It was a sultry summer day, not very hot, but humid. There was a decadent end of summer feel even though it was only towards the end of July. I decided that August would be a herald of autumn rather than a glorious finish to the season, and so it was necessary to make the best of it, dress light and step out with determination along the languid maze of lanes that thread the countryside to the west of the great spine of the Malverns. Beyond that tawny ridge to the east I knew there are motorways, cities and the hundred million distractions of modern life. But here, west of that sheltering spine, just silence apart from what Heaney so memorably called ‘the distant gargling of tractors’. On the verges the thresh of bleached grasses is soaked in dew, there is a sense of rot about to happen, but for now the air is damp but cool and the lanes are empty and inviting. The sky is a mix of clouds and clarity. Sometimes for half an hour it appears to be going to cloud up completely and looks ominous, but the next moment the vapours dissolve and the sky goddess is back in her glory…
The Castle Hill area of Cambridge is almost certainly the oldest continuously inhabited part of the city – it is here that the Roman fort was established in the first century CE. Perhaps this is why the whole area, which is still a tangle of streets and alleyways, once you leave the wide ring road that snakes through it, has a sense of strangeness and dislocation. You are very close to the hyper-busy tourist areas of the colleges and shops, but there is a sense of being threaded into the density of the past, the whole area has a slightly eerie quietly brooding atmosphere that clogs the arteries of one’s immediate concerns…. Continue reading
Woke to find a blank impassive wall of fog, plaster board grey, utterly featureless, where there would normally be a view of the estuary from my father’s back garden. Every few minutes the fog horn would let out its erie drone, to be absorbed immediately by the blanketing silence.
Two hours later and the first faint shapes of the oil refinery terminal at the seaward end of the estuary were beginning to appear. The grain of pragmatic reality condensing out of the ether…
There is a local beauty spot just next to Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambs, called Nine Wells. Here in a small wood several springs rise from a chalk aquifer and wind their way through hidden water-courses amongst beech trees and scrub. A magical place, but these days very close indeed to ‘civilisation’ – an entire city of gleaming bio-tech complexes is being built on its doorstep.
However, there are two other woods called Nine Wells in South Cambridgeshire. One assumes it must be a very ancient name for a wood with several springs, perhaps sacred to a local goddess. So on a cold bright Friday morning in November I set off by bike for the Nine Wells wood near Whittlesford. Continue reading
A morning walk on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Essex, shimmering fine rain, heavy cloud and bursts of sun. A sultry, thickened end of summer day. The village of Great Chishill is marked on the OS map as being 479 feet above sea level, giving its fortunate residents expansive views over a land of sprawling cornfields and caucuses of dark woods clumped on the hill tops. To the north the land drops sharply away to the plains of central Cambridgeshire, to the south the more wooded, gently bounding lands of north Essex.
Next to the church the road drops away down to the plains, with cottages on each side, a little bit like Gold Hill, Shaftesbury:
Coton, pronounced with the first 0 long as in Seb Coe, is the nearest village to Cambridge on the west side. Beyond the village wide, lazy cornfields open out, glowing in the morning heat at this sultry end of July.
After a mile or so a small wood closes in:
frettings of tarnished brass
tunnel to the arch of gold Continue reading
The Berkshire Downs, not open country but deep woodland scaling the hillside. Just after rain, wandering through the heavy feast of rain soaked boughs, green shadows dripping all around me, festering silence, rich but a little sinister. Solitary dog walkers loom out of the stillness, a black labrador bounds up, then disappears into the resiny gloom beyond the gravel ride. There are adolescent Wellington firs, splayed at the base like rainforest trees, large ferns and parties of very young firs clustered at the edge of glades, eager for their share of the light. I lose myself in the rich resiny silence, an hour’s walk seems like a lifetime of tramping, the wood goes on spreading upwards, there are freaks of golden light beyond the thickest trees in the distance, but this suggests the top of the hill not the end of the wood. There is no discernible end. Like Buddha saying that there is no discernible end to time or matter, so long as one continues to believe in them.
gate half open
the gold eaves of the wood
beckon inwards Continue reading