, as in a children’s story, about seeing the world from a different angle, as you do from the water. A different pace, a different perspective: I come home refreshed.

Rural idyll

Another video post for you. We are spending a few days on a narrowboat on the Shropshire Union Canal. This was the scene early on Monday morning, at our first overnight mooring. Tuesday morning, some miles further on, was very similar, although this time an overwhelming smell of slurry wafted up from the surrounding fields.

Outside

Shropshire Union

I write this sitting in the campervan in the dark, something over 100 miles due west of Heckington. We’re parked at a marina beside the Shropshire Union Canal: very English, very rural but different to the landscape we left this afternoon. This is border country; green hills and mists of Wales beckon, instead of cold marshes and bracing winds.

A nice surprise at the pub tonight was a gig by a young singer-songwriter called Heidi Browne (www.heidibrowne.co.uk). Her dad sang I Can’t Stand the Rain, but I love it against the van windows. It’s a tiny campsite and we’re in the car park, but walking to the toilet block in the rain and the dark, it is every campsite I’ve ever stayed on and my spirits lift.

I remember this feeling of freedom, expansion, contentment from every year that we used to camp in France when family were younger. Now I have it when I walk down the garden or to the garage, or to the field with the dog. Now I wonder how I didn’t know how much I craved outdoor space; or how, knowing it, I let myself live without it for so long.

When my two-year old granddaughter visits, the first thing she does on coming downstairs in the morning is run to the back door and try to open it. ‘Outside! Outside!’ she cries. I know just how she feels.

Audlem Wharf

Wool country

Wandering sheep
The fens are full of beautiful churches, spires visible for miles across the sea-like landscape, towering over the remote villages to which they belong. These were prestige building projects back in the early fourteenth century or before, paid for by landowners made wealthy by sheep and the wool trade with Flanders.

The pretty lamb in the picture above is a Gotland, a rare breed originating in Sweden and not the kind of sheep that would have grazed Lincolnshire fields back then. I met her and the rest of the flock at Burton Pedwardine, a village just two miles from Heckington: see Pedwardine Gotlands for more information.

It was a great morning, a novel experience. I have never met such friendly sheep! They behaved like dogs, wanting to be petted and pawing at me with their hooves if I seemed to be ignoring them. The reason I was there was to see about getting some of their wool when they are next sheared, to use it for felt-making. It’s lovely wool, with curls, in pretty colours and makes good felt. There may also be meat from the lambs later in the year; but will I be able to eat it when I’ve met them all by name? The jury’s out on that one…

Meanwhile in our own church of St Andrews, Heckington, I find an unlikely art exhibition. Woolly Spires showcases the results of a community knitting project and yes, it is just what it sounds like: knitted churches.

They are quite something: St Botolph’s, Boston (the famous Boston Stump), St Denys’, Sleaford and St Mary & St Nicholas, Spalding rendered in faithful detail, all in wool.

The wool for the woolly spires is all from the local breed, the Lincoln Longwool, which became important in the 18th century and of which I saw many at the wonderful Heckington Show recently. They are impressive, dreadlocked animals, but I have to say that I prefer the cheery, cheeky Gotlands pictured below.

Gotland sheep in field