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 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.

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

Not-so-wild swimming

I love swimming outdoors. I am a bit of a wimp though, about the fish, weed, mud that may lurk in rivers and lakes – not a wild swimmer at all. So what I really, really love is an outdoor pool. Through many years of family holidays in France, I always found us a campsite with a pool. Every morning I would be there, ploughing up and down in the water, amid birdsong, pine trees, scents of rosemary and lavender.

So imagine my delight when I found found that Heckington has its own tiny, outdoor, community swimming pool. At the Ladies Swim yesterday evening I watched rays of the setting sun fall on tree tops and the church tower; I heard birds singing and was transported back to a favourite Provençal hillside with lavender and views of vineyards.

Walking home in the twilight I felt contented beyond measure. Today I have been thinking about moments of joy in my old life back in Manchester, moments of sunlight through trees and the company of lovely friends. I used to feel anxious even as I felt happy, afraid of the joy passing and the gloom returning.

Here in this new life, in this still-new-to-us village, there is plenty to worry about (money, work, family… all the usual things), but something else is different. When a brilliant moment comes, I no longer fear its passing; I know another one will be along in a while.

Last Ladies Swim of the season next Monday. Looking forward to it already. I like it here.

Yet another sunset sky

Sky 1

This was taken from our bedroom window at about 9.30 pm. We have just moved from the back of the house to the front, seeing if early morning traffic noise (yes, there is some) disturbs us less than the noisy dawn chorus. The front of the house faces almost north, just a little west, so at this point in the year the sun goes down behind the houses across the road. Earlier in the year it was setting in the west, behind the church (see Moonrise and This too shall pass).

Picture below was an attempt to catch the very last little bit of light, at coming up to 11 at night. Looking forward to the longest day/shortest night, though with it comes the sadness of the days slowly beginning to shorten again.

Sky 2

A different piece of sky

Chorlton sky

I’ve been in Chorlton again for a short stay, seeing grandbabies and friends. I was struck by this view through a skylight when I arrived at the friend’s house where I was staying. Contrails from airplanes criss-crossed the sky, which was lit up with gold by the sun going down. It seemed an urban skyscape, fixing me in Manchester.

I’m on the way home as I write this, missing daughter and babies already but glad to be heading out of the city. I find the centre of Manchester exhausting – unused to it so quickly!

Last night was good, eating with friends at Arian, our favourite restaurant in Chorlton, where we had our leaving meal in December. Manchester friends or followers reading this, if you don’t already know Arian, go and try it. The Persian cooking is good, ingredients are fresh, tastes are interesting & genuine.

Lovely to see everyone, but Heckington, here I come!