Brian Spaeth’s been helping me design a front cover for Wayfaring. His style tends to be low-res—or even ultra low-res. I respect that, but I wanted a picture you could enter, so as to walk the paths it depicts, and see every detail. Up till June 2005, I could only gaze at enticing landscapes, and imagine wayfaring amongst them. Then, at a stroke I was cured from a decades-long illness: “with one mighty bound, Dick was free” (parody of the radio series Dick Barton, Special Agent, that I recall hearing in 1947). And so, if you click on the picture above, and then again to enlarge it, you can enter that scene, in thought. But I can do it in real life now, and the picture gave me a yearning to go there again.
With this in mind K & I returned to the scene on Easter Monday, following the route I’d taken eight years before, as recorded here in two posts: “Country Walk” and “Dwelling in one’s tribe”. I meant to take photos but had forgotten to charge the camera’s batteries. It didn’t matter; in fact the tourist who’s constantly thinking of good shots holds his excursion at arm’s length, missing the opportunity for total immersion, that ineffable re-baptism into life on earth that’s constantly there for us, if we know how to plunge. So I looked for a break in the clouds to go back on my own, while K was at work a couple of days later, to take the shots anyway. This is the story of that visit.
I started from the top of the hill where St Lawrence’s Church stands. The golden ball atop its tower can be seen from miles around.
This is part of the view from that hill.
I’d brought along my pocket recorder as usual. I’d been capturing birdsong and other ambient sounds as I walked. Halfway through Hearton Wood, you take a path to the left, which after a while disappears beneath the trees. When this mysterious entrance came in view, I felt inspired to record these words: “Fabulous (mythical) places can also be real. The real can also be fabulous (wondrous).” It was the best I could do to capture the moment’s feeling.
As you get closer you see the arrows painted on the trunks to guide the wayfarer—the pilgrim, I’d like to say—and stop him straying from the path.
Then you go down some steps to a little gate which opens on to the narrow green valley shown in my cover picture.
Then you come to an inscribed bench which marks the spot more or less where my cover photo was taken, in 2008
You walk down a bit. When you look to the left you can see the church tower again, up on the hill.
When you reach this gate, you are walking within the cover picture, so to speak. . . .
. . . which, allowing for the difference in season, looks the same as eight years ago.
I’ve marked a circle round a stile near the middle of the photo.
That’s where I met a man, and we got talking, about how it was a good day to walk, and so on. He expressed a wish to send me his writings. Neither of us had a pencil to write the other’s address, so he invited me to his house—a short walk away— and got his wife to make coffee whilst he went rummaging upstairs to gather some typed photocopies, perhaps thirty pages in all. He gave me permission to show them to others. I’d like to share one of his pieces with you. It’s headed “To Walk”. I haven’t changed or omitted a word of his manuscript. It describes more beautifully, and in more precise detail than I would, the walk along the very paths for which I’d returned to retrace my steps after eight years.
To walk is to know a freedom when you can choose your own pace, stop and view whatever interests you.
For medicinal and pleasure purposes, I take this walk three times a week. The footpath sign for it is eight minutes from my home. As you pass the sign, the muddy footpath goes alongside and behind Arch-Sheil Farm. Already the traffic is being left behind.
An eerie, weird, almost human whistle-like sound is heard, changing sometimes to a wavering different note.
The flying feathered forms are climbing, swooping, diving, almost hovering. The Red Kites forever circling, hunting for their carrion, while the sun casts their intriguing shadows onto the earth. Their presence, colour and activity make quite an addition to the rural scene.
Continuing upward on the path, I have a hedge either side of me. I hear faint noises and rustling sounds and through holes in the hedge seven pheasants appear. They hesitate for a moment and then scurry away in a flurry of feathered and honking panic.
I walk on until I am on the level top of the hill, either side of the path are large fields with the green of the corn showing three to four inches. In this higher position you are aware of more air movement.
The footpath has another user; the Drag Hunt, the horses and members were on it three days ago, but left it after forty yards.
The path goes slightly downhill for twenty yards where it becomes stony and my boots slide noisily on them. At the wood entrance I step up eight strides onto a bank. In the wood there is a sudden feeling of quietness, perhaps its being combined with the towering trees. Between the carpet of brown leaves, the bluebells’ three or four inches of green growth are appearing.
Recent strong winds have brought down some boughs; three lie at intervals across the path. Another tree has two half-fallen split boughs at a dangerous suspended angle. Fourteen yards away a pheasant makes me glance at it. Instantly above me, clatter, clatter, bang, bang, wings flapping, some pigeons, squawking angrily, noisily, fly off at my intrusion under their tree. Stronger sun is now filtered by the trees, giving a hide and seek to my eyes.
I walk the last thirty yards of the path and then I come out of the wood. My first glance is to the left, where I see the church on the hill opposite me and we seem to be on the same level. The church rather dominates the whole area.
Walking downwards and on a straight path now, the house and park grounds give a spaciously comfortable picture. The cricket ground, traditional and so in keeping, the busy garden centre and village school, the tall trees on the corner hide the village. I have thirty yards left to walk before the footpath ends at the road, which is busy now.
I feel most fortunate that I live in this area and can appreciate all Nature’s gifts that she most generously shares with us all.
At the stile on Wednesday we met as strangers. But he mentioned one thing: that he had worked for seven years as a cleaner at a local railway station, and it was the best job of his career.
That’s the moment I realized he was the man I’d met before, on the same path, eight years earlier.
And I’d written about the encounter, here, and referred to an uncanny sense of kinship, for which I had no explanation, so I’d concocted one, that it was some kind of tribal recognition.
Here’s John, at the stile.
How to account for the coincidence of this second meeting? It’s as if we were . . . I’ll let you complete the sentence, in the light of your own beliefs about occurrences such as these. It’s by no means the first that I’ve reported on this blog, with circumstantial and photographic evidence. Were the angels acting for me, or for John? He has entrusted his writings to me, to pass around as I see fit. He has no access to the Internet. His works are signed and dated.
Fabulous places can be real. The real can also be fabulous.
See 14th comment below.