A narrow country lane like this invites us to adventure. It would have have been a delightful place for a leisurely walk with John Clare.
There used to be great pleasure in being able to stroll down such a quiet lane. With deep banks the flowers are up-close at eye level and easy to observe. The peace of old England is found in lanes like this. This is life in the ‘slow lane’, the way things used to be. This is a place in which to meander and take your time. Here you can smell the fresh country air, the scent of hawthorn in the hedges, or of newly cut hay in a meadow, or hear the sound cattle or sheep in a field. Pausing at a field gateway you can enjoy the view and taste a few ripe blackberries. You won’t get anywhere fast here, but you will lose your cares and feel all the better for having travelled this way.
The grass growing in the centre of this lane is a most welcome sign that the traffic is minimal. Here is a countryside of quiet beauty, still largely unspoiled, retaining much of the serenity of the past.
Our English country lanes are a national treasure winding through our fields always leading to some new delight just around the corner. Some lanes have persisted for centuries, tracing an unbroken history going back hundreds of years. The lane verges are a refuge for half our native flora, untouched by the plough for centuries, a vast ‘nature reserve’ open to the public.
John Clare was a true countryman born in this farm labourer’s cottage in Helpston. He made this his home territory wandering the lanes, fields and woods finding inspiration for his poems, which, as he so delightfully said, he ‘found in the fields’. The poems picture England before the ravages of the Industrial Revolution.
On a Lane in Spring
“A little lane—the brook runs close beside,
And spangles in the sunshine, while the fish glide swiftly by;
And hedges leafing with the green springtide;
From out their greenery the old birds fly,
And chirp and whistle in the morning sun;
The pilewort glitter ‘neath the pale blue sky,
The little robin has its nest begun
The grass green linnets round the bushes fly.
How mild the spring comes in! The daisy buds
Lift up their golden blossoms to the sky.
How lovely are the pingles in the woods!
Here a beetle runs—and there a fly
Rests on the arum leaf in bottle-green,
And all the spring in this sweet lane is seen.”
John Clare (1793-1864)
Pileworts – Lesser Celandines
Pingles – perhaps Primroses or Cowslips?
How many of us are as observant as Clare? When did we last walk slowly as he did seeing everything in that ‘sweet spring lane’ of his? We miss so much as we rush by these precious places.
Sadly, today things are different
This photo of one of my favourite local spots is a reminder of the many quiet lanes that have been spoiled by motor traffic, precious little remnants of a more relaxed past. A few years ago I read of West Sussex County Council’s scheme to establish ‘Quiet Lanes’ where pedestrians had the main right of way. Inevitably it seems this is no longer being pursued as a policy. The car, yet again, seems to have had the last word. The walker is no longer welcome here. Only the car has right of way leaving pedestrians to fend for themselves.
“Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.”
From ‘Inexpensive Progress‘ by John Betjamin
In this lane you have to go at a county pace. You may meet up with a tractor with a load of silage or hay, a herd of cows on their way for milking, or a stray sheep that has pushed through the hedge. It does us all immense good to be made to slow down a bit more. Life is too precious to be lived constantly in the fast lane! You’ll miss so much if you do. But when you do ramble down one of these lanes, take this old Irish prayer of blessing with you:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and God be with you until we meet again.
Thanks for joining John Clare and me.
Top photo – by Tony Atkin – Creative Commons