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

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.

A lumpy thing, but mine own

First bowl

This is here for no good reason other than to show you my first finished pot from my pottery class at The End Room, in the pretty village of Newton. It weighs a ton, as beginners’ pots tend to do; and it is rather lumpy. However, it is the first pot I have made since I left Brixton, twenty three years ago, and I am therefore ridiculously pleased to have done it and brought it home.

It is a coil pot – I never got very confident with coils in my earlier attempts at learning to make pottery – so decided I should try and get over my negative feelings about them. There is another one in the making – maybe a little less lumpy this time, but still pretty hefty.

I’m really enjoying playing with clay again – the feel of it is wonderful.

And I love the drive over to the pottery. Last week, before the class, I went to collect a piece of beef, to make Spiced Salt Beef, from a farm (Bassingthorpe Beef) over in the same direction, near Grantham. I had a wonderful adventure of a drive, through back roads and tiny villages, through a quietly beautiful landscape, so empty of people but full of human cultivation. It reminds me of drives in France on family holidays, when partner and I would sneak off to visit small wine producers, finding ourselves on rough tracks that seemed barely fit for cars, winding round mountains, finding amazing views, wild boar piglets and friendly winemakers. No wine or mountains here, no tourists, less money than in the south of France; but the same quietness, open fields, tiny settlements and people living on the land, getting on with the business of growing and making.

And though no wine, I feel drunk with the subtle beauties of this landscape.