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

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.

Losing the thread

Teasels

Two weeks have drifted by since my post written in the very first hours of 2014, when our New Year guests had gone to bed and I was contemplating the peculiar beauty of a post-dinner-party table. The crumpled napkins, stray unused cutlery, empty glasses gleaming in the last light from sputtering candles, all seemed to hold a faint essence of the people who had been eating and talking there, like ghost or dream-guests come out to play round the festive table while their corporeal selves were peacefully asleep.

This point in the year is always a hiatus, a gap in the normal order of things. Visitors come and go: extended family, friends from other countries, small grandchildren. The house is full of food, the garden is cold and wet. Without our dogs we have been outside even less than usual at this time of year.

And it is outside that makes me write and think, outside where the fields are abstract paintings; where greens and browns are soaked in light and the black of winter hedgerows is deep enough to drown in; where the ploughed earth is rich, scented, edible and my connection to it visceral.

So no outdoors means no blog posts, or not so many at least.

Yesterday I went to Doncaster and took pictures of sunrise and railway tracks on the way, pictures intended for here but I’ve written a different kind of post.

Today’s picture is from a walk of two or three weeks ago and very like lots of photos I took early last year. Passing my blog anniversary and the festive break has left me musing about what this year’s blogging will bring. Will my pictures all be like ones from the same time last year?

I didn’t expect photographs to become such a big part of the blog when I began it in Manchester; but I have loved taking them and looking at them. The landscape always looks like a picture to me now. I wish I could paint it as well as photograph it.

In any case, time to get out more – if only, today, as far as the end of the garden to fetch swede and leeks for supper.

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

‘All sky and geometry’

Field and gate

Soon we will have been in Lincolnshire a year. Autumn is moving into winter and the landscape is beginning to look bright and spare and empty as it did on my very first walks here.

I found the phrase ‘all sky and geometry,’ describing the fenland landscape, quoted from the poet John Clare on the Woodlands Farm website. Now I have found Clare’s collected works among my partner’s books and am reading his nature poetry for the first time. I love ‘all sky and geometry;’ it exactly describes the abstract art that I find around me, especially at this time of year (see this old post).

Today was cold but beautiful and I walked on Great Hale Fen, with low, slanting afternoon sun gilding the ploughed fields; I walked along Car Dyke, the drainage ditch dug by the Romans and then past the windmill and the station on my way home to Heckington.

The photos here, with their straight lines and angles, are ones which make me think of geometry, as well as art. Many of the lines are man-made: the railway, electricity cables, drainage ditches and field boundaries. But always, all around there is that flat-line of a horizon, earth meeting sky, outside us and beyond our reach.

The folk group, LAU play a piece called Horizontigo, a response to the fenland landscape by musician Kris Drever, who comes from Orkney. Here they are playing it. I love the title: and wonder if Horizontigo is what a friend was suffering from when she said all my blog photos of flat landscapes were making her dizzy (see Flat vs bumpy post).

More of the photos from my walk are on the Facebook page. Do pay it a visit and ‘Like’ it if you haven’t already.

And for more on John Clare and his poetry, see these recent pieces by George Monbiot and Andrew Motion:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/john-clare-poetry
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/18/featuresreviews.guardianreview5?guni=Article:in%20body%20link

Line to Boston

Flat Earth, Big Sky joins Facebook

Hundred Fen

I have only recently begun to use Facebook and this week I decided to set up a Facebook page for this blog.

Why? Good question. I’d like more people to read the blog – though I don’t know whether or not this will happen. I also plan to put up more photos here than there is space for on a blog post. And I’d like to see if a page will give a little more scope for people to comment or talk to me.

The blog began life as a diary of leaving and arriving, my meditations on why I wanted to be in one place and not another. I have surprised myself by how right this new place felt, as soon as I got here. I miss people back in Manchester every day; and every day I feel profoundly lucky to be where I am.

This virtual conversation with friends left behind has developed in various ways. Sometimes it feels like my little advertising campaign for this part of England, and perhaps for rural, agricultural England more generally. I have also begun to meet (virtually, of course) other Lincolnshire or East of England bloggers – an unexpected and fun development, so thoroughly twenty-first century.

And so to the Facebook page – the latest development. You can go to it via the link in the right-hand column here. You can also ‘like’ it and share it with any friends you think may like to look at pictures of flat fields and huge skies.

You will also notice that I have today changed the look of the blog a bit. I liked the old fonts and spacing on the page better than this current one, but I wanted to have the archives, Facebook box etc more visible and easy to find. In time I will find some nicer fonts.

House on Hundred Fen