Living in a field

winter sunrise

One of my East London primary school teachers told the class that the only place we could view the horizon as a complete circle was at sea.

She obviously hadn’t visited the Fens.

My husband, an ex-policeman, appreciates the silence here (when the banshee winds aren’t howling around the house) and often comments on the absence of traffic jams and flashing lights and sirens. He loves being able to look out of our windows onto fields in three directions (the fourth being our tree-bordered garden.

The downside to living in the middle of fields is that when there are flashing lights and sirens, they are travelling roads that are some distance away, so he has to use his birdwatching binoculars to see what’s going on. (It seems, you can take the man out of the Force, but you can’t take the Force out of the man.)

I have now been here, full time, almost ten years but have yet to experience a Fen Blow when, I’m told, the topsoil lifts from the fields and deposits itself on the surrounding landscape (and us). Nevertheless, we have experienced some fairly spectacular winds that bend our bordering shrubs into curves and blow garden furniture into the dyke. Walking the dogs along the droves, we’ve had to battle to make progress when walking into the wind.

That isn’t the only downside to dog-walking in the Fens. We sometimes looked after my daughter’s greyhounds for a few days – ex racers from Walthamstow dog-track. Walking them off-lead had never been a problem in the forest; squirrels run up the nearest tree and the dogs stand beneath, asking them to come down.

A hare running across fields is an altogether different matter. Once the dog saw the rabbit, it was gone – three fields away and into the sunset. When we, eventually, returned to where we’d originally parked the car, the dogs were resting in the grass waiting for their chauffeur to arrive. Sadly, we had to give up letting them off-lead on their Fenland walks.

I recall attending a friend’s party in the seventies in the Fenland neighbourhood of Elm, on a snowy January evening. We navigated unlit roads carved through the snow by earlier motorists, with no clue where the road ended and the verge began. Parallel black gouges in the snow lurked just outside our headlight beams: drainage dykes, waiting for us to make a wrong move.

Had I ever seen the roads in daylight and snow-free, I would have worried even more. Vehicles regularly dragged from Fen drains and rivers bear testament to the idiocy of drivers who hurtle along these roller-coaster roads, bumping over dips and and potholes that can appear overnight.

The party-giver had moved to a run-down cottage in Elm to make a fresh start. Facing fields across a dark, empty road with neighbours at a distance, it indeed felt like the last outreach of civilisation.

In 2007, when we were house-hunting, we viewed a house in Elm along that same road. The lonely cottage I’d partied at so many decades ago was flanked by a neat row of newer homes with even more houses built in what looked to be their back gardens.

This jigsaw planning seems to be a feature of Fenland residences. Soon after we moved here, I found myself delivering catalogues around Whittlesey, and was fascinated by the unexpected driveways and alleys leading to houses built virtually in the back gardens of their neighbours.

cloudy rainbow

Many Londoners are unsettled by the eerie flatness of a landscape consisting chiefly of sky. They are unsettled by surroundings that are silent as the grave. My children used to suspect I was a witch (a belief, fostered by me, born of my spooky ability to know when they were up to no good), so maybe the eeriness suits me. Some of our visitors call it boring, perhaps to deny the unease.

But I have learned to sleep without the accompaniment of traffic in the street outside. My view this morning was of mist rising over the fields. Next month it will be different again, and the month after that… How is that boring?

What are the upsides (and downsides) of where you live?

Does it colour your writing?

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14 thoughts on “Living in a field

  1. Where I live definitely colors my writing, so much so that I set my first novel in this area. I live in the mountains of Arizona at about 7000′ above sea level. The land is rough and rugged and full of history going back to pueblos built a thousand years ago. I feel closer to the land here than I have anywhere else I’ve lived.

    Thanks for sharing your photos! The fens look lovely and oh, so different from here. And I can totally picture the greyhounds hanging out by the car after their sprint. I have 2 retired racers (had 3 till one passed last month), and their idea of exercise is 30 seconds of running like the wind, followed by an 8-hour nap.

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  2. There is a quote attributed to Sir Harry Goodwin but one he credits to a fen man he met, it is on these lines, “Any one can see the beauty in mountains and forests but it takes a man of real discernment to appreciate the beauty of the fens”.

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  3. I really loved those shots of your environs. I think your teacher knew nothing of the vast flat terrain in the middle of the United States. Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and the like go on forever with no elevation. I like hills myself, and fortunately we have some near by to break up the landscape. What I have always required is living very near a major river. Far enough back to avoid flooding, close enough to walk along.

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    1. Since the Fens are drained marshland, we have dykes draining the fields into ‘drains’ , which are as broad as the natural rivers. I’m fascinated by the colourful canal boats that cruise our inland waterways (the ‘Middle Levels’).

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  4. Stunning photos… I love Norfolk.. My daughter lived in Hunstanton…I remember quite vividly the journey one Christmas… Living where I am… The upsides is the always warm weather followed by a tropical storm, the traditions and the beautiful food… The fact that life is just slower… Downside… I miss just popping out for coffee(sometimes) my mum… I most certainly do not miss the cold…. Lovely post Cathy and one I could relate to.. X

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating read, I always thought the sky over Lincolnshire felt different when we drove up to Lincoln. I do like the idea of having no neighbours, or at least wonder what it would be like. When Cyberspouse had done his thirty years in the police we could have gone anywhere theoretically and I find most parts of the country fascinating … hmm how to chose…

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    1. After my spouse’s first wife left him – having spent all his savings from his thirty years – he was limited by the capital he had left from his half of the house, and houses are more affordable out here than the London suburbs. Fortunately he loves it here. It’s a bit of a glitch that most of my offspring, and one of his, are all down around London, so we spend a fair amount of time away, babysitting and birthday-partying.

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    1. We’re not quite as isolated as it sounds. We are only three miles from the nearest market town (although ‘market’ is pushing it a bit nowadays) where I’ve joined the U3A, but I wouldn’t want to live here if I had to give up driving. I still have a flat in an East London suburb where I lived before I retired. It’s close to where one of my daughters lives (with my twin grandchildren). My sons both live in London (two more grandsons) and one of my husband’s sons lives just up the road, so we are here a lot. Although it is a bit of a trek, I do like being able to walk to the shops.

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    1. I also am a Londoner and still have a base in East London close to Epping Forest, where my kids were brought up. Three of them still live there – two in central boroughs and the other in a suburb. At the moment I have the best of two worlds.

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