Around Soddenham


soddenham-poetry-2It has often been commented upon that I spend a lot of my time walking in and around the village over the years, without route nor destination, and that I must know every inch of every mile! That well may be, but as I walk amongst our lanes and through our pastures I am often presented with a view not recognised, or scene unfolding amongst my fellow man that forces me to reappraise my assumed knowledge. I get to hear fragments of conversations interposed between the sounds of everyday life and the sounds of the countryside that lead me to think about how we ‘read’ the world around us. We naturally filter out that with does not readily concern us, focussing only on our immediate interests or the task in hand.

I have been asked to share my thoughts and observations on this website and am very pleased to do so.

Friday 7 June. 6.30am. From Candlesmoke Bridge to Ladies Bridge via the north bank of The Leam.

There is the promise of some warmer weather today, but also the promise of rain. Walking into the morning sunshine cutting through the trees like a golden knife through butter, the birds casually performing a dramatic concerto seemingly just for my own pleasure. The ground is spongy and still full of water from the recent rains, squelching and farting out it’s dead earthy odours as I make may way down to the north bank to come level with the old mill pond, just about visible through the sickly looking trees that have somehow managed to stake a claim in our wet, wet earth between the Leam and the millpond. It feels somehow primordial down here; water flowing, birds singing, the wind swirling about above but not reaching down here, and the smell of wet ground, as cloying as candyfloss at a funfair.

The Leam, yesterday

There are no man-made noises here. I am far enough away from the bridge and not yet at the point where the back gardens of the buildings on Main Street slope down to the river. Sometimes I begin to think about those first people who settled here – that these are the same sounds, smells and sights that they saw, as they stopped to drink from The Leam and rest. Right here, there is no visual clue of any modern human activity and I indulge myself in thinking about what they must have felt as they looked around them in this old woodland; damp, buggy and sour.

I squelch on, turning east away from the river further into Sodden Covert, stopping to examine the deer tracks in the mud and observe a rather spectacular, if over-ripe, plate fungus amongst the twisted roots of an upturned silver birch.

I am always amazed how the landscape opens up when you reach the clearing known as Lollards Pits. The flatness of the land is lost within the woods, which are very old and thick with vegetation, so when you find a sizeable clearing, the vast dome of sky hits you and reduces you to a mere speck in the landscape. Breathtaking.

That this area was cleared by hand seems impossible. And the pits, dug out and lived in, covered with branches and leaves; the rudimentary dwellings of our forebears, now standing empty and preserved like the battlefields in northern France, forever scarred by war, and serenaded by a single skylark.

I venture into the middle of the clearing and turn about, picturing damp, muddy people clambering in and out of the pits, scurrying into the woods to scrape the lichen from the trees with their fingernails in order to feed themselves. The skylark ignores me and continues its serenade, and I move on back to the Leam towards Ladies Bridge, where I shall very likely find my old friend Eric Nullbrigg, the erstwhile printer, tending his kitchen garden and ruminating upon the weather. Back to civilisation and a nice cup of tea.



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