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Word from Wormingford

24 February 2017

In this archive piece from 1994, Ronald Blythe takes a pre-Lent walk with a naturalist


THE east wind doth blow, and it is no time for meres and marshes, but as host to a naturalist there can be no hugging the fire.

This is the wind which they say locally “doesn’t bother to go round you”, and which no anorak can cheat. Our normally placid village mere rocks violently, and a dull roar has set itself up where, soon, the swans will gleam and breed.

We move on to the Alde, which can be two-jersey country in June, for me the loveliest of all wetlands, with its Japanese economy of view. Julian called the coast “the seaground”; but the eccentric behaviour of the Alde insists that wherever we look is river-ground. Here, meteorologically speaking, the wind cuts our heads off.

To compensate there are a million tossing reed plumes, miles of plants transformed into a purple-grey ocean by the gale. We struggle to Iken through its howling music and make a dash for the church like sanctuary-seekers, recover our breath, and listen to the tempest thumping its nave. It is where St Botolph, “a man of remarkable life and learning”, is said to have lived during the seventh century.

East Anglians were very fond of him, and took care that a church dedicated to him stood immediately inside the gate of the towns they had to visit. A reed saint. And with what the Revd Sydney Smith called “good fires”, one hopes.

We walk in Iken Wood among the ancient oaks, comforted by the evidence of so much fuel at hand for the saint. It is warmer here than in the church, only just below zero and quite cosy. Sexagesima approaches, when St Paul admits being a fool for Christ. What a familiar wilderness all this is; I am positively on nodding terms with Botolph.

”What went ye out into the wilderness to see?” demanded the Lord scornfully. “A reed shaken by the wind? You went to see a prophet!” Prophets are not for staring at but to listen to. St John was a sensational sight down by the reed-beds of the Jordan. It would have been a reed from those wetlands which reached up to the parched lips on Calvary.

I recall the peach orchards of Iken. I am pleased with its enormous pig farm, free-range, with little Nissen-hut sties for grunting couples. They say that pigs can see the wind.

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