“Parochialism is universal. It deals with the fundamentals” ….. “To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.”
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-67)
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
This blog documents my encounters with landscape, trees, creatures and, sometimes, people during the course of fairly regular rambles around Oakington, a fen-edge village just north of Cambridge in the east of England.
Having lived in the village for five years, making only occasional forays into the surrounding countryside, I realized how little I knew about the land I inhabited, the place I called home. Actually, I didn’t ‘inhabit’ it as such because I regarded my home turf as essentially dull, without interest, lifeless, uninspiring. I went elsewhere to walk and ‘experience nature’.
With good reason, so I thought. The immediate district presents a monotonously flat landscape, with no significant geographical or natural features. It lies on the edge of what once were the great wild wetlands of the Fens, now tamed, drained and cultivated. Here there are no hills, valleys, woods or rivers to speak of, no mountains, moorland, heathland, marshland, mudflats or coast. It is neither urban, nor suburban, nor rural. It is, for want of a better term, sub-rural – an edge-land of big single-crop fields, scraps of neglected orchard, pony paddocks, drainage ditches, dormitory villages, care homes, golf courses, mobile home parks, travellers’ sites, car-breakers’ yards, bungalows and barn conversions, and various species of slipshod horticultural operations. It is home to a crematorium, an immigration ‘reception’ centre, and a disused airfield, and is bounded on two sides by the notorious 6-lane highway, the A14. Every inch of it is managed to a greater or lesser degree, and the few patches of scrub or undeveloped land that remain are under imminent threat from farmers and developers. It is by no means an affluent area (being on the wrong, i.e. the fenny, miasmic side of Cambridge), and it has a somewhat dishevelled and marginal feel to it. It is, on the face of it, an altogether unremarkable tract of England.
Still, this is where I happen to live.
So, on a 1 : 25,000 map of the area, I drew a circle of two miles radius around my house, furnishing 4 – 5 mile excursions to the edge and back and about 12 ½ square miles to roam about in. I gave myself a year (about 100 excursions, I reckoned) to get acquainted with every field, pasture, orchard, hedgerow, tree, ditch, dyke, copse, track and path, and as many creatures as cared to reveal themselves to me.
On New Year’s Eve, 2009, I set out to see what I could see …..