Sunday, 22 November 2015

Minor Details

A little colour collected this summer.
A little colour saved for a dull time of year.

Fairground Steps

Old Threshing Machine


Farmyard Door

Fungi Up Close

Ethnic Skirts

Rusty Wheel

Patched Up Diesel Tank

Take care.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Writing On The Wall

Someone had the bright idea of pinning up some sheets of paper and supplying marker pens for passers-by to record their thoughts and questions. As this is in the midst of the university area of Cambridge you might expect more profound questions than "Where's the nearest pub?" though I'm afraid you'd be wrong. In fairness I got fed up of waiting for the young man in the picture to finish his lengthy discourse and wandered off to find more permanent words on walls.

A little way along the street from the first picture stands St Botolph's Church. It's an interesting building and someday I'll invest some time to photographing it properly, but for now I'll just show you the little plaque above. This is one of the ways that social care was funded in days gone by. I'm surprised to see such a large sum being bequeathed by a bricklayer as it would be like saving £97,000 today (though such calculations are fraught with difficulty). It's also unusual to see such a donation commemorated in this way. 

"Near this place lies the body of Francis Squire who departed this life ye 29th of december 1732 in ye 65 year of his age"  What caught my attention here was the rather gruesome skull which, although not to modern taste, was quite a common symbol on old gravestones.

I often find myself reading the names on war memorials and wondering at the senseless loss of life recorded on them, but this is the first one that's ever made me smile - whatever possessed anyone to name their son W.O.R.KING ?????

Graffiti in churches is a lot more abundant than you might think; sometimes the builders left their mark but mostly it was just local people making a bid to be remembered for eternity. Or at least for 216 years and counting.

Another odd scratching inside a church. It seems to be a representation of a warrior or knight of some kind, possibly St George. Nobody seems to know much about this one except that it's very old.

And finally I can never resist a bit of grandiloquent Victorian prose:


                                               CLERK OF THE COUNTY COUNCIL.
23RD OCTOBER, 1899.

Regular readers might remember from the post about steam traction engines that the largest examples of such vehicles were known as "road locomotives" and these huge machines (along with other ponderous carriages) were what posed a danger to the structure of the bridge. It must have been a real problem at the time as roads were simply not designed for such large weights. Whatever one thinks of the ponderous prose it seems to have done the trick - the bridge is still standing.

Take care.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A House In The Country

Old, impractical and expensive. Somehow these ancient buildings figure highly on the want-list of many lottery winners or those who are wealthy by more traditional means, as well as being a dream for many who will never inhabit such properties. The one above claims on its sign to date from "circa 1480" and I have no reason to doubt it.

In the UK there are hours of daytime television dedicated to programmes that have no more purpose than to display these dwellings in all their ageing splendour and to stoke the smouldering dreams of rural bliss that seem to lie in the hearts of so many. Although I seldom watch TV and certainly lack the economic means to ever own such a place I can't help pointing my camera in their direction as I pass by.

Be sensible, John, you wouldn't want to have to cut all that grass, would you? Perhaps one might employ a little man to undertake the task at reasonable rates......?

Come on, how could anyone not be tempted to live in a house called Middle Bear? Unless you're Goldilocks, of course, when Little Bear would be "just right".

And Little Bear stands next door, for these three houses stand together in Standon in Hertfordshire. Daft but somehow rather quaint.

Much as I love to see these old buildings kept in good condition, I know full well that they create a problem in our countryside. If an overwhelming proportion of homes become occupied by wealthy retired people and the young people of the village find themselves priced out of the property market then the village becomes, to all intents and purposes, dead.

The newer inhabitants have friends and families elsewhere and have no ties to their new neighbourhood; some even just use the cottages as weekend homes. Very few are left to work in the village and to keep the essential services running. Lack of young families means that schools close down......

But who can see a place like this and not want to dwell behind the front door?

Take care.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Softly Rolling Hills

Setting off from Baldock railway station and heading towards Wallington, just like George Orwell so many years ago, but following a different route. I head through the town and find the path leading up to the footbridge over the by-pass. Feeling good and enjoying the softly rolling hills of North Hertfordshire.

I crouch to photograph an odd, rather lanky, fungus. Then some tumbledown agricultural buildings. The path becomes a little unclear, heading straight across a field with no trod to follow.

The path drifts by the little church at Clothall, a very special place we visited a while ago. I'm almost tempted..... no, must press on. Crossing the road the weather and scenery changes briefly with black rooks perching in dead trees against a darkening sky. A prehistoric burial mound can just be made out among the grass and weeds. 

Then through an ancient landscape of woods and fields, not exactly preserved for wildlife but rather for the shooting of pheasant and partridge. As far as the other birds and animals are concerned though everything's lovely! A flash of yellow as a Green Woodpecker dashes into the trees and a buzzard circles overhead as I enter Wallington by a back road.

Having poked about the village for a while I take field paths towards Redhill, Roe Green and Standon. I find some still-sweet blackberries in the hedgerow. The Devil is supposed to do something on them which makes them unpalatable at Michaelmas (September 29th). Obviously the old fellow didn't have enough to drink before leaving home.

Two Red Kites twisting in the air above the village of Standon, once they were never seen in this area but now they're common enough in Hertfordshire, though they only seldom venture the few miles across the county boundary to where I live. Their acrobatic flight never fails to lift the heart. 

Although I started this walk with no fixed route in mind I seem to be more or less following part of the Icknield Way long-distance path, which is itself just a modern-day approximation of the old pre-historic trackway.

Into (and out of) Kelshall and on towards Therfield where, one day, I shall go and explore more fully. 

In Therfield there's a neat little red-brick house nestling beside the churchyard that I've never noticed before and then a path I've not walked down either. (And also a pub which always looks so inviting!). 

The last stretch is very familiar to me, across the hills to Royston. In springtime this is a place for mad March hares, but today it echoes to the relentless growl of tractors ploughing. 

Walker's Log:

    Start: Baldock, Hertfordshire 09:25

    End: Royston, Hertfordshire 15.45

    Distance walked: 13.5 miles (21.6 Km)

    Notable birds: Buzzard, Red Kite, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch,           Yellowhammer, large flocks of Fieldfares, as well as Wood Pigeons and Rooks

    Mammals: Muntjac Deer, Fallow Deer, melanistic Grey Sqirrels,           rabbits.

    Other people out enjoying a walk: 0 (it was a weekday).

Take care.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Writer's Residence

On the 2nd of April 1936 a tall, gaunt, moustachioed man got off the train at Baldock and walked towards the village of Wallington. Nowadays the village is a pretty rural retreat, but back then the place was "on its uppers". One in three of its young men had been lost in the Great War, others had moved away as agriculture went through one of its periodic slumps and all that remained in the village were the elderly and the penniless. This situation suited the young man's purpose; he was a struggling writer who wanted quiet backwater in which to concentrate on his craft. 

The man's name was Eric Blair, though he later found fame as George Orwell. In 1936, although he'd had books published, he was not a wealthy man and was glad to rent a cottage for 7s 6d a week, even though he'd never set eyes on the property.

A modern visitor to Wallington, reading the neat little plaque put up by the council, might think that Orwell had found an idyllic nook in a rural paradise: nothing could be further from the truth. Back in those days the building was not thatched but had a corrugated iron roof which was very noisy when it rained. As Orwell wrote of the cottage: 

"You know what our cottage is like. It's bloody awful. Still it's more or less liveable......When there is sudden rain in winter the kitchen tends to flood, otherwise the house is passably dry. The living room fire, you may remember smokes....There is water laid on, but no hot, of course. There is a Calor Gas stove, which is expensive (the gas, I mean), but there is also a little oil oven that can be resuscitated."

Orwell's cottage had formerly been the village shop and he attempted to open the shop again, though it's doubtful that he ever made much money out of the venture. He also kept a goat for milk and hens for eggs, grew soft fruit in the garden and vegetables in a plot across the road. But most of his time he immersed himself in writing The Road To Wigan Pier; he had spent the two months prior to coming to Wallington researching in the mining areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In June 1936 Orwell got married to Eileen O'Shaughnessy in the parish church at Wallington. An eye-witness said that on the wedding day she saw them walk up the hill to the church. He climbed up the bank, leapt over the gate and hurried up the path. Meanwhile Eileen continued around to the main church gate where he met her and carried her into the church.

The book most often associated with Orwell's time at Wallington is Animal Farm, though it was written after his time in the village. Somewhere I'm sure I've read that his wife Eileen, a child psychologist, was in the habit of making up stories about animals for her own amusement, giving them complex human characteristics.

The reason that people make the connection is clear - the book is based at Manor Farm, Willingdon, while just down the road from the cottage stood Manor Farm, Wallington. The great barn which is mentioned in the book is clearly modelled on the barn at the real farm, which can be seen in the picture below....

Orwell said this about the origins of the book:
"I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat."

At the time when Orwell wrote the book, during World War II, no one would publish the work - the Allies needed the help of Stalin to stand any chance of winning the war and a book satirising the Communist regime was not considered to be in the nation's interest.

There are still a few animals to be seen around Wallington though most of the land is arable these days.

Right next to Orwell's cottage is this post box with its George V cipher. As King George died in 1936 this would be the box in which George Orwell posted his letters while he lived in the village.

Orwell kept a connection with the cottage till the mid 1940s and, although he sub-let it to friends who'd had their London home bombed, he came for occasional visits.

"At Wallington. Crocuses out everywhere, a few wallflowers budding, snowdrops just at their best. Couples of hares sitting about in the winter wheat and gazing at one another. Now and again in this war, at intervals of months, you get your nose above water for a few moments and notice that the earth is still going round the sun" - from Orwell's diary, March 1941.

Take care.

(the colour photos are mine, while the sepia ones have been "borrowed" from elsewhere).

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Way Ahead

A few more photographs from last week's walk
focussing on the way ahead.

A ragged path alongside fields

Take care.