The Wormingford Trail

*

This series of reflections was written following a visit to the writer Ronald Blythe only days before his 100th birthday by the New Nature Writing class (LT904) in November 2023.

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Ronald Blythe aged 99 years 362 days old is the oldest person I have ever met.

The famous author lives in a secluded cottage in the heart of the North Essex countryside, bordering on the rolling hills of Suffolk. Our group followed the trail from his home, the beautifully called but unknown meaning, Bottengoms, to his parish church at Wormingford.

He used to travel this path regularly to act as a lay preacher at the church on a Sunday until his age took its toll.

It was a dismal afternoon but at least it had stopped raining and our leader James, promised us it would not rain that afternoon.  He must have a direct line to the rain gods because it stayed dry. The clocks had gone back four days before so we all knew that it would get dark earlier but we made the most of it.

The paths were muddy and we made our way slip sliding along the public footpath up and over stiles and through kissing gates, all the time being parallel to the Stour valley.  We took the obligatory selfie at one of them. The mixture of autumn colours of the yellow, gold and green fields, woods and meadows of Suffolk were on the horizon along with the odd farmhouse and church spire.

My mind kept wandering to the Tudor time when Queen Elizabeth 1st is recorded as hunting deer in the valley staying at the long since disappeared hunting lodge.

The stop at the church was made more memorable by us being escorted by Barry the bell ringer. His proud stories of the history of the church and his nationwide journeys to ring the bells in many old historic churches rolled off his tongue in the lilt of his broad North Essex accent.

Our trip back was getting darker and darker.  We were greeted on the way by a magnificent ram, his horns curling from his head like mirrored whirling fireworks. He was guarding his harem, looking over his fence as if he was expecting us to pay a toll to get through.

It was a great bonding session for our group and we all took the chance to have conversations with each other. Mine ranged from cricket and football with Ibrahim, bird patterned back packs with Anupa to comparing studies with Charlotte.

Kamakshi our expert photographer has sent us the photographs from the day, strangely the lighting seems a lot brighter than it actually was.

Peter Chisnall

*

There are these leaves I saw, right at the end of our walk, and amongst its weathered

brown features were these thick textured veins, on a human I would have called them

varicose, but on the leaves they looked like the dusty paths back home, the swollen

rivers and winding leaping brooks, all damaged by the very feet that held them precious.

I remember having to take a picture of it. It wasn’t a choice, it was a reckoning. The

broad tapered edges of the leaves were damaged as well, disintegrating, breaking

away, leaving only memories behind. I registered, in slight jealousy, that enough time

had passed for them that they could return to a part of the world I could only half way

occupy. It’s almost rude, how, when you grow up in nature, you are eventually taught the

cruel lesson that you must one day be ‘civil’, that staying out and sleeping on trees is for

little girls who don’t have to be “more”. As if the idea of more couldn’t be the earth that

raised them. That swimming with snakes is for someone who is not an adult. There are

trees in my memories that have given me more than my father ever could. There is rain

that has washed away more tears than any flimsy promise the world has given me.

I had to kneel down in the wet grass to get the right angle, to properly frame the

strongest equalizer, the circle of life. The green healthy leaves on top, and their brown

dying brethren at the bottom. One day the green leaves would too fall, turn brown, but

for anyone who paid attention in their biology classes there would no doubt, they too

would eventually grow again, their death would provide their life. And how could I not

capture that in my little box, such a clear indication of a cycle that has existed for years

before me and will exist years after me. I remember getting up from that picture with

sticky wet clothes and painful stones digging into my feet. I struggle to care. Of a

preconceived idea of civility, of an idea of being proper, that does not include the world I

grew up in.

The wooden floors in huge empty mansions are only a walk on death, you use broken

nature to build your homes, not caring that if you continue down this path, one day it will

be all gone. And it will take us with them. But don’t think of nature as your benevolent

friend. It’s like those varicose veins, twisty, lumpy, bulging, uncomfortable. It does not

know how not to hurt you, does not know how to be civil and proper, because it does not

care. But that is okay because when I go on a walk and drift past the gently floating

autumn leaves, the maps the feathery veins make, remind me of home.

Tanya Chadha

*

a tawny owl

                 alone in the sky

far away into the blue

                   …on the other side

we walked the words

                   into the woods

towards an antique gem

           inside flourished —

wisdom,

a pussy cat…

            I felt home

Kamakshi Lekshmanan

Wormingford

Thistle and bramble, bush and tree 

Out in the marshland scenery 

Thistle and bramble, bush and tree 

Watch out for the slippery leaves 

Thistle, bramble, bush and tree 

Through the kissing gate you’ll see 

Thistle, bramble, bush and tree  

Off to Wormingford church you’ll be 

Thistle and bramble, bush and tree 

A pleasantly amiable adventure this’ll be  

Thistle and bramble, bush and tree 

Eat your cake and drink some tea 

Thistle, bramble, bush and tree 

Say hi to Ronnie just for me 

Hannah Bosch

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