Horbling Fen & the South Forty Foot

Horbling FenI went for a walk yesterday for the first time in ages. I drove to Horbling Fen, about twenty minutes away from Heckington, to buy meat from Fen Farm Venison and collect some chicken and beef that they were looking after for me, which came from wonderful Green Poultry down in the Cambridgeshire fens. It was a very cold but brilliantly sunny day and I was delighted to be out in all that space and light again. I walked from Fen Farm along to the South Forty Foot Drain (also called the Black Sluice Navigation) which will one day in future be part of the Fen Waterways Link – unless the age of austerity sees off this exciting project. I took photos at the point where a little natural waterway, called Ouse Mere Lode, empties into the Forty Foot. I love all these watery names.

The landscape was drenched in light and colour: bright greens, straw-yellow, chocolate earth, black stick trees. After a tiring few days away I was so revived by this hour’s walk in empty fields under the vast sky with only a few birds for company. The flatness of the landscape reminds me of the sea; it gives me that same sense that I could walk forever, towards the sky where it meets the land, horizon at my feet, infinity almost tangible. I am so small here and so free: I exult in insignificance.

I have felt distant recently both from the landscape and this blog. Yesterday’s short walk, the light and fields brought back to me my pleasure when I first started writing. I thought of favourite older posts on emptiness, isolation, landscape as art, and of other photos taken in fields and on bright days and evenings. ‘All sky and geometry,’ Close to the edge, A walk on Star Fen and Walking it off are some of them: I remember places, the images and the writing and how they made me feel. Now I write this sitting on a crowded evening train from Leeds to Grantham. It is dark outside as we all tap away at our little screens; but in my mind’s eye is a patchwork of colour, birds sing and I am walking in the sky.

More photos on the Facebook page as always.

Where waters meet


On the road

Bassingthorpe turn off

Another random landscape, this time taken from the car window when I was en route between home and my mother’s house near
Cambridge. Looking at it now, in some lights, some moments, it is nothing much; but I remember how it grabbed me as I turned off the road for a quick break from driving. Perhaps this year I am astonished less often by views of landscape, as my drives along certain routes become more familiar, but still there are times when some juxtaposition of field and sky shouts out at me as I come round a bend in the road to meet it; making me shout in turn. There is always so much sky and it is different every day. As I have said in other posts (this one or this one), I love the blocks and colours, lines and angles of this so-English landscape; nature and agriculture making art together under the light, wide sky.

A holiday feeling


We’ve had a few days away, taking Doris the dog and the campervan off to visit cousins in Suffolk and friends in Essex. In Colchester one morning I found myself in last-days-of-summer, holiday mood, seeing colours, shapes and interest in the most ordinary of corners.

I wonder what brings on these hard-to-pin-down states. This was a sunny day, with winter forecast to arrive the following morning and so there was a definite sense of carpe diem; and our friends are especially easy and relaxing to be with. But still, what was there about a small coffee bar and a medium-interesting art exhibition (Xerography at Colchester’s new art gallery) that felt like being in some little town in Picardy on the last day of a French camping holiday?

Part of me says, don’t analyse, just be open to the surprise and the fun, accept this grace with grace. Another part of me says why save all our analysis for the miserable days? So here I am marking a happy morning, giving it a little attention and thanks.

A few more photos are on the new Facebook page.

Church door, Colchester

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

On the beach

Artist Pat van Boeckel, in his brilliant installations in St Andrews, Heckington (see More art + church) used a soundtrack of waves breaking because, he said, of churches and the sea both being places where people go to think, in search of space and a kind of silence.

The soundtracks for the beaches here would be birds crying more than waves pounding. The pictures, taken mainly by partner, not me, are from low-tide beaches in Cornwall, Le Touquet, Skegness and Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe, wide-open spaces where water, sand and sky stretch out for miles to merge in the distant horizon.

[Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe is a bit of a cheat as it is mudflats more than beach, but never mind…]

Like the fenland landscape round my village, these are places where the sky dominates, where we feel small in all the emptiness and / but there is space to think.

Outside inside

Screen 1

This was the last weekend of the ALTered art events at St Andrews Church; and this picture is of Emily Tracy’s ‘Screen’ (see Modern art in a medieval world) on Saturday evening. As we arrived there were children running in and out of the doorway, looking up at the trees and searching for a mouse lurking somewhere in the picture.

This modern screen stood where there would once have been a wooden rood screen in the past, between the nave and the chancel, separating priest and laity. But this screen invites the visitor into the chancel to play and discover the animals and plants that decorate the medieval church.

I loved the trees ‘growing’ in the centre of the church. In the same way as those who made the exuberant carvings of human, animal and plant life hundreds of years ago, an artist has once more brought the outdoor, living world into this space of stone and light and quietness.

More art + church


I’ve been hanging out in church all weekend, besotted with video installation by Dutch artist Pat van Boeckel. It is part of the ALTered project to do with art in Lincolnshire churches that I wrote about earlier this week (Modern art in a medieval world) and there is more to come next weekend.

The image above, taken from my attempt to film using my iPad, gives you just a tiny idea of what it was like – this is part of a projection onto the back wall of the church which made the stone look like windows with people peering through them.

It was surprising, funny, moving, thought-provoking – what a treat, just yards from our own front door. And magical – like something from Narnia, Elidor, Philip Pullman, Harry Potter (solid stone or the back of a wardrobe becomes a doorway into somewhere else; people in one world look through to another, not knowing what they see).

There was more great stuff. Can’t describe it all – look forward to more art in churches – what a lovely project.

Not much work done in the garden today as a result of all this art – just as well tomorrow is a bank holiday!

Not quite so crafty

Coil pot
… or rather, not so craftsmanlike as the lovely 14th century carving in my last post.

But dear to me nevertheless: my second pot, glazed and fired, brought home from my pottery class – see A lumpy thing but mine own.

This is a coil pot, slightly less lumpy than the first one (though still weighs a ton). As I mentioned in Scenes from a country churchyard, I’ve been playing on the wheel in recent weeks, which I have loved. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow, Friday, when I hope to bring home a collection of small bowls of different shapes but all with thick bottoms, that I saw going into the kiln last week.

Since the church visit last weekend, I’ve been thinking about what I get, what we get from looking at ancient art or artefacts. The Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year was awe-inspiring, including pieces thousands of years old, with that feel of great age and also complete modernity about them.

If we could meet the medieval stonemasons and stonecarvers who worked on St Andrews Church, we might struggle to understand their speech. But their hands and eyes would have been the same as ours today and we can feel connected to them when we look on the things they made.

I imagine what they were thinking when they were carving that sweet mermaid or grinning gargoyle. I think about feel of clay in my hands. I think how basic a part of being human it is to feel joy and satisfaction in making something.

Bring on pottery tomorrow – though today I am supposed to be reading and writing about family mediation! And the sun is shining and the garden beckons.

Modern art in a medieval world


Had a fun afternoon at the church today. Artist Emily Tracy is making an installation for St Andrews, as part of the Altered project (new art in rural churches). She and her art historian father, Charles Tracy put on a tour of the church and talked about her work, Screen, being shown on 11th/12th May

St Andrews was built in the early fourteenth century and has amazing carvings both inside and out (see earlier post). Gargoyles outside are weathered, intriguing and appealing. But my favourites are the indoor carvings: the intricate decoration, the tiny cameos, sometimes comic, beautifully portrayed. The little mermaid above is one and the man eating fruit below is another.

The mermaid is on the Easter Sepulchre, where in the past the host was put to rest on Good Friday before, as was described to us, being brought out on Easter Sunday and placed on the altar in a triumphant ceremony.

Along with mermaids, the Easter Sepulchre is decorated with carvings of abundant, cheerful foliage, making me think of the triumph, the victory that is Spring when life and warmth and growth return. There is little triumph in this spring of 2013, when all over the country farmers are looking at brown fields where there should be fresh green grass for animals to eat. It was bitterly cold again, still, as we walked round the churchyard today.

But the stone carvings, with their leaves and flowers and human faces from almost seven hundred years ago, are irrepressibly cheerful, even, to me, the grimacing gargoyles pointing the way to hell. I hope some of them find their way onto Emily’s Screen.

Man and fruit

No longer the dog field…

Disaster; there are sheep in the dog field. No good for letting lurchers off the lead; the sheep would certainly be worried. Tried the sports ground in the village, where we’re told many people walk their dogs, but Naughty Doris nipped through a gap in the hedgerow and did one of her disappearing acts over huge field (see Spot the Dog post of a while ago). A long wait for partner and much kindly concern from fellow dog-walkers until Doris turned her back on exciting scents of muntjac and fox and came trotting back, ready for the more solid pleasures of breakfast.

Nice woman with collie dog has mentioned walking at Haverholme Park, a little way beyond the village of Ewerby, a couple of miles from Heckington. So off I go on my bike to scout it out.

As I head for home there is heavy cloud above. In the south is a fat stripe of light, a wash of blue, white, pink between the dark land and the dark cloud. I love this landscape for just being itself, unassuming and unromantic, and I love it for being like a piece of abstract art: all blocks and stripes, light and colour, saying so little, containing so much.

And with each turn in the road, I see a church spire against the sky: Asgarby, Ewerby, Heckington. Tiny Howell’s church is ancient and beautiful, but small, so you come upon it almost without warning.