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

6 thoughts on “Close to the edge

  1. It wasn’t quite after dark, just getting dark! It wasn’t my plan to go as darkness fell, but my afternoon and evening just got a bit late. Then I was sort of annoyed with myself afterwards at going so late that I got scared which perhaps spoiled the elation of the walk – but the absence of anyone else around made the walk extra special. I shall think more about the balance of elation and fear produced by isolation. Can one have the one without the other?

    Interesting walking in such an empty country place where there is no rational reason to be scared – because there are no people around – whereas most of my adult life I have been walking city streets at night wondering how scared I should be. The interesting bit, for me, is how one invents monsters to be frightened of when the people are not there…

  2. Great post and well done on reaching 100 posts. I’m really pleased you like Lincs. Some people don’t get on with the area at all. They find it quite remote but I find that is indeed some of it’s charm.
    We should all be able to walk any time of the day or night, like you said there was no rational reason to be scare but because we’re so used to only being out in the day time, our mind does tend to wander somewhat once the sun goes down. 🙂

    1. I’ve been wondering if the elation and the fear are simply part of the same excitement, rather than seeing the fear as a sort of spoiler. It’s the silence and isolation, being alone in a landscape on a walk like this that make it feel surreal and thus uplifting. And if surreal then anything can happen, which is frightening. Without the underlying fear perhaps one would never have that ‘out-of-this-world’ feeling. Hmmm…

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