A Nod To Little Gidding


Today I scanned the final photographs of the Henley – Newark row/walk of July 2003. The last leg, from Nottingham to Newark was 25 miles in length.

Sam set off without James, and I trailed in his wake. It is hard to believe that I managed to keep within sight of him as he rowed along the River Trent, but these photographs would seem to prove it. Perhaps the cattle would bear witness.

As the rower moved into Farndon, James, Louisa, and Gemma set out to greet him and to follow him towards

Newark Castle station 7.03

Newark Castle, first passing the railway station;

to be greeted by his reception committee as he docked. Louisa, as requested, handed me two pints of beer – all for me.

Perhaps this was a lap of honour alongside the castle ruins. This 13th century castle was originally built for the Bishop of Lincoln. A Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, ‘in 1646 the garrison surrendered, but only after a direct command from Charles I. Parliament ordered the castle destroyed so it could never be held against them again, but fate took a hand; plague broke out in Newark town, and the destruction of the castle was halted.’ This quotation is taken from  http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=93 which contains a more complete history in very readable form.

So, what has all this to do with T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’? From this, the last of the poet’s Four Quartets, I have borrowed

‘What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from………….

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time’.

The reason is that I do not have the negatives of the last of my photographs as they are prints, which must have been produced by our friend Alison, or her sister, Rosemary, both of whom were there to send us on our way.

Sam took delivery of his boat at Henley where he and James set about preparing and stocking it for the journey. Note the black bin behind my son,

which I strapped on with the rather optimistic intention of collecting sponsorship money.

Pacific Pete left the mooring,

and we were under way. This was to be the last sound footpath I trod for the next eleven days.

This evening we dined on Thai inspired fish cakes from Tesco served on Jackie’s succulent bed of sautéed onions, peppers, leeks, mushrooms and manges touts; noodles; prawn toasts and spring rolls. The Culinary Queen drank her customary Hoegaarden and I drank more of the madiran.

P.S. See Mike’s bitaboutbritain comment below for a much fuller illustrated history of Newark Castle



The Earth

My return journey today from Nottingham was uneventful. Louisa drove me to Nottingham Station and Jackie collected me at New Milton.

I have quoted Heraclitus’s observation that ‘all is flux, nothing stays still’, in an earlier post. There is no greater example of this than the planet on which we live, which, as Richard Fortey, so eloquently describes in his ‘Earth An Intimate History’ which I finished reading this evening. I had plenty of time on trains in the last couple of days to make considerable headway in this book which I began reading a short while ago.

The John Day Fossil Beds001

The author is clearly a considerable geologist with a gift for explaining his science in a method intelligible to the layperson. His intention is to pass on his study of tectonic plates. I do not pretend that I will be able to remember what I have learned from this book, but I did find most of it understandable. His grasp of historical and prehistorical context makes it clear that human beings have come and gone in a minuscule fraction of the life of the earth. And my memory span will pale into insignificance in comparison to the lifetime of humanity.

Fortey explains how subterranean influences determine what happens both above and below sea level. He claims that ‘the face of the earth has its character scoured upon it by the elements, but they can only work on what has been set upon the surface by forces operating in the hidden depths. He has a gift for description, and uses plentiful simile such as ‘the chances of picking up a good rock sample [ with a simple dredge ] are about the same as catching a fish with a pair of tweezers at the end of a long pole’.

Beginning with volcanoes, the writer uses different well known phenomena to illustrate the various geological conditions and effects that he covers. Finally he covers the oceans and continents as a cohesive whole.

Bay of Naples001Bay of Naples002

He begins with Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, and rounds it off neatly by finishing his summarising world tour at the same place.

A final quotation from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ reinforces the point:

‘We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.’

These illustrations are taken from my Folio Society edition of 2011, the first, of The John Day Fossils Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA,  being repeated on the cover boards.

This evening Jackie and I dined on Mr Pink’s fish and chips and pea fritters, with pickled onions and gherkins. Jackie drank Hoegaarden, and I drank Doom Bar.