*** DEBUG END ***

Word from Wormingford

12 February 2016

Ronald Blythe marvels at snowdrops as he works in the garden

IT IS all too easy in a ramshackle old farmhouse garden to miss a great flowering: in this instance, the show of snowdrops that climb from the low eaves of what were once the dairies to the fields, taking in the badger sett on the way.

The snowdrops at the front are glorious enough, but those at the rear are breathtaking. It is oceanic: a white sea, from which rises a long-barren tangle of ancient fruit trees. Nettles will eventually hide their decrepitude. At the moment, the snowdrops are giving them a kind of life, of vitality. And the temperature is delicately warm, like the south of France. All this on the Suffolk-Essex border, the River Stour glittering a mile or two away, and the white cat sunbathing on a window sill.

I read about snowdrops in my friend Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica, and in The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening, 1887 — a mighty work, which was propped up by John Nash’s chair, its back broken, its glorious pages tumbling about a bit in old age, but its information still as fresh as a daisy for all that.

Here and there some pencilled additions, like those in my mother’s Bible, fade in the margins. Snowdrop: see Galanthus nivalis. So I haul down Vol. 2 to find that gála is Greek for “milk”, and that ánthos, of course, is “flower”, added to which that snowdrops will thrive anywhere, and will multiply like some mighty nation and cover any kind of soil. And they are doing that at this February moment. I am in summer-gardening oddments, and silent gulls, blown in from the seaside, take it all in.

What for matins? Something reaching out from the Epiphany to Septuagesima? Or is this too soon? I find myself rewalking old miles, but in my head. Allan — with two lls — had driven me to Pendle Hill, where the Quakers had found the eloquence of silence. It was raining as we drove to its base, and Bowland appeared in variants of drizzle. Allan said something like “There it is, Bowland,” and stayed in the car, and I got out and climbed. It was a little like George Fox, I thought, whose companion was lame; so he found the way to silence alone. He was 28.

Pendle Hill, in Lancashire, needs another 170 feet to qualify as a mountain. Treeless, but evenly covered with cotton-grass, mare’s tail, and butterwort, and dotted with little bushes of cloudberry, it has a sloping flat top and chasmic sides. I remember thinking that it must have confronted young Fox with strange religious questions. Hills do not necessarily make their climbers ask why.

Raindrops the size of old pennies battered me, and thoughts the size of belief battered young Fox. I followed Fox’s path. I could hear Pendle’s rivulets clinking and gobbling their way down to the moorland farms.

Allan and I were on our way to Lindisfarne when this mighty scenic obstacle stood in our path, saying: “Look at me! I told religion to hold its tongue!” All that preaching, all those words, and never a let-up. What about singing? Do Friends sing? Yes, if the Spirit says “Sing!”

Fox was the kind of traveller who described how hard it was to get about, and rarely what one saw on the way. Most English travellers did, then. They were listeners, not sightseers. Hence the immense sound of Pendle’s silence in Fox’s ears. It must have been like God talking to that temple boy in the night.

All I heard on Pendle Hill was weather. It spoke wildly. It orchestrated the huge view. Other than on 11 November, any kind of unannounced silence in church creates anxiety. The ancient building says “I have been talking for centuries.”

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)