A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

From Hag To Bag

Last Saturday I took another walk in the Lincolnshire Wolds. I followed farmers' tracks and field paths from the village of Hagworthingham (known locally as 'Hag') to the village of Bag Enderby, then returned a different way. The weather was warm, and the sky mainly overcast. By the middle of the afternoon it became almost sultry, with a temperature more like that of a summer's day. Meandering slowly along the route, I passed some garish yellow acres of oilseed rape...

... and this five barred, wooden gate leading into a grass field...

... then saw this riven tree...

...close by the River Lymm, which Alfred Lord Tennyson immortalized in his poem The Brook: I come from haunts of coot and hern,/I make a sudden sally,/And sparkle out among the fern,/To bicker down a valley...
On the hedgebanks, at woodland edges, and in other shady spots, I found stitchwort, red campion (see pic below), lesser celandine, and tangles of herb robert, a flower which demonstrates perfectly the ancient 'doctrine of signatures' - herbalists once recommended herb robert as a treatment for blood disorders as its stem and leaves turn blood-red in the autumn.
(The 'doctrine of signatures' was formulated by early physicians, herbalists and mystics. They believed God had marked the objects of His creation with a sign or 'signature' - perhaps relating to their form or colour - which gave a clue to their purpose; for instance, the walnut, since the shell resembled the shape of a human head and the nut had the texture of a human brain, was supposed to be good for head ailments. Another example of sympathetic magic?)

In the sunnier, less sheltered grassland areas, the year's first daisies had opened, and there were drifts of lilac-coloured cuckoo flowers, a flower which evokes the fields of my childhood: some of my cousins were farmers, and their meadows were full of cuckoo flowers and cowslips, poppies and field scabious - this was long before the days when most farmland became fertilizered and pesticided and monocultured.
The cuckoo flower (aka mikmaid or lady's smock) is a fascinating and nostalgic flower for me. It recalls the long spring and summer days of boyhood - when I used to roam freely and carelessly about the countryside. It's name too has an interesting derivation. Sure, it blooms during the months when the cuckoo sings; but, more intriguingly, the plant is covered in foam in late spring, and it was once believed this substance was cuckoo saliva. Really it has nothing to do with cuckoos, but is produced by the nymphs of the froghopper bug.
The blackthorn blossom had already faded and tumbled, but the hawthorn (or may) bush was just on the cusp of unpacking its tight flower buds. Indeed the odd one was already in bloom. May blossom looks wonderful - but many think it has an unpleasant, sickly smell, an odour of death. I've written before about may blossom, and its connection with Proust, here.
The pungent smell of wild garlic wafted towards me from garlic mustard plants (aka jack-by-the-hedge or hedge garlic) which grew along the hedgerow bottoms, and also from clumps of white-flowered ransoms in the woods and spinneys. Ransoms belongs to the lily family, and you can chop up the leaves and use them as a flavouring in cookery; garlic mustard is a cabbage, and has many culinary uses too - in sauces and in salads, and, of course, as the ingredient for garlic mustard!

To be continued...


Rachel Fox said...

Good to read you're getting out and about (and out of the car!).

Dominic Rivron said...

England must be full of poetically immortalized places: we live just up the road from Hart Leap Well - it's actually quite a prosaic spot.

Jay said...

That was lovely! It reminds me of a couple of walks I've taken recently in woodland. I saw herb robert and wild garlic too - and lesser celandine, the odd red campion, and other things like periwinkle, cuckoo pint (wild arum) and bugle. I might do a post about the woodland walks ..

There is a meadow across the road from us where a lot of cuckoo flowers (lady's smock) grow, and we get many seeding in our garden. I like them!

Interesting about the 'cuckoo spit' - I hadn't thought of that being a possibility for the name. :)

The Solitary Walker said...

Though not enough at the moment, Rachel!

Dom, that kind of place is often a disappointment if we expect, when we go there, to be illuminated in some way. The birthplaces and gravestones, and other geographical haunts and locations associated with writers and poets, are, well, just places after all. It's the mind and imagination of the artist that transforms them, makes them 'other' - and we can only really find this 'otherness' in the artist's works themselves.

Just look at Eastwood and its environs, the collieries and the fairly mundane countryside - yet D.H.Lawrence turned it into something unforgettable as the backdrop to many of his greatest novels. It was the 'country of his heart', as he called it - but it was also the country of his creative imagination.

If we try locating in the real world the geography of a novel, go looking for a topographical connection with an author, the actual places which inspired the author may hold a few clues, but not the real answer to the mystery of the work of art. The real answer lies in the work of art itself.

For example, I don't think a boat trip down the Congo would necessarily shed a great deal of light on Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'.

Jay - funnily enough, I'm intending writing about bugle in one of the upcoming posts about my recent walk!