2. The Heavens
3. Uley Barrow (picture/s)
4. Toadsmoor Valley Spring Walk (picture/s)
5. Uley Long Barrow (picture/s)
6. Slad Brooke (picture/s)
7. Cross Purposes
8. Remembrance Day Walks
9. Radical Remembrance Walks
10. Flann O’ Brien
11. Ashleworth, Spring and Ivor Gurney
12. Walking a Metaphor by Jacqui Stearn
13. Collective Memory of a Collective Walk
14. Ypres: “City of Peace”
15. The Source of the Frome: A November Walk
A Solitary Ramble Round Stroud
I remember studying Charles Lamb’s “Essays of Elia” and William Hazlitt’s essays for A Level; I loved them all, but especially Hazlitt’s piece on walking. It struck a chord back then and just the other day, as well: “One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I like to do it myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, nature is company for me. I am then never less alone than when alone…”
So, “dear readers”, as Mr. Lamb used to write, here follows an essay on the joys of a solitary ramble around Stroud. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy walking and thinking at two and a half miles an hour with friends and family, but sometimes it’s a joy to do it like Greta Garbo, but with the script of Hazlitt.
So let’s hear from the man himself again, for one last time: “Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet…Instead of an awkward silence, broken by attempts at wit or dull common-places, mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart which alone is perfect eloquence”.
With this in mind and a welcome day off, I walked down Rodborough Hill and into town. It was a Tuesday, but memories of the 1831Captain Swing Riots passed through my mind: “No work today, boys, it’s Rising Monday!” The pre-industrial tradition of Saint Monday floated around my head too, when handloom weavers and so on would take the day off if they fancied it; a pastime destroyed by the tyranny of the factory clock and hooter. But hey ho, in these days of the post-industrial service economy, I had Tuesday off and was free. A walk beckoned, but first I had to deal with William Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”, or rather what we today call, a list of things to do.
Now there’s another way to look at lists rather than through the Blakean trope, and that’s the Sergeant Pepper Day in a Life style: a sort of stream of consciousness Zen type thing, but with a periodic break with pen and paper to maintain a list of musings, events and reflections – the sort of thing that can be done only on one’s own. And having serendipitously read Katie Kitamura’s thesis the weekend before in the Guardian, as to why lists are a raging against the dying of the light: “…as long as we’re making lists…we’re keeping faith with some idea of perpetuity”, what chance did I stand?
- Whatever. Off we jolly well go. I walked down the Slad Road, past the tumbling stream, an old mill or two, Uplands Post Office at Springfield House, and then turned right into Libby’s Drive. I bumped into Tony, who suggested I call in to see his wares at “Trainspotters”, but couldn’t find the right warehouse, so hearing the sound of saw and hammer, wandered into an old mill for directions. “No speak English,” said the carpenter, but I managed to locate Tony’s bazaar (“I am setting up a series of Love Walks, some of your group might want to join us…walks for single people”) before turning up a lovely old footpath, past the evocatively named “Dyer’s Mead”.
This footpath felt venerable and worthy of veneration: telegram boys in the Great War; cloth mill workers; handloom weavers; medieval peasants; stone age itinerants – who knows in whose footsteps I trod that day, on that worn down, polished-stone pathway. But the crumbling dry stone walls, all dripping with moss, did not prepare me for the shock of the signpost, with news of the threatened development of Baxter’s Field, just down below Summer Street.
Oh Cider. Oh Rosie. O tempora. O Mores.
I walked a few metres along Summer Street, before finding the footpaths that took me up to Bisley Old Road, turnpiked Bisley Road and thence Stroud Cemetery. These secluded footpath-thoroughfares are a treasure: Troy Town wooded nooks and crannies, rus in urbe brick and stone, chickens and woodland. They lead past streets with names like Belmont Road and Mount Pleasant, past whistling builders playing out the Ford Madox Ford painting of “Work”. This walk to top of the town Stroud in February sunshine, with its Five Valley cyclorama and River Severn panorama, has that unique and distinctive charm of the mill town in the Cotswolds vibe that makes Stroud Stroud.
I walked through the Cemetery, past the unnamed pauper burial area, past Great War gravestones, past crocuses and snowdrops, down through the gate and left towards Horns Farm. Here the walk takes you right, into the woods, past an old quarry and where, on this cloudless late February morning, wild garlic was just beginning to show. I sat down on a wall eating a cheese and onion sandwich, the ground dry as a bone above the spring line, but below, one could hear the characteristically talkative Five Valley trickle.
The walk then takes you up the hill and into shadow, and on this late winter day, across the frost’s Plimsoll Line, and into the land of frozen water. The arc of this walk then takes you back towards Stroud; glance to your right and hold the old workhouse in your thoughts, as you take in the beauty of the landscape. When the Poor Law Amendment Act was brought in in 1834, the driving force was to make conditions inside the workhouses worse than the worst paid job outside, and to prevent poor relief occurring outside the workhouses. Think of that as you enjoy the wide sweep of the expansive view; workhouses were often designed to prevent inmates having any view of the outside world at all, in the attempt to criminalise and punish poverty.
The mind can turn in on itself when it has no window on the world, but when out walking, the mind can wander creatively, therapeutically and laterally – when you don’t have to continually look at directions, instructions or a map: the “skull cinema”, as John Hillaby once put it. This Zen-like mindfulness and absence of adult cares are some of the joys of solitary walking; I’d reached Claypits Lane without realising it: another wonderful name derived from the fundamentals of the landscape.
I turned around to see a pale moon rising above the equally appropriately named “The Heavens”, before dropping down the hill to reach the main road and the “Shop’N Drive”. It all started to go wrong here: garages and cars and a text from my daughter saying she needed to borrow money; but a glance up towards Butterow and a sight of the Primitive Methodist Chapel and nearby toll house sent the mind off again, away from the petty mundane material concerns of the here and now. Farewell mind –forg’d manacles and hello Hazlitt.
I reflected on the significance and meaning of it all as I walked the canal towpath. What could be the synopsis of the wonders of this day’s solitary walking? What Twitter style summary could I write about all the variegated events, thoughts, events, observations and reflections involved in this individual ramble?
You Never Walk Alone.
Landscape Archaeologist, Neil Baker, led about a dozen assorted adults and dogs on a guided tour of The Heavens on Saturday, January 19th. We met outside – I said outside – the Crown and Sceptre at two of the clock, for a two and a half hour stroll and muse. Many thanks to Neil for giving up his time and enriching our eyes and minds; a couple of pints of Budding at the end meant only small beer as payment.
Neil runs a community archaeology group for The Heavens. You can find his number on a leaflet on the Crown and Sceptre notice board. We certainly intend to sign up for such a brilliant project: local history fusing fieldwork, documentation, imagination and literature is right up our street. We are looking forward to Neil’s posting of ‘Phenomenology, Archaeology and the Landscape’ on the blog.
We made notes as we went along about both remains and springs; we intend to walk another part of The Heavens with Neil and then retrace our steps once more. This due diligence, as it were, will hold us in good stead, when we embark on our next Springs Walk on Sunday March 10th (Stroud and its Edgelands , meet outside the Prince Albert at 11.15).
Many thanks to Martin Hoffmann for contributing to the following record of the walk; this re-imagining of landscape, as we walk, is all to the good. As the Stroud Situationists say: “Below the pavements, The Beach! Above the tarmac, The Snow.”
Neil took us Walking into the Past
Walking into the Past
On a winter’s day with friends;
The Heavens, where Bisley sat
In the cleavage of the hills.
Sunlight and clean bright water
Pooled together to concentrate life,
To bring man, sheep, grass and stone;
Final gifting, leats, to complete this idyllic painting.
But nostalgia has rubbed out the old noises,
The clatterings, natterings and smashings,
The belchings and smellings
Of smoke and dust from frost cracked stones.
From wheels grinding and spinning,
Weaving and teasing out life
From Blake’s little lambs
‘Over the stream and o’er the mead.’
Time passes, erases and changes
Those borders and walls, that noise and smoke,
Leaving only brambles and twists of the stream
Where we clung to life on the sunny side of the hill.
The snow wandered into Stroud on a gusting wind,
Leaving a Lowry scene of red brick factories,
Serrated roofs, and mouldering mills,
All garlanded with icicles.
There was a silence that yearned for horse hooves,
Children tobogganed down car-free roads,
Matchstick women, men and tufted dogs
Tottered along the freezing canal towpath.
The fields at The Heavens were shrouded,
Though Thomas Bewick branches
Etched a tree-tapestry,
Across the muffled, white clad fields.
We walked down Daisy Bank and Spider Lane,
Past medieval window panes and casements,
Beyond the spring line below Field House,
To walk a footpath, once the main route to Lypiatt.
We marked hidden ruins by the first cottages,
The search for water and daylight,
Obvious in the silver afternoon sky
And spring line emerald fronds.
Sliding through the snow drifts,
We reached the site of Wayhouse Mill
And cottages, down by the man-made slopes,
Between the bridge and the telegraph pole.
The forgotten groan of the water wheel,
And the long dead splash of the sluice,
Mournful memories in the wind,
Led us on to Widow Petett’s.
Here, the apothecary gathered waters
For tinctures and medicines,
By Fairy Spring at Turnip End Bottom,
Down by the crossing of the stream.
The hollows and brambles on the other side,
Indicated a sheep-house and springs,
Where seventeenth century residents
Had rights to water and an apple orchard.
The scattered remnants of weavers’ cottages
Came next, up there at Dry Hill,
In the woodland, above the spring line,
There by the ruined walls and wells.
We wandered on through our time line,
Crossing the stream at the water fall,
To drop down into Kinner’s Grove,
And further hidden ruins.
The rivulet was once diverted here,
To long vanished buildings on the right,
Where we sat and stared at the westward sky,
And a red-shift Neolithic sunset.
We climbed back up to Horns Road,
Lowry figures in red brick streets,
Pints of Budding in the Crown and Sceptre,
Reflecting on the past, in the here and now.
Madeleine moments in The Heavens,
The past beneath your footsteps,
For those with eyes to see, ears to hear,
And an archaeologist like Neil Baker.
Archaeopoetry: it’s the future, present and past ;O)
Toadsmoor Valley Spring Walk
Here’s where the Slad Brook meets the Frome. If you walk towards Wallbridge and just before the pedestrian underpass turn right alongside the retaining wall of Dr.Newton’s Way you will then see an outlet into the Frome after several yards, this must be the brook and area where, some people say it (meaning Stroud) all started !
The article “Cross purposes” below was written by Ian Crossland. Ian writes a monthly Nympsfield history piece for the village magazine. This article was written in November 2011, and Ian has kindly given permission for the inclusion of this moving and informative piece on this website.
You’ll have seen the village war memorial. You may even have stood by it for the annual Remembrance Day service. It’s not a grand monument – no Cenotaph – more like the kind of roadside cross you find in Catholic countries. But it has its own dignity and, like so many aspects of Nympsfield, it’s probably unique. The base, renewed quite recently, tells the story:
This crucifix, shot and broken, was found on the battlefield of Beugny on the Somme 1917. The men and women of Nympsfield have set it up in their midst to remind them of God’s mercies during the Great War
The figure of Christ that forms the centrepiece of the memorial was found by Harry Bown. Born in 1891, he was one of nine children of John Bown who farmed at Tinkley Farm and, so, a tenant of the Misses Leigh. It’s not clear how long the Bowns lived there: Kelly’s Directory has them at Stroud in 1910 and then at Tinkley Farm in 1923. Harry joined up soon after the outbreak of war and was inFranceat the end of March 1915. By November 1917 he was a Company Quartermaster Sergeant in the Army Service Corps supporting troops on the front line. He survived the war and appears to have gone to live in theForestofDean, dying in 1960. Writing fromFrancein a letter to Miss Blanche dated 15 November 1917, he says
I have forwarded to you this day the long promised Figure and I deeply regret it has not been sent to you before. I have kept it in anticipation of being able to find a better one but I find it impossible now as we are always on the move.
You will observe that it is knocked about rather badly. A stray bullet has pierced it in the side passing through the arm. I know you will value it very highly as it was removed in a village in which there was much fighting. I think it would look very good mounted on a cross. No doubt it was nailed to a cross but was detached when found by me.
In conclusion I must apologize for keeping it so long. It has travelled practically the whole of the British front with me.
I beg to remain
Harry G Bown
PS If it is possible to obtain any other little article I will send it on to you.
We don’t have Miss Blanche’s reply but Harry was soon writing again
I am very pleased to hear that you received the Figure, which was picked up in the village of BEUGNY in the SOMME district some time ago and am sorry it was not in a better state of preservation but you received it exactly as it was found.
There was no expense whatever incurred and it was absolutely unnecessary to have sent the postal order as you did.
If I can find any other relic that I think you would like I will send it on.
In conclusion let me wish you the compliments of the season
Harry G Bown
Beugny was overrun by the Germans early in the war. It remained behind German lines throughout the whole of the infamousSommeoffensive of June 1916 but was recaptured in March 1917. It must have been around this time that Harry found the statue. The fierce fighting is reflected by the three war cemeteries there (British, Commonwealth and German). Even then, the war was not over for Beugny: the Germans retook it in their Spring Offensive of 1918 only to lose it again a few months later as the war went into its endgame. Today, Beugny is not so different from Nympsfield: its church, destroyed in the war, was rebuilt in the early 1920s, just as our Catholic church was; it has the same population – around 300 – and, like us, it is situated on a road between two small towns, Bapaume and Cambrai.
Returning to Harry’s letters, the impersonal opening address (“Dear Madam”), his strained formal language and Miss Leigh’s sending of a postal order show the servant-employer relationship. More surprising are his apologies for the poor condition of the figure and his offer of further relics. I imagine that the original intention was that Miss Leigh would use the gift(s) for the new Catholic church that was then being planned. But after the war, when the scale of the sacrifice became clear, other ideas must have prevailed. Now, the broken figure of Christ – “pierced”, as Harry says – could hardly be a more fitting memorial to the fallen.
Remembrance Day Walks
Now let’s have a look at some other Remembrance walks and pilgrimages that we could make. I think an amble to a local church is a good idea – apart from a war memorial, one often discovers Commonwealth War Graves and also Great War family graves and tombstones. These family memorials, in some ways, are even more melancholic and mournful than the official Commonwealth War Graves. They seem to catch the mossy, dripping, atmosphere of Remembrance-Tide and the shared despair of the final line of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth – “And each slow dusk the drawing down of blinds.”
I visit Rodborough Church Yard: there are a number of Commonwealth War Graves scattered about but the family tombstones and memorials are in the higher part of the churchyard. It was a dismal, dank, October day when I visited and I had trouble deciphering the words on the Apperly memorial. I’ll do that next time I visit.
When you wander through the churchyard, you will see family memorials and tombstones with commemorations for : William Henry Stephen Winn, Killed in Action, 1917, aged 24; Lance Corporal F. Critchley Cordwell, killed Ypres, 1917, interred at Dickebusch Military Cemetery – “Into the field of battle He bravely took his place And fought and died for England And the honour of his race.”; Samuel Huntley Powell, killed in action, France, aged 25, March 25th 1918, Pro Patria Mori; Alfred H. (Eddie) Spencer, killed in France, December 1917, aged 20; Private William R. Carter, August 22nd 1917, aged 33; the broken cross for the Bennett family commemorates Captain Theodore John Bennett, Indian Army, “who fell in Palestine”, September 7th 1918 (the base of the cross has the famous Rupert Brooke lines: “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England”) and Harold Stanley Bennett 2ndLieutenant RCA “called to rest” April 25th 1915.
The war graves themselves, of course, do not express family heart-felt loss, but they still a tale that stirs the reader’s heart. You will find the following names and implicit stories: Private RMLI HC Nicholls, Royal Naval Division, 15th October 1918; Private L Phipps, Gloucestershire Regiment, 26th January 1916; Private WL Allen, Gloucestershire Regiment, 23rd December 1917, aged 21; Private W Stevens, Gloucestershire Regimen, 26th December 1918, age 23; Private R Bick, Gloucestershire Regiment, 7th April 1915; FA Bartlett, Chief Petty Officer, RN, HMS “Vernon”, 28th August, aged 49. After making a few notes, I entered the Church and bought a jar of marmalade for Church funds; I then studied the memorial tablets for WW1 and WW2, placed on opposite walls. Rodborough Church and Churchyard is well worth a visit.
If you want to make a pilgrimage, rather than take a walk, however, then let’s go to Framilode and also to Brimscombe, in the footsteps of Ivor Gurney. The more obviously atmospheric trip is down by the river, but the trip to Brimscombe might be a more demanding one for any empathetic reconstruction, and therefore equally enriching. We’ll start with the river, however: the Severn Way is an obvious pilgrimage-route; you can park by St. Peter’s Church, Upper Framilode, but before heading downstream, walk back to find the lock-keeper’s cottage ( Lock House, near where the Stroudwater Canal and the River Severn clasped hands). This is where Gurney kept his boat and where he and Will Harvey enjoyed so many happy hours. Now walk until you find a good vantage point for gazing downstream, so as to lose your mind, as it were, in the view and river-scape. (“When I saw Framilode first she was a blowy Severn tidy place under azure sky…Adventure stirring the blood like thunder, With the never forgotten soft beauty of the Frome, One evening when elver-lights made the river like a stall-road to see”.)
Will went missing on a reconnaissance mission in no man’s land in 1916, and a distraught Gurney, thinking his boyhood friend dead (he was, in fact, captured), wrote “To His Love” ( Harvey had become engaged to a nurse, Sarah Ann Kane). It might be right to declaim this whilst staring downstream.
“He’s gone, and all our plans Are useless indeed, We’ll walk no more on Cotswold Where the sheep feed Quietly and take no heed. His body that was so quick Is not as you Knew it, on Severn river Under the blue Driving our small boat through. You would not know him now… But still he died Nobly, so cover him With violets of pride Purple from Severn side. Cover him, cover him soon! And with thick-set Masses of memoried flowers – Hide that red wet Thing I must somehow forget.”
If you buy or borrow a copy of Eleanor M. Rawling’s book “Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Exploring Poetry and Place”, then you can follow this walk in much more detail. She comments: “Walking the Severn Way, at the present time, along this very stretch of river, it is possible to experience the sights and sounds of the river very much as it was in the early twentieth century, and to imagine the white sail of the little boat and the glorious feeling of freedom this must have given Gurney.” Standing at The Pridings, you could recite a few lines from “Near Midsummer”:
“Severn’s most fair today! See what a tide of blue She pours, and flecked away With gold, and what a crew Of seagulls snowy white Float around her to delight Villagers, travellers, A brown thick flood is hers In winter…Low meadows flooding deep With torrents from the steep…Blue June has altered all – The river makes its fall With murmurous still sound, Past Priding’s faery ground, And steep-down Newham cliff…”
Then when you return, perhaps the following might be appropriate, from “On Somme”, linking as it does, the Severn with the Somme:
“Suddenly into the still air burst thudding
And thudding and cold fear possessed me all,
On the grey slopes there, where Winter in sullen brooding
Hung between height and depth of the ugly fall
Of Heaven to earth; and the thudding was illness own.
But still a hope I kept that were we there going over
I, in the line, I should not fail, but take recover
From others courage, and not as coward be known.
No flame we saw, the noise and the dread alone
Was battle to us; men were enduring there such
And such things, in wire tangled, to shatters blown.
Courage kept, but ready to vanish at first touch.
Fear, but just held. Poets were luckier once
In the hot fray swallowed and some magnificence.”
A hard act to follow, but we will, with a nocturnal stroll on the spring line above Brimscombe. Choose a clear, starry night and feel the presence of Ivor Gurney , for he made a similar night-walk , pausing to take in Brimscombe.
“One lucky hour in middle of my tiredness
I came under the pines of the sheer steep
And saw the stars like steady candles gleam
Above and through; Brimscombe wrapped (past life) in sleep!
Such body weariness and ugliness
Had gone before, such tiredness to come on me —
This perfect moment had such pure clemency
That it my memory has all coloured since,
Forgetting the blackness and pain so driven hence.
And the naked uplands even from bramble free.
That ringed-in hour of pines, stars, and dark eminence.
(The thing we looked for in our fear of France).”
Another pilgrimage one might make to link the Great War and Gloucestershire lies beyond the Five Valleys but is do-able by public transport. I used the train to Gloucester and the bus to and back from Dymock for some Edward Thomas reverie. I went in late October and the water table was quite high in the red clay fields near the River Leadon; the Poets’ Path I took – number 2 of 2 Poets’ Paths; there is also a Daffodil Way walk too – was well marked but ran into impenetrable stinging nettles when skirting a field of sweet corn. I know that Rodborough Tabernacle members used to bike out to Dymock for the daffodils at Easter donkey’s years ago, and I think that Easter might be the best time to visit Dymock – especially as Edward Thomas was killed at Arras on Easter Monday 1917. By the way, there is a little bit of old England in St. Mary’s Church, right by the ‘bus stop and the Beauchamp Arms, with a beautiful display about the Georgian Poets; don’t miss that.
I trudged through the quagmire for an hour or two (the Paths are 10 miles and 8 miles long), but the weather was unprepossessing and so I returned to the church when confronted by the nettles. Mist shrouded the Malverns and May Hill: the sun-dial at the church denoted no time, the aspens were still and the smithy long silent. Even so, it was impossible to be unreflective and uninspired. It was here, after all, that Thomas moved from prose to poetry and where Robert Frost’s company led Thomas to enlist. He joined up on the day that my mother was born and for that reason I have always felt a bond with him. My mother was named Nancy Mary Lorraine “In honour of our gallant French allies”; she was born on July 14th 1915, Bastille Day.
Edward Thomas’ poem, “For These”, explains his reasons for enlisting:
An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:
A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:
A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook’s bend, or at least a pond:
For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.
I sat down on the bench in front of the church, remembered giving mum a framed copy of the poem for her birthday one year, ate my cheese and chutney sandwich, then penned a few lines on the back of my walking guide. The excellent Friends of the Dymock Poets’ website has these walking guides for free.
Dymock, October 24th, 2012
I drew up there in Dymock,
(On the 132 bus to Ledbury)
The ‘bus stopped,
I coughed and got off,
No-one else did.
I came for Edward Thomas,
And also Robert Frost,
But there are two Poets’ Paths in Dymock,
Diverging in a yellow, autumn wood.
I take the one more travelled,
The one that leads to France,
The one that leads straight
To the last lines of a war diary,
“Where any turn may lead to Heaven
Or any corner may hide Hell
Roads shining like river up hill after rain.”
W.H. Davies, later to live at Nailsworth, and earlier befriended by Thomas, wrote an elegy for him. Here is the last stanza:
“But thou, my friend, art lying dead,
War: with its hell-born childishness
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well
And never left it once before.”
The last walk I made during Remembrance-Tide was along Tinkley Lane, from Forest Green to Nympsfield. The road can be busy at times; it is also muddy, puddle-pockmarked and narrow. The views are wonderful, however. At times, it feels as though one is in the Yorkshire Wolds: high up in big sky country, but with the Severn to the west, and the Downs above Swindon, on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border, to the east. Forest Green were at home on the day I chose; it was quite busy when I returned from Nympsfield. Green Union Jacks, a band playing, a football ground along a street named “Another Way” – I’ll have to go sometime. The ‘bus to Stroud (46/93) runs every thirty minutes, but, to be honest, it’s not really a walk I would recommend. Whereas “Another Way” might be an example of nominative determinism, Tinkley Lane is lane in name only. Busy Thoroughfare might be a better description. Why not get the number 35 that runs Monday to Friday and goes to Nympsfield?
The war memorial has a plaque with an inscription that reveals why it is worth visiting: see below. After making my notes, I had lemonade in the Rose and Crown, a walk around the Roman Catholic Church, and then wandered over to the village football pitch for a think. Whilst pondering, the local team arrived to change and run out for a kick-about before the start of the match. This coincidence of time and space serendipitously and subsequently determined my writing.
The war memorial stands at the cross-roads, right by the road-side, and is attached to the old chapel house. The plaque stands below Christ on a crucifix, with an octagonal base and the names of the fallen. It states:
“THIS CRUCIFIX SHOT AND BROKEN WAS FOUND ON THE BATTLEFIELD OF BEUGNY ON THE SOMME 1917.THE MEN AND WOMEN OF NYMPHSFIELD HAVE SET IT UP IN THEIR MIDST TO REMIND THEM OF GOD’S MERCIES DURING THE GREAT WAR & TO BEG HIS BLESSING ON THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.
HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS HE WAS BRUISED FOR OUR INIQUITIES.”
Haiku for Nympsfield War Memorial
As I write these lines,
The young men of the village
Arrive for the match.
High-up on the wolds.
And at the cross-roads,
Honouring the dead.
This cross, once shattered,
Lying in some forlorn hope,
Out in No Man’s Land.
Brought here from the Somme,
Repaired and resurrected,
Life and Death conjoined.
Last gasp on a fag,
Then it’s out over the top,
Ref blows the whistle.
The laughter of youth,
Innocent carefree minutes –
Who would think of war?
Just as once before,
Those memorialised names
Played, too, in the sun.
Radical Remembrance Walks
The Guardian used the phrase “cultural tyranny” recently to describe the atmosphere surrounding media expectations about the wearing of poppies. The editorial wondered if a poppy week might be a way of concentrating minds and hearts. We all recognise that attitudes vary towards the poppy in the buttonhole: I wear one to remember my dad and grand-dad; some wear them in recognition of current conflicts; some do not wish to wear one and some wear a white poppy. It is easy to forget that the renewed intensity surrounding Remembrance is of recent provenance.
Whatever our motivations, I am sure we are all united in our despair at the carnage of WW1. How can we forget Harry Patch describing war as “legalised murder”? So in that spirit, I include the final line of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, “And each slow dusk the drawing down of blinds”, for our own mobilisation and entrance to the front line. This image seems to capture the heart break of war; the atmosphere of a dismal November afternoon; the empty evenings and empty spaces; even the foreshadowing of the arrival of the telegram announcing the news of Owen’s own death, on Armistice Day.
So with thanks to Chas Townley for his book “Lest Ye Forget” and with thanks to Eleanor M. Rawling for her “Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire Exploring Poetry and Place”, both of which I heartily recommend, I will try to suggest some walks and/or pilgrimages to suit all tastes this and every Remembrance-tide. The first thing to say that there are a lot of moving war memorials in the area – no wonder; for here are the numbers of dead listed in Chas’ book, taken from the pages of “The Stroud District and its part in The Great War, 1914-1919”, published by The Stroud News, in the aftermath of the ending of that conflict.
(This is from a quick count – I may have made inadvertent mistakes.)
AVENING: 35 BISLEY-with-LYPIATT, EASTCOMBE and OAKRIDGE: 52 BRIMSCOMBE: 34
CAINSCROSS: 52 CHALFORD, FRANCE LYNCH, BUSSAGE and BROWNSHILL: 65
EASTINGTON: 21 EDGE: 6 FROCESTER: 5 HORSLEY: 39 KING STANLEY: 24
LEONARD STANLEY: 15 MINCHINHAMPTON: 45 MISERDEN: 14 NAILSWORTH: 43
PAINSWICK: 43 PITCHCOMBE: 12 RANDWICK: 13 RODBOROUGH: 45
SELSLEY: 14 STONEHOUSE: 52 STROUD: 249 SLAD: 16 THRUPP: 31 UPLANDS: 25
WHITESHILL: 36 WOODCHESTER: 25. So, it would be easy to arrange walks, bike rides and pilgrimages to these memorials: a moving and memorable thing to do.
There are other places to visit too – Chas writes, in his introduction, that “More or less every Gloucestershire village and town is marked by war memorials listing the fallen and it is easy to forget the many more practical projects undertaken to remember their sacrifice.” Here are these “practical projects” that one could visit: the 1919 extension to Stroud Hospital, the “Peace Memorial Wing”; “Victory Park” at Cainscross; “for the wealthy a public park, as at Park Gardens in Stroud”, says Chas and “ For the less well off, perhaps a bench or donation”.
Betty Merrett wrote of the “Parks and Gardens of Stroud” in the Stroud Local History Society’s Millennium Booklet: “Park Gardens was another gift to the town. Sidney Park was a local businessman and councillor. Parks Drapery prominently occupied the corner of King Street and George Street where the HSBC bank now stands. The family lived in a flat over the shop.
Their only son, Herbert, was killed in France in 1917 in WW1 aged 23, and in 1920 Councillor Park gave a tract of land off Slad Road as a garden memorial to his son and all who fell during the 1914-18 war. The town’s cenotaph stands in the garden.”
Now I return to Chas and his section on Oakridge: “Oakridge’s war memorial was a water supply and drinking fountain – a reminder that in the villages we did not have mains water for many years to come.” He also mentions the font at Minchinhampton church; the Eagle Lectern at Leonard Stanley church; the Wayside Cross at Woodchester Priory and, tells us a great deal more about the Oakridge War Memorial. This is worth knowing. It could mean a pilgrimage.
The Oakridge site commemorates the only woman to be named on a memorial in the area: Mabel Dearmer. She went to serve in Serbia as a hospital orderly; she died within three months from enteric fever, but left these comment for posterity: “This war will not bring peace – no war will bring peace – only love and mercy and terrific virtues such as loving one’s enemy can bring a terrific thing like peace.” Her editor reflected on the tragedy of her end in a similar vein: “It is easy to go into danger when convinced that your country’s cause is righteous; she thought that for all countries war was unrighteous, yet she went.”
Her husband served as a chaplain with the Red Cross; one son died at Gallipoli; one son survived the war. The Oakridge Memorial – a practical commemoration – brought the village a water supply from a nearby spring. These are the words on the Dearmer Inscription plate at Oakridge:
“In memory of MABEL DEARMER
who went from Oakridge the place she loved best
to give help in Serbia where she died of fever
at Kragujevatz on July 11th aged 43, and of
Who died of wounds at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli
On October 6th 1915 aged 21
Proud of the war all glorious went the son.
Loathing the war all mournful went the mother.
Each had the same wage when the day was done.
Tell me was either braver than the other.
They slept in mire who went so comely ever
Then when you wash let the thought of them abide.
They knew the parching thirst of wounds and fever.
Here when you drink remember them who died.
Chas writes: “In a town that is divided by values and visions of war and peace;
where the wearing of a poppy (for some red for some white) is seen by some
not as an act of Charity and Love but as acts of personal controversy,
something needs to be done to build bridges…Couldn’t we all at least unite at
Percy Dearmer’s Water Fountain to remember those who laid down
their lives in our service?”
THESE OAKRIDGE MEN
ALSO GAVE THEIR LIVES
E. Blackwell M. Blackwell A. Curtis W.M. Curtis A. Fern W. Fern P. Gardiner S. Gardiner
P. Hill W. Hunt W.G. Hunt R.T. Gardiner A. Robbins A. Rowles A. Smith T. White H. White
A. Young E. Young F. Young E. Weare
In GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
George Edward Ivor Fry PTE. RAMC
James Frederick Fry SGT. NAV. RAF
Albert Hunt PTE. RAOC
Stanley Henry Morgan GNR. R.A.
R.C.Baker Stallard-Penoyre LT. R.N. (A)
Arthur Phipps GNR. R.A.
James Edward Young PTE. R. NORF. REG.
WHO FELL IN THE WAR OF 1939-45
INTO THY HAND O LORD
A Remembrance Walk to Oakridge and back to Stroud October 17th 2012
I caught the number 54 Cotswold Green bus,
On a russet-warm, apple-autumn day,
To Frampton Mansell Church,
In the 1920s footsteps of my dad,
Who lived here in a Great War Nissan hut;
His de-mob dad, seeking work,
My dad, playing conkers on his way to school,
Or watching the trains on the viaduct,
Just as I do today in his memory.
I walked on down past the giant retaining wall,
Under the railway and across the canal,
To climb the hill past streams, brooks, rills and springs,
To reach Oakridge Lynch War Memorial:
There are so many corners of foreign fields,
That are for ever England,
In word, dust, deed, blood, ash and bone,
But here, on Oakridge village green,
Is a cruciform water- trough,
Fed by a spring that is for ever England,
That roams through wild flowers,
Breathing English air,
Bless’d by the sun on its way to the Severn,
A heart of peace, under an English heaven,
Giving back thoughts of England given.
I read the inscriptions and then sat back on the green,
Chatting to a woman gathering flowers,
Who told me that during the Tewkesbury floods,
When piped water became polluted,
Oakridge village used the springs once more;
Another woman told me of the war graves in the churchyard,
Recently and lovingly cleaned and pristine-restored;
She pointed out my footpath to Eastcombe:
“Go past the old toll house.”
I walked past more springs,
Then the site of a Roman villa,
Then more springs and some tumuli,
Before rain made me dispense with map and specs,
To follow my nose and ask for directions instead:
“Aim for the waterfall”,
“Contour Mackhouse woods and aim south for Stroud”.
I walked past black-spot sycamore leaves,
Blood-red rowan and spiked-steel hawthorn,
Thunder crackling above like guns across the Channel,
Hailstones ricocheting like shrapnel;
My path was blocked by fallen trees,
Prickled barbed wire stars of holly,
Puddles like forlorn foxholes,
And a succession of map-marked Spouts,
Until I left No-Man’s Land.
I ambled along spring-line Thrupp Lane,
Then down the canal to the Lock-Keeper’s,
Where on an opposite wall,
A new piece of graffiti has appeared,
A Banksy-like badger’s face,
With a bullet in its blood-red eye.
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
Who Needs Google Earth?
Chapter 3 in Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” has a diverting section on walking, emanating from the pen of the imaginary mad-savant, de Selby. O’Brien’s fictional eccentric genius saw roads as “the most ancient of human monuments, surpassing by many tens of centuries” the most ancient of stone edifices created by humanity. De Selby talked of “the tread of time” and how “ a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there.” The unconstrained thoughts of de Selby led him to the conclusion that “If you go with such a road…it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground.” I am sure you can see the converse: “…if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines…”
De Selby also wrote of urban walking, of “a complicated city with nets of crooked streets and five hundred other roads leaving it for unknown destinations.” Needless to say, “a friendly road” “will always be discernible for its own self and will lead you safely out of the tangled town.” Thus, I think we can say that we do not need Google Earth or even an OS map to guide us both into Stroud and out towards Rodborough Fields or the Slad Valley. Instead, we might carry a copy of Colin Ward’s “Talking Green”, stopping to look at paragraph two on age 44: “Cherished corners of the landscape can be changed beyond recognition in a few hours. Trees, streams, footpaths, buildings, symbols of permanence which transcend ownership, may suddenly disappear.”
Just as the price of liberty might be eternal vigilance, so might be the price of the right road.
Ashleworth, Spring and Ivor Gurney
I have been fruitlessly trying to get hold of a copy of Edward Thomas’ ‘In Pursuit of Spring’ for some while, but that failure didn’t matter in the least today, at the end of April, when I walked around Ashleworth, following in the footsteps of Ivor Gurney. The sky, the land and the river all put on such a show, that it seemed as though I walked through a dream of spring; there was no need to pursue.
The blackthorn blossom, smoky and dusty in cloudscape shadow, dazzled the eye with its brilliant whiteness as the morning progressed. The Severn, too, changed from a dark, sullen, turbid force to a gentle ‘ water’s canvas’ where ‘ bright sunshine paints the picture of the day.’ The hawthorn hedgerows grew ever greener; the haze on the Malverns drifted towards some blue remembered hills, whilst Barrow Hill stood sentinel, as I walked upstream, with the Cotswolds to my right, way beyond the waters.
I didn’t see a sinner for about three hours: just parliaments of rooks; a pair of ducks taking off to destinations known only to themselves; the occasional hawk; a robin; then my first swallow of the spring, sweeping over the Severn’s surface. I even heard my first cuckoo in years, and then glanced up from the newspaper to see a swan gliding along, for all the world, just like a Viking longboat.
I don’t know if the Vikings came here but the Saxons certainly left their herring bone stonework in the church; but it is the medieval that predominates in Ashleworth: the barn; the manor house; the preaching cross; the quay, down by the pub called ‘The Boat’. The quay reminds us of how riverine transport was a darn sight easier before the age of turnpike roads and railways; equally, many of the footpaths here move in Euclidean straight lines, from village to village – unlike the constantly curving lanes and roadways.
The village post office did not have a Victorian postbox such as I saw in Hasfield, but it did have a collection box for food, ‘The Lord’s Larder’, as did St.Mary’s in Hasfield. These food parcels are for needy families in the area, coordinated by St. Mary’s in Newent. Sometimes, modernity still shocks. I used to associate Christian charity with what was once called ‘The Third World’; it is a surprise to find such alliterative support now so localised. We are, of course, all in this together.
Any road, the walk from The Haw and Hasfield down to Ashleworth was as delightful as the stroll out along the Severn’s banks: cow parsley; my first sighting of bluebells; pear and apple trees in blossom and the thought of my walking in Ivor Gurney’s wake. The only traffic I saw in the five minutes I spent waiting for the ‘bus at the crossroads in Ashleworth was a girl on a horse. I read Gurney’s poem ‘Above Ashleworth’ on the journey back to Gloucester. How much more meaning it now had, after walking the landscape.
O does some blind fool now stand on my hill
To see how Ashleworth nestles by the river?
Where eyes and heart and soul may drink their fill
The Cotswolds range out Eastward as if never
A curve of them the hand of Time might change;
Beauty sleeps most confidently for ever.
The blind fool stands, his dull eyes free to range
Endlessly almost, and finds no words to say,
Not that the sense of wonder is too strange
Too great for speech. Naught touches him; the day
Blows its glad trumpets, breathes rich-odoured breath;
Glory after glory passes away.
(And I’m in France!) He looks and sees beneath
The clouds in steady Severn silver and grey.
But dead he is, and comfortable in Death.
Walking a Metaphor
From Purgatory to Paradise
a company of artists, poets, writers,
young and old, walked in discourse and delight.
In Purgatory woods through, which our human line snaked,
and before emerging onto the hill of swifts,
dainty paths were picked through pungent wild garlic,
bluebell and delicate points of debate.
Nettles and propositions were beaten down,
care taken to avoid snagging legs or ideas
on trailing blackberry shoots and thorny questions.
On the hill we grouped, imagined the fields spread below
draped scarlet with wool cloth drying, then
a step of two more, and a pause by Elcombe’s spring,
after which our ribbon widened in the lanes
then trailed tracks much deepened by iron wheels, hooves, shod feet.
The tree-canopied tunnels, holloways, descended
to streams and rivers whose flow held stories
of mills and weaving; we pooled human knowing.
The place names evoked images: Bulls Cross
where the gibbet stood near Longridge – which it is -
then the Cockshoot to Damsells Cross and so to Paradise
and Charles’ rest, where our modern tribe gathered,
warmed by sunshine, replete with tale telling and discovering.
Spirits freed from the daily round and round by metaphorical footsteps
flights of imagination and poetic Indulgences.
Jacqui Stearn, June 1st 2013
Collective Memory of a Collective Walk
The March day saw the lion lie down with the lamb,
With a cold, chaste air, but still and dry;
It was the week of President Chavez’s death,
And we walked up Spring Lane to Hemlock Well,
Where there has been a well since 1618,
Two years before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for the Americas,
The year of Walter Raleigh’s execution,
Paying the price for a failed El Dorado;
We then walked to Gainey’s Well,
Air vents above the hidden reservoir,
Water cascading through subterranean tunnels,
In a secret garden where we peer behind the veil,
The veil that obscures the world beneath your feet,
For underneath the pavement the beach,
Where water was first piped to Stroud, in 1769,
The year that Captain Cooke landed in New Zealand,
In Poverty Bay, and observed the transit of Venus,
The year when Daniel Boone explored Kentucky,
West of the Appalachians and the Ohio,
Six years before Stroud-scarlet redcoats became the enemy.
But we looked down to the Slad Brook and the Frome,
Saw the scarlet stretched on tenterhooks,
Heard the water-wheels course through the foam,
Saw the weavers who drank from Hemlock and lived up Dryhill,
Bodies coming and leaving and straggling in bits,
Walking with mothers springing to mind,
Water bursting forth,
Stroud-steep hills leaking like a colander over pebbled moss paths,
Watery water walking walk,
Slippery bank to frothing heavenly spout,
A cat lady showing us not one but two wells in her forest,
T’was lovely to discover some hidden gushers,
The streams, spouts and springs that flow beneath,
Dogs into cats, cats into dogs, outside a well,
Happiness and sadness, Basil is gone.
Ypres: “City of Peace”
Season of mists and melancholy, really,
Wandering through Hansel-Gretel woodcut Bruges,
Driving through the Fields of Flanders,
Ghosts crawling cross the brown-ploughed landscape,
Through Sanctuary Wood, Railway Wood, Polygon Wood,
Around the Messines Crater and Hellfire Corner.
I was looking out of the window,
Skimming Ivor Gurney’s Severn poems,
Then reading Owen and Sassoon,
Underneath the Menin Gate,
(“Pro Patria, Pro Rege”,
Or Owen’s “old lie”?)
Before I saw the names of the Glosters
Among the other 100,000 or so names,
For whom “The fortune of war gave no known grave”,
“Their names liveth for evermore”,
Like the Singhs from the Punjab,
Who gaze in reverence at their ancestral VCs;
They stand there, scanning the Portland Stone,
The stone of choice for the imperial 20’s,
When, unbeknown, the British Empire
Was already approaching vanishing point,
When widows, sisters and tearful parents,
Would follow the paths of Kipling and Conan Doyle
With table-top messages to the glorious dead
Of our island race, its dominions and colonies;
Spiritualists and mediums radiating across the ether,
Across the regiments of newly hewn gravestones,
Across the adamantine Portland Stone,
(Shakespearian trope in an uncertain age)
To where the bones of the young lay in fields
That were not the fields of England,
Where the rusting, rotting detritus of the war
Lay waiting to kill, blind or maim again,
Or fill the varnished cases of private museums,
Shells, gas masks, belts, insignia, helmets, caps,
Machine guns, rifles, pistols, bayonets, field glasses,
Barbed wire, mortars, boots and uniforms,
Old Curiosity Shoppes, with bandaged mannequins
Standing side by side with a grinning Oliver Hardy,
And red capped garden gnomes standing sentinel
By the fox holes’ brackish water and muddied trenches,
Seven Euro entry, payable to the rich hard-faced man
Who still does well out of the war.
As Paul Nash said,
“I have seen the most frightful nightmare of a country
More conceived by Poe and Dante than nature…
Sunset and sunrise are blasphemies.”
But in re-built Ypres, see St. George’s Church,
And the museum’s filmic exhibitions,
(English soundtracks and German subtitles),
The Last Post,
That every night
“Sends goose pimples down my back”,
Said the barman at the Menin Gate.
And this is how they are remembered
At the rising of the sun and the going down of the same,
But what will happen when the waters rise?
The Source of the Frome: A November Walk
‘No sun-no moon!
No morn- no noon –
No dawn- no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no helpful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
Thomas Hood – with happy memories of my mum, who used to recite this each year at this time. Out there in that cold, cold kitchen on a Sunday.
Source to Miserden and back:
I know that geology and hydrology explain springs; I understand that gravity and scientific laws explain why water flows in the direction it does. But, at the same time, isn’t there something magical, alchemical and beyond imagination about it all? The John Keats as well as Isaac Newton trope sort of thing: I’m not invoking a deity – just metaphorically standing jaw-dropped at the is-ness of it all.
For there we have the confluence of two springs, determined by the shape and content of sky and landscape, dropping down to Caudle Green. Here on a delicately balanced watershed, on the finest of lines, gravity’s scales of justice direct some water west via the Frome to the Severn and the Bristol Channel; other droplets drift east via the Churn to Cricklade, then on to the Great Wen and the English Channel. Conjoined droplets of water, slipping apart to opposing cardinal points of the compass, yet still conjoined by history and language: the Celtic ‘fra’, denoting a ‘brisk’ river; the Celtic ‘chwern’, indicating a ‘swift’ flow.
We shall be walking the Frome from its source to its confluence with the Severn in the following stages:
1. Source to Miserden and back
2. Miserden to Sapperton
3. Sapperton to Stroud
4. Stroud to Eastington
5. Eastington to Framilode
Stage 2 probably the 2nd Sunday in January.