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.

Coming home

Field and sky near Dembleby

I’m back, I think.

I’ve not finished my other writing yet; and I’m still musing on what this blog is about now that my Lincolnshire life is no longer shiny new, now that I’m seeing and doing things for the second not the first time.

But in recent days I have found myself thinking often of this, and you, my readers; and on Tuesday evening I had a moment, en route home from a visit to my mum’s near Cambridge, that felt a very blog moment.

After the M11, A14, A1 and A52 I turned at last onto the back roads for my last, cross-country half hour. Imagine yourself with me in the sudden peace as I stopped the car here: no more road noise, engine noise, the A52 only yards and another world away. I heard birdsong, breathed cool, sweet air and looked over golden fields and a limpid blue sky: just a small road on its way to a small village somewhere in England, and something like heaven.

And oh the irony that my first thought is to share this sense of peace with the world, when what I am loving is the emptiness and people being so beautifully not there!

The rest of the photos, as ever, on the Facebook page.

Urban glories

Chorlton sunset 1

Bit of a cheat, this post, since the photos are not mine. A good friend took them in Chorlton, where we used to live in Manchester before moving here to the lovely flatlands. He kindly said I could use them here.

I loved them when I first saw them as they reminded me of sunsets here and sunsets back there. They made me think of moments on the street or at the allotments when I would see an expanse of sky or shining light after rain, when I would forget to be ground down by the traffic and the noise and remember instead to wonder at beauty.

They remind me that there are glories around us wherever we are.

Chorlton sunset 2

A nice day out

Maps for a day out

On Sunday we went out. We abandoned the weeding, watering, sowing and digging and instead had a happy series of visits around the Lincolnshire Fens and Wolds.

First a brief stop at Sibsey Trader Windmill, one of several working windmills in the area. I love them so much for so many reasons: old technology still working today, locally produced flour, handsome landmarks in this flat country. Our very own Heckington Windmill has been out of action for a couple of years, but the restored sails go back on this summer; I can’t wait.

We collected lunchtime sandwiches from the mill tea rooms, then we were off into the Wolds, to the village of Candlesby and a specialist herb nursery. We came away happy, with sage, lemon thyme, rosemary, black peppermint, sorrel and mace. A kind friend brought tarragon, fennel, hyssop, dill and lovage to my birthday last month and so the newly-built herb bed will soon be full.

Next stop, Strawberry Fields near Stickford in the fens where owner Pam kindly showed us around the fields of organic vegetables she supplies to retailers all over the country, including the lovely Unicorn Grocery, back where we used to live. So, any Manchester friends reading this, if you buy your veg from Unicorn, chances are you have eaten Strawberry Fields’ produce. On a quiet and sunny Sunday the scene was idyllic: acres of luscious green plants stretching away under a huge sky. A row of scarecrows, looking like workers busy hoeing, were a reminder of the hard slog that goes into growing this good food.

Our last visit of the day was in the fens still but with a view of hills, near the village of East Keal where the Wolds begin to rise out of the flatlands. We were meeting some piglets, one of whom we will eat later in the year when she has grown up. We talked to their owners about pig breeds* and pork and smallholding as we watched the piglets scoffing their dinner. They were cute and fun; and I am going to find it strange eating an animal that I have met in person, as it were. But if I eat meat, I’d rather know that the animals were well looked after while they were alive. And so it goes on, the debate between my vegetarian ‘good angel’ and my demon inner-carnivore.

Flour, herbs, lettuces, bacon: and all in the spring sunshine. What a nice day.

Piglets

* These are Oxford Sandy and Blacks. For more info see this Rare Breeds Survival Trust fact sheet.

A moment at twilight

Sheep in the evening

Yesterday I was in Gainsborough, in the north-west corner of Lincolnshire. As I left, driving south out of the town, along the route of the River Trent which forms the border with Nottinghamshire at this point, there was the most amazing sunset sky, made more unreal and dramatic by the towers and smoke of refineries in front of it.

It was like a Turner painting, a post-apocalyptic film set, so surprising it made me shout out loud at first sight. I wanted to stop and look, but was in a line of traffic on a narrow road.

By the time I parked in the village of Marton the blazing colours were beginning to fade. But I saw a track leading into the sunset and raced down it. The late hour and low light made the iPad photos fuzzy, but they capture some of the atmosphere of my brief, impromptu walk. The rest of the pictures are on the Facebook page.

The first house we looked at when beginning on our journey to Lincolnshire back in 2012 was in this village. I found myself thinking yesterday how I might have been walking this track every day with our dogs. We would have been getting to know a very different part of the county, have met different people, be looking at different views; a strange thought.

The juxtaposition of sheep, sky and industry sums up some essence of England for me. My drive home in the dark was tiring so that the wonder and glory of twilight in Marton was lost for a while. But looking at the photos today makes me want to shout again. The spaciousness and solitude of moments like these, the colours, the textures and the light knock me out, over and over again. This place, this world is astonishing.

Sunset over the Trent

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.