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

 

1 year, 11 months ago…

…I began this blog, just two weeks before moving from Manchester to lovely Lincolnshire.

Before I started posting a friend gave me some advice: ‘Never blog about why you haven’t been blogging!’ It seemed sound to me, excuses and apologies never making for interesting reading; and I decided that when my posts became apologies it would be time to stop.

I posted 110 times in the first 12 months of the blog but in the past 11 months I have only written 27 posts. I think it is time…

I can think of reasons good and bad for the writing having dried up. It has been a hard few months, with family demands and problems taking me often away from home and distracting me from myself. I have had very little time for the walking, outdoors and landscape which inspired much of my thinking and writing last year. I have been preoccupied with worry about people I love but about whom I am not going to write about here. I have had less time to savour that sense of freedom and lightness that I have written about finding since moving to Heckington.

And yet, there is something more, something different. I began this when about to make a giant step (for me) into a new life and in the following months I explored what it meant to have made such a choice. At some point earlier this year I felt I had reached a different place in my understanding. I think I had said what I wanted to say here. But I have enjoyed writing and having people read my words and making new connections. So I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave – although I’ve written very little.

I’m winding up the blog in a month’s time, on my second blog birthday. Between now and then I am going to revisit posts I wrote along the way and reflect on the journey. In my first-ever post, Farewell Manchester, which appears below, I wrote about the things I would and wouldn’t miss about the city. I don’t miss all of them as much as I thought, though I miss people just as much as I knew I would.

This picture is from Chorlton Meadows, where I walked with my dogs for years and years. In the winter of 2011 it was an amazing winter wonderland. I miss seeing it in all its different hues and seasons. And oh I do miss my dogs!

Meadows Winter 2011

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.

There… and back again

We have been in Manchester this past weekend. The drive over the Pennines and back again can be slow, but there are glimpses of beautiful countryside to be had from the van windows as we pass – a few of which form today’s gallery above.

We have spent time with friends, daughter and grandchildren, all people very dear to us. Each encounter has been important, and fun, and yet I still find it unsettling being back where we used to live. Every bit of it is so familiar, it induces a kind of panic in me. It seems as though the new life, Heckington, is but a dream and I have not managed to leave after all.

On the way home I mused about why I find it so hard to go back. I think my separation from the place throws into relief the feelings of being trapped, stuck and powerless that I had over so many years. I feel cheered by this realisation that Manchester is not a terrible place; it is simply that I was often unhappy in the years I lived there.

I am happier now. Over this past year I have felt the happiness came from being in a place that feels so right for me. But perhaps there is another way of looking at it. Perhaps it is not the place so much as my act of choosing it that brings this lightness of heart, this sense of balance and freedom.

I am reminded of children’s adventure stories, of those moments when someone crosses into another world. There is a magic in the curiousity, faith and courage that take someone over a threshold into an unknown future. When we choose freely and step forward in hope, we claim some of that magic for ourselves.

I wrote this post back in April about some of the same set of feelings, though I didn’t see them so clearly then as now.

Travelling Light

Morning train

These are last week’s pictures of my train journey to Doncaster: the train at Heckington in grey morning light and then the view of fields and the sun coming up, seen from the train window.

I had been feeling a bit lost and disconnected for a few days, worried about work and money, uncertain about the future: perhaps suffering from a sense of anti-climax after passing the first anniversary of moving here.

But my spirits rose waiting at the station in the half light. Then, travelling while the sun came up, noticing sunrise being a little earlier, I felt excited and full of hope, my steps lighter. Nothing had changed except the sun had risen, just as it does every morning, every dawn. But perhaps every new dawn has a bit of magic in it.

Sunrise on the tracks

One year; two dogs

Doris

This time a year ago we moved and I wrote this post as we were about to leave Manchester.

Some hours later, about the time of day that I am writing this, the removal men were unpacking the van and I was walking two very fed-up lurchers round a strange village in the dark. They were not impressed by the trip over the Pennines in an over-stuffed campervan or by a late walk on the lead.

The new garden in the morning, with neighbouring cats to chase off, was better. But that first evening I felt like a very poor dog owner.

A year later both dogs are gone and we are bereft. Bob, everybody’s friend, the plucky three-legged character, died in the summer at nearly fifteen years old. Doris, our ‘young’ dog, was nearly thirteen by then – see Spot the dog and Poor Doris for more about her. She was getting a bit stiff with arthritis, but was still frisky in spirit and we expected her to be with us for some time more.

Yesterday, suddenly her back legs gave out and she couldn’t walk or even stand. We talked about investigations, x-rays, general anaesthetics, pain relief. We wanted to keep her longer but it felt that it would be entirely for us not for her. So we let her go and the house is desolate with no dog. In twenty years we have always had at least one.

I was planning a celebratory post about a year in Heckington for today. But all I can think about is that a year ago I had two dogs and now I have none. And then, ridiculously I start feeling guilty about making them move.

I know this is transferred guilt about having hurt people by my leaving (of which more another time). Really I know that no dogs, or people, died because I moved to Lincolnshire. I’m glad that Bob and Doris shared the beginning of our new life and I’m glad they had a garden for their last months.

But I do miss them: beautiful creatures, greedy scavengers, speed merchants, born-to-kill hunters, all of that and dear companions.

Bob

People and places, revisited

Sunset in the winter garden

So I ponder this paradox: that I don’t love this city, find little beauty or joy in its many faces, and yet so many places in it remind me of love.

I wrote this a year ago today, two days before leaving Manchester.

These themes, of connection to place and connection to people have continued to preoccupy me in the past year while I have been writing this blog. Many people, I guess, though definitely not everyone will have a time in their life when they face this kind of split; when the people they love and the place where they feel at home are far apart.

As I have approached the anniversary of us moving here, I have been missing Manchester friends and family very much, both a wider group of people we had known over many years and a few, very close friends, and my daughter and grandchildren, whose company I miss every day.

And yet I wouldn’t go back. There has not been one minute, one time since arriving here when I wished myself living in Manchester again.

In Manchester I used to try to summon up a sense of homecoming as I approached my house, my street after being away; but my pleasure at coming home to my loved ones, my familiar surroundings, was always tinged with nelancholy. How odd to have lived in a place for so long and never loved it. Is it something wrong with me or just that we didn’t fit?

If I left here and came back, I imagine myself falling on my knees, digging my hands in the earth like an exile coming home.

In fact sometimes I want to do just that, even now: the earth looks so luscious in the bare, ploughed winter fields.