Seas of Grasses around the Church

Smarden is the most romantic of villages.  Tudor houses predominate the village with timber frames and white render, with kentpeg tiles overhead. Cottage gardens full of traditional shrubs display a neatly kept selection with hebes, hypericum and lavender all crying for our attention.  The modern cars seem so very out of place in this village so full of traditional, nostalgic images, the juxtaposition is cool though too. Lloyd is out in front of me. He’s quieter and more considered this morning.

We can see the church behind the houses, the stone tower rising above the roof tops, a stone tower with a smaller stone tower on the nearest corner.  As we approach, we can see the entrance to the churchyard is through a passageway beneath a bedroom I suspect. You don’t see that every day. We squeeze alongside a car before we make our way through the passage. Briefly the light dims before we emerge into a typical churchyard scene. Except it isn’t typical. There are no walls to this churchyard, its bordered by the backs of houses. The churchyard is the view from kitchens and dining rooms of houses, all old and varied.  Quaint, in every respect, so nostalgically traditional that you look around to see where Mrs Marple might be hiding.

We are here for a number of reasons, and why not, we are in a beautiful village and the churchyard is part of our path, so it makes sense to stop and explore.  Lloyd is fascinated by all the churches we have passed. Churchyards are fantastic wildlife havens as for the most part they are left relatively undisturbed and often host gigantic sprawling yew trees.  Long lived saviours of Englands chequered past. Yew trees have provided the staves of longbows that without which, we would probably all be French. With the longbow we won the battles of Crecy and Agincore. The French died in droves before they ever got to our troops. A longbow can shoot an arrow a couple of hundred meters. A massive advantage in mediaeval warfare. A skilled bowman could make a longbow in less than an hour, that’s impressive.  Archery also gave us the infamous V sign, often used these days to display our displeasure.

We are also a little low on water, its Sunday and the local shops are all shut. Some still do. I was of the belief that all churchyards have a standpipe available. They certainly do at home. Smarden Church appears to have proved me wrong. If there is one, I can’t find it.

As we leave Smarden, we immediately come across one of the other two stand out features of this walk, and to be fair, the time of year. Rapeseed fields. The vibrancy of the yellow flowers has receded, so those suffering with hay fever can relax, but now the weight of the stems is beginning to block the paths, this makes walking through them a challenge as they criss cross the paths making them quite an obstacle. Especially when you’ve got a heavy pack on your back. Trip hazards are not welcome.  Lloyd is out front, and whilst I can’t speak for him, his passing didn’t seem to unknot the stems for me.

Rapeseed provided an interesting social media conundrum that no one seems to have been able to solve, well apart from the obvious. Let me explain.  I posted a video onto social media called, ‘Rape, don’t you just love it’. Figured the title might cause a little interest, then thought no more about it. It was a video about the vibrancy of natural colours, the yellow of rape being the main feature. On most platforms it did as well as most posts. Maybe a little higher, however on tiktok it went out to fourteen and half thousand people, eight hundred and twenty four people have engaged with it and one hundred and eighteen people reposted it. I put out a serious request using the same technique, usual response, and now on tiktok its like my posts are going down a big hole. Bizarre. I’ll keep posting though, hopefully normal service will resume fairly soon.

Have to admit, I was glad to see the end of the last rapeseed field though.

The other main feature was the amazing seas of grasses that rippled and flowed in the wind. There’s a positive pay off for all things and one off the beautiful things that you get with wind is the effect it has on the vegetation.  I love to take a moment as we passed wheat fields and watch as the wind made the wheat move as if to a horizontal Mexican wave.  It looked just like the sea as the tide ebbs and flows.  Added to that was the way the clouds cast shadows across the fields, fast moving with the wind hurrying them on as if their mere existence could be blown away and of course there is a point where the wind is stronger than the bonds that hold our clouds together.

The wind and the shadows made the wheat a writhing mass of vegetation that almost took on a life of its own. A life subject to the elements of this world.

As of course, we all are.

Bring on the Pennine way for real!

Simon Pollard  Urban Countryman  June 2024.

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