Distant relations

February sky with church

Two hundred years ago a great-great-great-grandfather of mine left Kirmington in North Lincolnshire to become a non-conformist minister in Cheshire. I know this because my grandfather and a cousin wrote an account of their research into the family’s history going back many centuries.

At different times over the years I have dipped into this family story; but I began reading it again with more interest after arriving in the county that my ancestor came from.

When George the young non-confirmist left home, the family had been living in Lincolnshire for nearly five hundred years. When Heckington’s church (pictured above against a late afternoon sky) was being built during the second half of the fourteenth century, my great-times-16 grandfather was living at Ingoldmells, now a holiday resort on the long, flat, sandy coast north of Skegness.

The church at Ingoldmells is Norman, with a square tower, not a pointy one like Heckington’s. But ancestor Thomas would have seen churches like this being built in his lifetime. He could have seen winter trees and stone spires like this against vast Lincolnshire sunset skies.

It’s a tenuous link, one male line threading back through the years, traced by the accident of a name. There are tens of thousands of great-times-16 grandparents to whom I am as much or as little connected and of whom I know nothing.

But it is a connection, a link with our medieval past that I feel nearer to since moving here. It really gives me a kick.

A sense of history: in Boston

Boston Stump

Boston, Lincolnshire is not often in the news but was last week because of a terrible storm and flooding. Boston was a very important medieval port but the silting up of the River Witham, which empties into The Wash brought decline. It is still a watery town, with the river and big man-made drains carrying water from the Fens, running through it.

I was in Boston the day before the storm. It’s a half hour walk from the station to Pilgrim Hospital, grey and overcast on my way there and brilliant sunshine on the return journey (the latter sadly painful, after laser treatment on my eyes). My route took in St Botolph’s Church (otherwise known as Boston Stump and visible for miles across the fenland fields), Maud Foster Drain, Maud Foster Windmill and a lovely footpath through winter allotments. All the photos are on the Facebook page.

Medieval England feels very alive to me here in this part of the country, as it did when I was growing up near Cambridge. I don’t know why it holds such a spell for me; and I know that perhaps it makes little sense of speak of half a millennium (from the 11th century, say, to the 16th) as one period. But when, as on Saturday night, I sit in my village church, built in the 1300s and listen to a carol from the 1500s, when I lay my hands on the massive stone pillars, I feel I touch, across the centuries, the hands of those who built the church or who came, generation after generation to worship there.

On that day in Boston, crossing bridges, river, drains, I had a powerful, vivid sense of another Boston, in its twelfth century heyday, waterways full of boats and men and ropes and shouting; it seemed very near me, almost seen, as though through a veil.

I could have been sad, for what has passed, but I felt instead an exciting sense of timelessness, of today’s Boston containing still that other town, as we each hold all our past and all our future.

Maud Foster Drain

Happy Blog Birthday

From the park
This was one of my favourite views back where I used to live in Manchester; and this photo of it was taken this time last year. Coming home through Chorlton Park, I would look through trees to little rows of little houses running down to allotments and the park.

For a few seconds home looked like part of somewhere greener, smaller, without the surrounding acres of buildings, cars and people.

More photos taken back in December 2012 are on the Facebook page.

Now home is marked by the church tower seen across flat fields, sometimes from miles away. It is very strange to read my first post, written one year ago today, written when we were making ready to move but had no idea what the new place would be like.

It was a planned move, a long-desired move, but a step into the unknown for all that.

I stepped into a new life and found myself at home.

Grantchester: bringing it all back home

Footpath to Barton

I’ve had a brief visit to Grantchester, where I grew up, to see my mum and to go to the Advent Carol Service in Kings College Chapel, a great treat.

As a teenager I used to queue with friends for the more famous Christmas service, but the service for Advent is my favourite. There is always some very early music which I love. So in this flying visit I spent time in a beautiful, old building, listening to beautiful and ancient music; and took pictures of winter farmland.

The medieval world and the outdoor world are both part of the fabric of my childhood and adolescence. Much of what I have written in this blog deals with a sense of connection to the past and to a particular landscape (see Childhood landscape and Landmarks in a flat country). On Thursday it will be the first anniversary of beginning the blog and soon after that, the anniversary of us moving to Heckington.

So my next few posts will be a kind of retrospective; a chance to think about what I have learned about connection to place and people through this adventure of moving to somewhere new and finding myself at home. I will put up my first few posts from this time last year on the Facebook page.

I have also put up an album of photos taken in Grantchester, some, but not all, of which have appeared in earlier posts. The Facebook page is public, like a business page or website, so you don’t have to have a Facebook account in order to visit it and look at photos. You would have to be on FB yourself in order to ‘like’ the page or post comments on it.

I have loved writing this blog; it has been a focus for my thinking about history, place, belonging and so on. It has also been a reason to take more photos than I had done for a long time before.

So thank you to everyone who has come along for the ride, especially those of you who have been reading and following since very early on. You know who you are!

Bridle Way

Cross-country

Here is England, seen fleetingly through the van window, from Heckington to Manchester and back again. We pass fields of sheep and steelworks, cranes and turbines, service stations, farm shops, church towers heading for heaven, footpaths winding off the page. We travel across England’s middle, through green England, tarmacked England, under impossible, painted skies of blue and white and thunder-grey. And as I look out, and when I remember it later, writing these words, I can taste the green and the rain and the grit and I could eat it up, it’s so good.

No head for heights

More church-related blogging today: there was an open day at St Andrews Church today, including a chance to go up the church tower.

I remember climbing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa when I was 21 and not being scared. In later life I have become much more frightened of high places. The views were great from the top of the tower, but the ancient stone parapet felt flimsy, crumbling and shaky under my hands – strange clash between sensation and reality.

The iPad didn’t make it to the top as I wanted both hands to help me up the narrow, uneven steps – so can’t show you Boston Stump visible across 12 miles of flat fenland. But we also saw the roof close up, the church clock that chimes every quarter hour and the 8 bells that make such a great noise on Sundays and on Tuesday evenings.

The non-church picture in the gallery is a kestrel, part of a display of birds of prey outside in the churchyard. She was chattering and grumbling when we went to look at her, ‘being mardy,’ her keeper said – very beautiful and with, I’m sure, an excellent head for heights.

South Kyme via Ferry Lane

I took my bike out in brilliant sunshine yesterday, up to a village called South Kyme (see Monochrome post from back in the winter, one of our very first walks in the area).

I stopped for my first photos by the River Slea, on Ferry Lane, near Ferry Farm – maybe there was a ferry here once…

South Kyme church was once part of a large Augustinian priory founded in the twelfth century. Nearby is Kyme Tower (see link above for picture) which is all that is left of a fourteenth century castle.

The cows are Dexters, a small, slow-growing breed, rather shaggy and nice-looking; but these ones were too far away for me to talk to.

After cows and church, three miles on road shared with too many lorries, then home on the fen road, Littleworth Drove (see A walk on
Star Fen)
, glowing with exercise, virtue or both.