The Laurie Lee Wildlife Walk.
Up, up, up we climbed Swifts Hill. It was a glorious 23rd August 2016. The sun shone towards Stroud and the black mountains of Wales beyond. Down below nothing had really changed in Slad. The school that Diddley and Laurie Lee many years apart had gone to is still there. A private house now. The church where Laurie is buried. And the Woolpack where we have all drunk at Laurie Lee’s bar including Laurie himself.
Here on top of Swifts Hill are Diddley’s ashes. Back in February they were put here by Bobby and her school friends. By the poetry post on Laurie Lee’s Wildlife walk. The poem “Field of Autumn”. Now it was just Bobby and I. And a bubble machine to watch the breeze float over the village and remember times gone by. Love affairs and the joy of being able to share such times today. Living in the day.
Field Of Autumn
Slow moves the acid breath of noon
over the copper-coated hill,
slow from the wild crab’s bearded breast
The palsied apples fall.
Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,
taking the village without sound;
the vulture-headed sun lies low
chained to the violet ground.
The horse upon the rocky height
rolls all the valley in his eye,
but dares not raise his foot or move
his shoulder from the fly.
The sheep, snail-backed against the wall,
lifts her blind face but does not know
the cry her blackened tongue gives forth
is the first bleat of snow.
Each bird and stone, each roof and well
feels the gold foot of autumn pass;
each spider binds with glittering snare
the splintered bones of grass.
Slow moves the hour that sucks our life,
slow drops the late wasp from the pear,
the rose tree’s thread of scent draws thin –
and the snaps upon the air.
This story is all about a walk. A very special walk. The Laurie Lee Wildlife Way. Set up to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 1914 to explore one of England’s most beautiful valleys. Immortalised in the words of Cider with Rosie.
Bobby and I started the walk at the Woolpack pub at the foot of the hill and over four hours later found ourselves back on top of Swifts Hill again as the sun was going down. Exactly a year after we said goodbye to Diddley. That was in the heat of summer and now this is being written as autumn starts. Bringing fresh meaning to the “Field of Autumn” above.
Laurie Lee was first and foremost a poet. There are ten poetry posts on the walk some of which are illustrated within this piece. Each showing a poem on perspex. We recommend you acquire this superb booklet for the walk from Tourist Information in Stroud’s Subscription Rooms for £1. It is indispensable . Also recommended is the local OS Pathfinder map.
Don’t do what Bobby did. He read the leaflet fully AFTER the walk. If he had done at first he would have read…
“Please be aware that this walk is quite demanding with one very steep stretch and takes on average 3 to 5 hours to complete.”
Starting at 17.00 was wonderful. Stumbling around in the dark for the last poetry post was not. We could have headed straight for the pub and missed that post. He wasn’t going to do that was he!
So off we went. Off up the Slad Valley to the first of four nature reserves on the walk. Friths Wood.
On passed Bulls Cross. An alternative start from the leaflet and down into woodland. Down to a pond and then that long climb out of the valley you were warned about into sunshine. A beautiful valley and three more nature reserves. Even the old shop that had once been a brothel. In the middle of nowhere……! A long time ago. Missed it somehow. Eventually we were back on Swifts Hill as the light started to fade. So beautiful in the sunset it took your breath away. You could see the Woolpack, but two more poetry posts had to be “copped”. Darkness came. A phone torch. A farm door knocker and we struggled to find our way back to the road and the pub. So simple. Give yourself plenty of time for a superb walk …… in daylight. And a pint of Old Spot in the Woolpack.
As I write this we have just passed the Equinox. So here is Laurie Lee’s poem “Equinox” on a poetry post. The next blog will feature all the poetry posts in reverence to Laurie Lee and my own good fortune in meeting a lady who introduced me to her roots.
And on we walked through this glorious landscape as the late afternoon sun started to sink…..
Clearly we saw this walk on a glorious day. In leaving it too late we caught some wonderful light as the sun went down. Particularly impressive when viewed through the windows on the poetry posts.
Darker and darker – and finally back to the Woolpack.
We stayed in a very nice hotel. The George at Frocester. Near Stroud. Rachel the manageress and I got on very well. Recommended. https://www.facebook.com/frocestergeorge.
Lighting a candle for Diddley.
In Holy Trinity Church Slad. Laurie Lee is buried here close to the church porch. Unusually the church has two graveyards. One on top of the hill behind the church. There are relatives of Diddley buried I believe up there. But destined to sink into obscurity. Something that will not happen to her for a while!