Friday, 29 June 2012
The Old By-ways.
Out walking in the fields after lunch, accompanied by the farmer as I wished
to go through fields full of British Blue heifers who are to say the least 'frisky',
we came across these two stones. Of course I had seen them many times
before as they lie in our barn pasture, but today the farmer and I got talking
about them. It seems that they have laid exactly where they are for as long
as he can remember - that is at least the last sixty-five years. Probably they
have laid there much longer than that.
They are stile markers, blocks of stone which would have been upended when there
was a hedge across the field, to point the way for walkers to get into the next field.
It set me thinking - at what point did people walk the fields entirely for pleasure?
As our land at one time would have been part of the sheep pasture attached to Jervaulx
Abbey, there would have always been monks from the abbey walking back and forth
through the fields; and judging from the axe head we found some years ago, since very
early times men would have been here.
But what I am asking is at what point did walking for pleasure only become part of
our lives? The farmer walks with a group of friends every other Sunday - they take
it in turns to plan the walk.
As a child I walked with my father as often as we could, searching for wild flowers, birds
nests and the like. But I wonder how much further than that it goes back. Yes, John Clare
in the early 19th century and Francis Kilvert in the late 19th century both walked the
fields and wrote about it. But they seemed to be walking from A to B rather than just
a country wander.
I suspect that country people in the old days, most of whom worked the fields by day and worked their gardens by evening in order to have enough food to live on, noticed the wildlife as they worked, but rarely walked just in order to see it.
I hope these old stile stones lie exactly where they are for generations to come. The hedge that they were part of has long disappeared, apart from one or two stunted ancient hawthorn trees. But the stones themselves are a reminder of a past age which has gone for ever.