‘You refer to ancient documents or ways of life as a way, presumably, of reminding readers that this land has a long history and that our appreciation of it is greatly enhanced if we imagine our ancestors living out their lives on these very fields that we are now walking over. I couldn’t agree more! For example, I read your comment about “this ancient cobbled path” (Waypoint 5) and initially I looked at the mere trodden earth beneath my feet and thought that I must be missing something or that you had indulged in a bit of wishful thinking. Then I saw the occasional small stone appearing above the earth, and then another, then a stretch of them, and the whole thing came alive to me. Suddenly I was back hundreds of years and imagining carts laboriously making their way to market, slipping into ruts, being urged and heaved out of them, men cursing the terrible road … and so on. If the men had lifted their heads, what would they have seen around them? Neat fields? Woodland almost everywhere? Is anything that we see today similar to what they would have seen then? I would like to think so.
The detour continues! There is a poem called “Going, Going” by Philip Larkin in which he laments the way that the England he has always valued and loved is vanishing. It’s perhaps not his greatest poem but there are two lines in it which echo round my head whenever I’m on one of your walks. They are:
“The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs”
Just that – but, my goodness, they capture the essence of what many of us treasure about England. Can I try your patience for a moment longer, just to linger on those words? “The shadows” – yes, England is a land of shadows. England is not Crete or even the south of France with its blinding sun and arid landscapes, beautiful though those can be. England is a land of gentle sun, of dappled sunlight coming though trees down long and twisting lanes. It’s a land of long shadows cast in summer evenings when everything is still. Then there’s that word “meadows”. Larkin doesn’t say “fields” because meadows are gentler, lusher, quieter, less utilitarian. Things are peaceful in meadows. There’s often a suggestion of water in meadows (a stream running by, perhaps) and taller, greener grass (and perhaps flowers too). Finally, the “lanes”. Well, you get the idea by now! I could go on for hours about the beauty and strong emotional pull of our country lanes. As for guildhalls and “carved choirs”, well, they don’t figure in these walks but they are part of what makes England England. These five simple features of England are quite definitely “English” rather than Scottish or anywhere else. Other parts of Britain have their own beauty but it seems to me that Larkin has perfectly caught the quintessence of England in these few words. I keep them in the back of my mind as I walk and I felt they were much in evidence in this walk. Detour over!
Many thanks to Gosta Luthman for testing the Wealden Woods and River Medway route and for giving me permission to share his thoughts on the walk through this blog.