Going home with Glory

Today I have been mostly hanging out at a sheep shearing, with the Gotland sheep mentioned in an earlier post (Wool Country) who live in the hamlet of Burton Pedwardine, two miles from Heckington.

Gotland fleece is great for felting and spinning and this flock includes some Shetland/Gotland crosses whose wool is being spun in the picture above. I saw a wonderful range of colours today: bright snow-white fleeces, others dark underneath and creamy-brown on top; one fleece coming off the sheep looked like a heap of coal, it was so black and lustrous.

Most of the sheep have names. This year’s lambs all begin with ‘G’, sounding like a roll-call from ancient myth or testament: (Gideon, Gabriel, Grendel, Gaia). And there was Grayling, the fetching sheep whose picture I took on my last visit, and Glory, with a delicious dark fleece. Each fleece is bagged up separately with its name on it and almost all are sold long before they come off the sheep.

I’m looking forward to making felt again with this lovely wool. I came home tired and happy, with Glory on the bike behind me.

Close to the edge

Road to nowhere

This is my 100th post. Nine months ago we moved ‘from the city to the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens,’ as it says in the strapline above.

Heckington is indeed a village on the edge. Sitting at a fine height of ten metres above sea level, it is one of a string of villages which mark the western border of the fens in these parts.

To the west of these villages is a very English farmland landscape: an undulating patchwork of fields and hedgerows in shades of green, brown, gold. But when you travel east you cross the 5 metre contour line and then, on the map, there are no more wavy contour lines, just the straight, blue lines of drainage ditches dividing the fields.

Each village has its own parcel of fenland: South Kyme (South Kyme by Ferry Lane), Howell (No longer the dog field..), Heckington, Great Hale, Little Hale and so on, along a roughly north-south line down to the town of Bourne, each with a fen named after it.

These are the real flatlands, a pancake-flat, sea-like expanse stretching from here to the Wash. Long, straight farm roads or ‘droves’ take you out onto the fen, often coming to an abrupt end at Car Dyke (A walk on Star Fen) or further south, at the larger, though less ancient South Forty Foot Drain.

Yesterday I walked at twilight down Howell Fen Drove, picking elderberries, meeting not one other single soul, hearing nothing but the wind and my own footsteps. Ahead of me hung a three-quarters moon in a limpid, china blue sky, behind me cloudy pink reflections of the setting sun; light fading with every yard.

The eerie, empty world excited, elated and then scared me as the darkness grew. I though of Robert Macfarlane walking a sea path in mist (in The Old Ways) and then I was on another ghostly walk, from Alan Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath (a childhood favourite), with padding footsteps of the Horned Hunter behind me on the road.

So that road’s end is to be seen another day. I turned back to my real-world, parked van and the dubious safety of driving home in darkness with my less than perfect eyesight. But I am glad for that hour out of time on a road to nowhere. Part of me is walking there still, weightless, breathing, free.

Field on Howell Fen

Woodlands Organic Farm

We went on a farm walk at Woodlands Organic Farm the other day. I’ve mentioned them a couple of times before – the people we were getting a veg box from before we had our own food from the garden (Vegetable Stories and On my bike).

Woodlands is in the fens near Boston, a mixed farm growing vegetables and raising livestock. We saw cattle, chickens, pigs and turkeys – all good fun. Partner’s big interest is vegetables and luckily we were allowed to wander off to the market garden and admire the serried ranks of lettuces and polytunnels full of peppers and tomatoes.

I love cattle. My childhood bedroom faced onto a field of cows, so close that on summer nights I fell asleep to the rhythmic sound of them munching grass, comforting as waves breaking on a shore.

I like these young Lincoln Red cattle, so glossy, energetic and curious as they are; I wish they didn’t exist only so we could eat them. I probably should be vegetarian – but I’m not.

I find much to bemoan in how our food is produced, in the challenges faced by farmers and especially by those who want to farm organically, sustainably, humanely. So a day like this one, seeing an organic farm in the flesh, as it were, was cheering and inspiring.

And our lunchtime soup was nice too.

Not-so-wild swimming

I love swimming outdoors. I am a bit of a wimp though, about the fish, weed, mud that may lurk in rivers and lakes – not a wild swimmer at all. So what I really, really love is an outdoor pool. Through many years of family holidays in France, I always found us a campsite with a pool. Every morning I would be there, ploughing up and down in the water, amid birdsong, pine trees, scents of rosemary and lavender.

So imagine my delight when I found found that Heckington has its own tiny, outdoor, community swimming pool. At the Ladies Swim yesterday evening I watched rays of the setting sun fall on tree tops and the church tower; I heard birds singing and was transported back to a favourite Provençal hillside with lavender and views of vineyards.

Walking home in the twilight I felt contented beyond measure. Today I have been thinking about moments of joy in my old life back in Manchester, moments of sunlight through trees and the company of lovely friends. I used to feel anxious even as I felt happy, afraid of the joy passing and the gloom returning.

Here in this new life, in this still-new-to-us village, there is plenty to worry about (money, work, family… all the usual things), but something else is different. When a brilliant moment comes, I no longer fear its passing; I know another one will be along in a while.

Last Ladies Swim of the season next Monday. Looking forward to it already. I like it here.