The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name.
Team Edward Thomas are reading to a leisurely schedule having set ourselves an almost Adlestropian pace at which to enjoy our pre-publication reading of All Roads Lead to France - The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis, and a wealth of associated books leading us along a variety of trails. For those interested in reading along those trails with us you will find a list of books over here >>>> somewhere, and we will be sharing thoughts on those eventually too as well as welcoming Matthew Hollis here to answer our questions and to talk more about his book.
But we are also busy on the tracing footsteps front.
Hilary is this very day travelling on the Oxford to Worcester train line that Edward Thomas also travelled,
and on the very same day June 24th and ninety-seven years later that his train made that unscheduled stop at Adlestrop. Even the timings will be almost identical, and though the station was a victim of the Beeching cuts in 1966 this remains a historic literary journey, so we are very grateful to Hilary for setting out on our behalf today and greatly looking forward to sharing her thoughts on here soon.
Meanwhile Fran has walked around and about the village of Steep, one time home of Edward Thomas and his family, the surrounding landscape the inspiration for much of his poetry. Fran's pictures and commentary and a wonderful moment of homage on our behalf have had us all entranced, bringing so much of what we are reading to life, so I feel sure you will enjoy them too....over to Fran.
Last Friday I spent a glorious afternoon following an Edward Thomas walk around Steep in Hampshire. The PDF of the walk as published by East Hampshire can be seen here.
Steep is still a small village just outside Petersfield, a small country town. Bedales school is right in the middle, where the Thomas' sent their children. Sadly the noise from the A3 road now disrupts the peace of this sleepy place, although there was plenty of birdsong to be heard on Friday. Throughout the walk the sound of blackcaps, blackbirds, thrushes, robins, wrens and dunnocks were to be heard. Both Edward in his prose and poems, and Helen in Under Storms Wing mention hearing the nightingales often whilst living here, but none heard by me although they are known to sing in the day as well as at night.
The hedgerows were full of all the flowers of which Edward Thomas wrote; dog and field roses, honeysuckle, foxgloves, elderflowers, a few common spotted orchids and when up on the open part of the hanger, cushions of thyme,marjoram, plenty of rock rose and the evidence of many cowslips. These were at their best about a month ago on the Downs near to where I live. It must have been a picture up by the memorial stone then.
The War Memorial was sobering. I sat awhile on the bench, and counted fifty four names.
The village is not large now. Before WW1 it must have been a small, spread out rural community. Six of the names appear twice, so those families lost more than one son. The enormity of the losses felt by each and evey town and village in the country could be seen from this sad record.
The path then climbed steeply up the wooded hanger, until I reached the eastern end of Cockshott Lane, and walked along to the far end to catch glimpses of The Red House and The Bee House. Both had high hedges and I didn’t want to intrude too much as they are private homes. Walking back towards Shoulder of Mutton Hill, the road unmade for much of the way, I felt it was not that dissimilar to how it would have been when Edward walked that way with one of his children up on his shoulders. Up here there was only the sound of the wind in the trees, and the birdsong. It was worth that stiff climb....what a view. Having rained the day before I probably could see for "sixty miles", the Downs rolled away endlessly in both directions.
Then down the hill again, to see Berryfields. In the photos taken from up on the hill it is the small house set sideways on the right of the complex of buildings. I noticed the unusual way it was built of both brick and flint, and then the next day in Under Storms Wing I read Helen Thomas' description of it.
Of all their houses in Steep I think this was the one they liked best. It is in a delightful situation with views up to the wooded hills, a stream nearby and deep tunnels of lanes all round.
My last stop was at the church to see the two engraved windows, by Laurence Whistler to mark the centenary of Edward's birth.
I was met with the sad notice that one of them had been broken recently during a break in. As they are clear glass it is difficult to photograph them but it was a fitting end to such an enjoyable afternoon, and one that has brought to life much of the prose I am reading.
With thanks to Fran for that wonderfully evocative walk, and I'm sure the members of Team Edward Thomas will be along in comments soon to give their early impressions of reading so far.
But it all set me a-thinking...what of other literary walks or journeys, there must be so many, can you recommend any others??