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.


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

‘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:

Line to Boston


Mill view

It’s been a busy week, including a short visit from two-year-old granddaughter sans parents. Great fun – and full on, as they say.

Handed her back at Doncaster station rendezvous on Friday; then I was off to my placement to do a mediation. By the time I had retrieved the van from Grantham station and was driving home I was very tired. So I turned off the main road earlier than usual and drove very slowly along narrow country roads, getting out once or twice to take a photo of fields.

This picture is taken from the road into Heckington from the nearby village of Burton Pedwardine. In the distance you can see Heckington Windmill.

Fields of wheat are like a green sea stretching out to the far horizon; close up you can see each individual plant, each ear of grain. They remind me of looking at Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles at the Tate in Liverpool some years ago. Hundreds of little clay figures spread out to fill a whole room, like a field or a sea. Yet each is a unique figure, the whole seems a metaphor for humanity; we are a mass and within the mass each individual is huge, complex, unique, valuable.

It is too much for my poor brain to contemplate on this particular day, the vast and the minuscule; vertigo brought on by corn standing in a field.


A train of contrasts

Mill and station

Here is Heckington station, early Friday morning, with Heckington Windmill behind it and the man opening the level crossing for the 6.27 to Nottingham. This is when I have to leave the village on rare days when I have an early appointment at my family mediation placement in Doncaster. This first train of the morning is only one carriage long; and station and train are both very quiet.

It was a very different picture on the way home, getting on the train at Grantham (see Of trains, work and people). There were two hen parties on their way to Skegness, one group of women already wearing pink fluffy ears. I have been on the train a few other times when it has been full of suitcases and people in holiday mood. Summer is here, in spirit if not weather.

Also at Grantham a small child watched the train pull in and said in amazement to her mother, ‘It’s little! It’s little!’

The Poacher Line, as it is called, is a community rail partnership. It is indeed little, but also local and lovely.

At the farmers’ market

Friends from Manchester will remember that we used to buy our meat from the farmers’ markets in Piccadilly and Chorlton, most of it from brilliant Savin Hill Farm in the Lyth Valley in Cumbria. Other favourites were Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire at Piccadilly and Winter Tarn Organic Farm at Chorlton Green.

We miss them, but are happy to have another farmers’ market on the doorstep – once a month at Sleaford, the town five miles away from Heckington. The above photos are of stalls I visited there this morning. This being a farming area, the stallholders are almost all from Lincolnshire; producers at the Manchester market travel from as far as the north of Cumbria. Talking to farmers reminds me just how hard they work to produce food for the rest of us to eat.

Mount Pleasant Windmill (see first picture) is one of several working windmills in the county – along with our own local one (Heckington Windmill); I think they are brilliant, amazing things to have around us here.

Not surprisingly, I heard several jokes today about ‘only beef here.’ No one selling horse though; ostrich, but not horse.

Heckington Fen wind farm

Wind farm from car

It’s strange to have the area in the news briefly, when most people we know from our old life had never heard the name Heckington before. Ecotricity, green energy developers and suppliers, has had plans for some time for a big wind farm development on Heckington Fen, a few miles away from us. It’s been in the news this week because it has finally been approved.

The pattern of development here is interesting. There is a string of villages along what is called the fen edge, from Heckington and southwards to Bourne, each with a rectangular parcel of fen stretching eastwards from the village. So Heckington Fen itself is quite a way from the village it belongs to. There is a much smaller settlement, East Heckington, which will be more immediately affected by the development.

There is no doubt that gigantic turbines change the view across this open, agricultural landscape, as electricity pylons did when they first appeared. And, like pylons, they have a strange grace all their own. When I hear people call them ugly, I think, no, ‘ugly’ is Aberfan, is Chernobyl, Windscale. Our insatiable desire for energy, at low cost and with a childish disregard of consequences for other people in other places, other times, is certainly ugly when you look it in the face.

Enough of that: this was meant to be a cheery note to say the wind farm will be an interesting development in the area. Wind energy was used in the draining of the fens, before the arrival of steam, as well as for grinding corn and powering sawmills. See my post on Heckington Windmill, about which I will no doubt write more in future.

Photo of a wind farm above was taken from the window of the camper on our drive through the wolds. One below is a huge offshore one that you see from Skegness beach.

Skegness wind farm

The wheels on the bus…


Time disappears, perspective shrinks with a baby and a toddler visiting the house. Never mind hundreds of years of history, creative thoughts and suchlike. Days are taken up with porridge, bath, nappies, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Maisie’s Train, The Wheels On The Bus; and where is the toddler, where are the dogs, who’s picking up the baby and so on and so on. Tiny details become everything: the difference between a delighted smile and a panic-stricken frown on the face of a small person, the little stone in the path suddenly fascinating to a tottering toddler; a new word, a new skill, every eyelash on the babies’ eyes you spend so long staring into while willing them to sleep. So much staring: you can see those cogs whirring. Such tiny bodies and such amazing brains!

Maisie’s Train, the book I forgot to take on the train the other day, is a hit. My favourite new book Is ‘A Bit Lost,’ about a baby owl falling out of the nest and being reunited with Mummy. It’s by Chris Haughton, beautifully drawn and lovely colours, funny and sweet.

Took toddler with us to buy flour from Heckington Windmill and sample the strudel at the Mill House Tea Rooms. Meanwhile daughter’s partner has been cutting down some of the many leylandii that surround our future vegetable garden (pictured below). Good work!


A sense of history

So far only a few people have posted comments on this blog. I’m hoping for more as time goes on, since I’m loving the ones that have arrived. I’ve enjoyed friends making connections with places I’ve mentioned in my posts on Heckington Windmill and Skegness.

But most of all I like all the comments on my post called this too shall pass about the sense of perspective or wonder or groundedness that comes from the presence of the past around us in landscape, buildings or objects. I loved history as a child, at school and later at university and I am still always prodded into musing and wonderment when I find myself in an old church or gazing at ancient hedgerows and fields. Most of all I find myself pondering on the ways in which people living, say 400 years or 800 years ago were like or unlike us living here today. Which, again, is part of my enduring interest in what makes us human and makes us like other humans, and in the connections and divisions between one part of humanity and another.

And I’m interested as well, reading the comments, on how for some of us it is landscape or buildings, the physical environment, that give us that sense of roots and history, whereas for others it may be found in ancient tools or household objects.

So if you’ve not looked at this too shall pass and the comments on it, go and have a look now. You can get to the individual posts with their comments via the links in the text above.

Heckington Windmill

Heckington Windmill

The windmill is ten minutes walk from our house, next to the station. It’s a working mill, though at the moment not working while the recently restored sails are waiting to be put on again. When they’re back on, we’ll be making our daily bread from wheat grown and milled less than a mile away from home.

We went in today to join up as friends – Sunday is opening day in winter – and had a very interesting look around – then delicious cherry and apricot strudels from the tea shop.