Tag Archive: countryside

I imagine John Clare as a young man walking around the Northamptonshire countryside letting his mind wander and wonder at the same time. He sees the untidiness (what today we might call ‘fractal’) and beauty of nature on the one hand. On the other, seeing a field full of poppies, seeded by nature not by a human farmer, he imagines an army marching “in all the grand array of pomp and power”. He associates the red poppies with the colour of the uniform of the British army. These days I have a different association with red poppies. For all their beauty, it is not with the marching soldiers but toward the fallen ones that my mind leans.

Pleasant Spots

There is a wild and beautiful neglect
About the fields that so delights and cheers
Where nature her own feelings to effect
Is left at her own silent work for years
The simplest thing thrown in our way delights
From the wild careless feature that it wears
The very road that wanders out of sight
Crooked and free is pleasant to behold
And such the very weeds left free to flower
Corn poppys red and carlock gleaming gold
That makes the cornfields shine in summer’s hour
Like painted skys – and fancy’s distant eye
May well imagine armys marching bye
In all the grand array of pomp and power

John Clare (1793-1864)

PS a note on the spelling. I have left it as I found it in “John Clare, selected poems”. Mr Clare was not conventional in either spelling, punctuation or grammar. Great sport is to be had by academics in deciding what to “correct” or not.

So the sun actually shone for another Bank Holiday weekend. We pottered around in the garden in the morning – earthing up potatoes and tackling some of the bracken. What to do in the afternoon? Well a local magazine advertised “Festival of County Life – Lamport Hall” so we decided to give it a go; children under 11 admitted free was a bonus.

Basically, what we found was a medium-sized country fair in the grounds of Lamport Hall. There were a variety of displays, entertainment, local food, craft stalls and the like: enough to occupy us for most of the afternoon. Highlights for us included the falconry display, the shire horses, “99” ice cream (that’s an ice cream with a chocolate flake), “bunnies ears” (ice cream with two flakes), the rural life museum and a stall which sold “proper” fudge.

For some people the main attraction was the chance to see various vintage vehicles and steam engines. Among them was a “Green Goddess” – so-called because of its colour. That was the nick-name given to army fire engines including the old one we saw. Meanwhile, in the Rural Life Museum,  they ran some early examples of mechanised farm machinery. These days we tend to cover up moving parts (presumably for health and safety reasons) so it was a novelty to see how they worked.

I don’t usually give machines a second thought but one of my companions remarked on the fact that they required some work and ingenuity to make and to get working. That is a fair point. If we see the end product of someone’s work it is all too easy to take it for granted. This is true of the machines and gadgets we use as well of the food and produce we buy. If you “grow your own” you might get some sense of the time and effort it takes just to grow a few potatoes, for instance; and maybe we’ll spare a thought for the potato farmers next time we buy a bag. I’m a townie so the countryside is a place I visit rather than one that I inhabit. It is as well to remember that “the countryside” is more than a tourist destination but a place where people work hard to produce things we all need and rely on.

Meanwhile, we had a pleasant afternoon and here are a few photos of it:

Irchester Country Park

The good news was that the gloomy cloudy days had gone, it was not foggy or rainy, and now the sun shone in a blue sky. The downside was that it had turned much colder with a bitter North wind and frosts were forecast. However,  our trip to Irchester Country Park benefitted from the sun and the respite from the wet rain. Some of our group went on the adventure climbing course  (zip-wires, ropes and the like) for about an hour but we also enjoyed a walk and the play area was an added attraction. I can’t vouch for the restaurant but the hot chocolate was OK.

Some photos of our morning:

leaves beginning to change, sky beginning to cloud over

“Eat, drink, rest”

I’m quite pleased with how this one turned out. The wind did not want to co-operate and the auto-focus favoured the background. Yet we got the shot we wanted eventually.

Hawthorn berries

And finally a reminder that we are never far away from human artefacts in our countryside:

Actually, in this country, it is quite difficult to get to a place that is untouched by human beings. The landscape has been shaped over thousands of years by the weather, climate and nature, of course, but it is hard to find somewhere where human beings have not left their mark.

That thought struck me when the other week I was out in the countryside for a few days. The nearest town (and nearest supermarket for that matter) was about 10 miles away, the nearest bus stop the best part of a mile away, and if you did not have a car or some such you were not going to get very far unless on foot. On the day I did venture for a walk away from where I was staying, I found a quiet country lane or two with the occasional vehicle passing by – say two or three per hour. From our house at home you’d give up counting within a minute or less. I wouldn’t dare attempt the walk at night – no pavement until I found the nearest village a mile or so away – and on the main (B) road there weren’t many more cars but they were faster and I spent almost as much time perched on the edge of the grass ditch as I did walking along. There were a couple of bends in the road which truly scared me. I might hear the lorry coming but would the driver see me?

You see, to be honest, I’m a townie at heart. I don’t mind looking at the countryside but I’m not really comfortable in it. So when I went to a county famed for its valleys and moorland I felt that I was getting away from it all. I have no complaints about the place where I stayed: food OK, nice views, a couple of evenings conducive to star-gazing, and generally quiet. I would tell you where I went but I want to keep it secret!

So one day, I went on this walk with my camera, tried not to rush, and decided to take some photos with the theme “in the middle of nowhere” (or something like that). However, if I tried to get a picture of the valley I found electric power lines in the way; or to get a better view (without trespassing) I had to worry about the traffic coming along the road. Everywhere I looked I could find a nice view but there was nearly always a fence, a road, a house, a farm, a barn or some other artifact. At one point a low flying military transport plane came over head.

I did manage to “get away from it all” but I wasn’t truly ‘in the middle of nowhere’. Other parts of these islands may have true wilderness, but not my part. Here is a selection of the photos I took.

countryside country life in the middle of nowhere

In the middle of nowhere? That might seem a bit unfair to describe a place that is minutes away from the nearest city (Peterborough) but I have not found it straightforward getting to Helpston. To be sure it is on a B road and it is more than a hamlet. There are pubs, village shop, garden centre, school, as well as a church and, the reason why I went, John Clare’s cottage.

I found the village quite noisy. Not the villagers and visitors themselves, you understand, but Helpston is in the middle of the working countryside so there was the sound of harvest machines in the distance. Then there is the occasional military jet and while there was not much heavy traffic on the roads, there was a constant trickle of cars and trucks while I was there. With the wind in the right direction I think you could hear the sound of the intercity express trains along the East Coast mainline a few hundred yards away.

As well as the chance of a cuppa at the cafe at the John Clare cottage, going to Helpston did provide a pleasant break on my journey to Lincolnshire. It was not the AA recommended route but only added a handful miles to the total overall. There is only so much motorway and trunk road driving I can take, especially if I’m on my own. So, having a place of interest to stop at en route helps make the journey more tolerable.

We came back by another route but then I had company and we found a different place of interest to break the journey.

If you’re interested in the connection with John Clare and Helpston I have included some photos on this page: Helpston.

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