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Afoot in England online

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Felix Fliigel








RALPH HERNE [in Preparation]




,•*»»•» •

• • *•

» *

• • •




Published, May, 1922
Second Printing, September, 1922


Bet up, electrotvped, and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., BingTiamton, N. Y.
Paper (Warren's) furnithed by Henry Lindenmeyr & Sons, New York, N. Y.
Bound ly the H. WoW Estate, New York, N. Y.




L Guide Books: An Introduction, 9

//. On Going Back, 21

///. Walking and Cycling, 33

IV. Seeking a Shelter, 41

V. Wind, Wave, and Spirit, 52

VI. By Swallowfield, 76

VII. Roman Calleva, 87

VIII. A Cold Day at Silchester, 95

IX. Rural Rides, 103

X. The Last of his Name, 131

XI. Salisbury and its Doves, 145

XII. Whitesheet Hill, 153

XIII. Bath and Wells Revisited, 161

XIV. The Return of the Native, 177
XV. Summer Days on the Otter, 185

XVI. In Praise of the Cow, 193

=-z#iBrTkrT»?-r^ O



XVII. An Old Road Leading Nowhere^


XV 111. Branscombe, 209

XIX. 'Abbotsbury, 220

XX. Salisbury Revisited, 230

XXI. Stonehenge, 239

XXll. The Village and ''The Stones^ 254

XXIII. Following a River, 266

XXIV. Troston, 21Z
XXV, My Friend Jack, 298


Chapter One: Guide-Books:
An Introduction

Guide-books are so many that it seems probable we
have more than any other country — possibly more
than all the rest of the universe together. Every
county has a little library of its own — guides to its
towns, churches, abbeys, castles, rivers, mountains;
finally, to the county as a whole. They are of all
prices and all sizes, from the diminutive paper-covered
booklet, worth a penny, to the stout cloth-bound
octavo volume which qosts eight or ten or twelve
shillings, or to the gigantic folio county history, the
huge repository from which the guide-book maker
gets his materials. For these great works are also
guide-books, containing everything we want to learn,
only made on s^o huge a scale as to be suited to the
coat pockets of Brobdingnagians rather than of little
ordinary men. The wonder of it all comes in when
we find that these books, however old and compara-
tively worthless they may be, are practically never
wholly out of date. When a new work is brought
out (dozens appear annually) and, say, ^v^ thousand
copies sold, it d,oes not throw as many, or indeed any,
copies of the old book out of circulation: it supersedes
nothing. If any man can indulge in the luxury of a
new up-to-date guide to any place, and gets rid of his


N; ,': . Afoot in England

•bid bine (a rare thing to do), this will be snapped up
by poorer men, who will treasure it and hand it down
or on to others. Editions of 1.860-50-40, and older,
are still prized, not merely as keepsakes but for study
or reference. Any one can prove this by going the
round of a dozen second-hand booksellers In his own
district In London. There will be tons of literary
rubbish, and good stuff old and new, but few guide-
books — In some cases not one. If you ask your man
at a venture for, &ay, a guide to Hampshire, he Will
most probably tell you that he has not one in stoc3c;
then, in his anxiety to do business, he will, perhaps,
fish out a guide to Derbyshire, dated 1854 — a shabby
old book — and offer it for four or five shillings, the
price of a Crabbe in eight volumes, or of Gibbon's
Decline and Fall in six volumes, bound In calf.
Talk to this man, and to the other eleven, and they will
tell you that there is always a sale for guide-books — ■
that the supply does not keep pace with the demand.
It may be taken as a fact that most af the books of
this kind published during the last half-century — many
millions of copies in the aggregate — axe still in ex-
istence and are valued possessions.

There is nothing to quarrel with In all this. As a
people we run about a great deal; and having curious
minds we naturally wish to know all there Is to be
known, or all that Is interesting to know, about the
places we visit. Then, again, our time as a rule being
limited, we want the whole matter — history, antiqui-
ties, places of interest In the neighbourhood, etc. — in
a nutshell. The brief book serves its purpose well


Guide-Books: An Introduction

enough; but it is not thrown away like the newspaper
and the magazines; however cheap and badly got up
it may be, it is taken home to serve another purpose,
to be a help to memory, and nobody can have it until
its owner removes himself (but not his possessions)
from this planet; or until the broker seizes his belong-
ings, and guide-books, together with other books, are
disposed of in packages by the auctioneer.

In all this we see that guide-books are very im-
portant to us, and that there is little or no fault to
be found with them, since even the worst give some
guidance and enable us in after times mentally to
revisit distant places. It may then be said that there
are really no bad guide-books, and that those that arc
good in the highest sense are beyond praise. A rev-
erential sentiment, which is almost religious in
character, connects itself in our minds with the very
name of Murray. It is, however, possible to make
an injudicious use of these books, and by so doing to
miss the fine point of many a pleasure. The very fact
that these books are guides to us and invaluable, and
that we readily acquire the habit of taking them about
with us and consulting them at frequent intervals,
comes between us and that rarest and most exquisite
enjoyment to be experienced amidst novel scenes. He
that visits a place new to him for some special object
rightly informs himself of all that the book can tell
him. The knowledge may be useful; pleasure is with
him a secondary object. But if pleasure be the main
object, it will only be experienced in the highest degree
by him who goes without book and discovers what


Afoot in England

old Fuller called the "observables" for himself.
There will be no mental pictures previously formed;
consequently what is found will not disappoint.
When the mind has been permitted to dwell before-
hand on any scene, then, however beautiful or grand
it may be, the element of surprise is wanting and
admiration is weak. The delight has been discounted.

My own plan, which may be recommended only to
those who go out for pleasure — who value happiness
above useless (otherwise useful) knowledge, and the
pictures that live and glow in memory above albums
and collections of photographs — is not to look at a
guide-book until the place it treats of has been ex-
plored and left behind.

The practical person, to whom this may come as
a new idea and who wishes not to waste any time in
experiments, would doubtless like to hear how the
plan works. He will say that he certainly wants all
the happiness to be got out of his rambles, but it is
clear that without the book in his pocket he would
miss many interesting things : Would the greater de-
gree of pleasure experienced in the others be a suf-
ficient compensation? I should say that he would gain
more than he would lose ; that vivid interest and pleas-
ure in a few things is preferable to that fainter, more
diffused feeling experienced in the other case. Again,
we have to take into account the value to us of the
mental pictures gathered in our wanderings. For we
know that only when a scene is viewed emotionally,
when it produces in us a shock of pleasure, does it
become a permanent possession of the mind; in other


Guide-Books: An Introduction

words, it registers an image which, when called up
before the inner eye, is capable of reproducing a mea-
sure of the original delight.

In recalling those scenes which have given me the
greatest happiness, the images of which are most vivid
and lasting, I find that most of them are of scenes or
objects which were discovered, as it were, by chance,
which I had not heard of, or else had heard of and
forgotten, or which I had not expected to see. They
came as a surprise, and in the following instance one
may see that it makes a vast difference whether we
do or do not experience such a sensation.

In the course of a ramble on foot in a remote dis-
trict I came to a small ancient town, set in a cup-
like depression amidst high wood-grown hills. The
woods were of oak in spring foliage, and against that
vivid green I saw the many-gabled tiled roofs and tall
chimneys of the old timbered houses, glowing red and
warm brown in the brilliant sunshine — a scene of
rare beauty, and yet it produced no shock of pleasure ;
never, in fact, had I looked on a lovely scene for the
first time so unemotionally. It seemed to be no new
scene, but an old familiar one ; and that it had certain
degrading associations which took away all delight.

The reason of this was that a great railway company
had long been "booming" this romantic spot, and
large photographs, plain and coloured, of the town
and its quaint buildings had for years been staring at
me in every station and every railway carriage which
I had entered on that line. Photography degrades
most things, especially open-air things; and in this


Afoot in England

case, not only had its poor presentments made the
scene too familiar, but something of the degradation
in the advertising pictures seemed to attach itself to
the very scene. Yet even here, after some pleasure-
less days spent in vain endeavours to shake off these
vulgar associations, I was to experience one of the
sweetest surprises and delights of my life.

The church of this village-Hke town is one of its
chief attractions; it is a very old and stately building,
and its perpendicular tower, nearly a hundred feet
high, is one of the noblest in England. It has a
magnificent peal of bells, and on a Sunday afternoon
they were ringing, filling and flooding that hollow in
the hills, seeming to make the houses and trees and
the very earth to tremble with the glorious storm of
sound. Walking past the church, I followed the
streamlet that runs through the town and out by a cleft
between the hills to a narrow marshy valley, on the
other side of which are precipitous hills, clothed from
base to summit in oak woods. As I walked through
the cleft the musical roar of the bells followed, and
was like a mighty current flowing through and over
me; but as I came out the sound from behind ceased
suddenly and was now in front, coming back from the
hills before me. A sound, but not the same — not a
mere echo; and yet an echo it was, the most wonder-
ful I had ever heard. For now that great tempest of
musical noise, composed of a multitude of clanging
notes with long vibrations, overlapping and mingling
and clashing together, seemed at the same time one
and many — that tempest from the tower which had


Guide-Books: An Introduction

mysteriously ceased to be audible came back In strokes
or notes distinct and separate and multiplied many
times. The sound, the echo, was distributed over
the whole face of the steep hill before me, and was
changed In character, and It was as If every one of
those thousands of oak trees had a peal of bells In It,
and that they were raining that far-up bright spiritual
tree-music down Into the valley below. As I stood
listening It seemed to me that I had never heard any-
thing so beautiful, nor had any man — not the monk of
Eynsham In that vision when he heard the Easter bells
on the holy Saturday evening, and described the sound
as '*a ringing of a marvellous sweetness, as If all
the bells In the world, or whatsoever Is of s*ound-
ing, had been rung together at once."

Here, then, I had found and had become the pos-
sessor of something priceless, since In that moment
of surprise and delight the mysterious beautiful sound,
with the whole scene, had registered an Impression
which would outlast all others received at that place,
where I had viewed all things with but languid In-
terest. Had It not come as a complete surprise, the
emotion experienced and the resultant mental Image
would not have been so vivid; as it Is, I can mentally
stand In that valley when I will, seeing that green-
wooded hill In front of me and listen to that unearthly

Naturally, after quitting the spot, I looked at the
first opportunity Into a guide-book of the district, only
to find that It contained not one word about those
wonderful Illusive sounds! The book-makers had


Afoot in England

not done their work well, since it is a pleasure after
having discovered something delightful for ourselves
to know how others have been affected by it and how
they describe it.

Of many other incidents of the kind I will, in this
chapter, relate one more, which has a historical or
legendary interest.

I was staying with the companion of my walks at
a village in Southern England in a district new to us.
We arrived on a Saturday, and next morning after
breakfast went out for a long walk. Turning into
the first path across the fields on leaving the village,
we came eventually to an oak wood, which was like
an open forest, very wild and solitary. In half an
hour's walk among the old oaks and underwood we
saw no sign of human occupancy, and heard nothing
but the woodland birds. We heard, and then saw,
the cuckoo for the first time that season, though it was
but April the fourth. But the cuckoo was early that
spring and had been heard by some from the middle
of March. At length, about half-past ten o'clock,
we caught sight of a number of people walking in a
kind of straggling procession by a path which crossed
ours at right angles, headed by a stout old man in a
black smock frock and brown leggings, who carried a
big book in one hand. One of the processionists we
spoke to told us they came from a hamlet a mile away
on the borders of the wood and were on their way
to church. We elected to follow them, thinking that
the church was at some neighbouring village; to our
surprise we found it was in the wood, with no other


Guide-Books: An Introduction

building in sight — a small ancient-looking church built
on a raised mound, surrounded by a wide shallow grass-
grown trench, on the border of a marshy stream.
The people went in and took their seats, while we
remained standing just by the door. Then the priest
came from the vestry, and seizing the rope vigorously,
pulled at it for five minutes, after which he showed
us where to sit and the service began. It was very
pleasant there, with the door open to the sunlit forest
and the little green churchyard without, with a willow
wren, the first I had heard, singing his delicate little
strain at intervals.

The service over, we rambled an hour longer in
the wood, then returned to our village, which had a
church of its own, and our landlady, hearing where
we had been, told us the story, or tradition, of the
little church in the wood. Its origin goes very far
back to early Norman times-, when all the land in
this part was owned by one of William's followers
on whom it had been bestowed. He built himself
a house, or castle on the edge of the forest, where he
lived with his wife and two little daughters who were
his chief delight. It happened that one day when he
was absent the two little girls with their female
attendant went into the wood in search of flowers,
and that meeting a wild boar they turned and fled,
screaming for help. The savage beast pursued, and,
quickly overtaking them, attacked the hindermost, the
youngest of the two little girls, and killed her, the
others escaping in the meantime. On the following
day the father returned, and was mad with grief and


Afoot In Rn gland

rage on hearing of the tragedy, and in his madness
resolved to go alone on foot to the forest and search
for the beast and taste no food or drink until he had
slain it. Accordingly to the forest he went, and
roamed through it by day and night, and towards
the end of the following day he actually found and
roused the dreadful animal, and although weakened
by his long fast and fatigue, his fury gave him force
to fight and conquer it, or else the powers above came
to his aid; for when he stood spear in hand to wait
the charge of the furious beast he vowed that if
he overcame it on that spot he would build a chapel,
where God would be worshipped for ever. And there
it was raised and has stood to this day, its doors
open every Sunday to worshippers, with but one break,
some time in the sixteenth century to the third year
of Elizabeth, since when there has been no suspension
of the weekly service.

That the tradition is not true no one can say. We
know that the memory of an action or tragedy of a
character to stir the feelings and impress the imagina-
tion may live unrecorded in any locality for long
centuries. And more, we know or suppose, from at
least one quite familiar instance from FHntshire, that a
tradition may even take us back to prehistoric times
and find corroboration in our own day.

But of this story what corroboration is there, and
what do the books say? I have consulted the county
history, and no mention is made of such a tradition,
and can only assume that the. author had never heard
It — that he had not the curious Aubrey mind. He


Guide-Books: An Introduction

only says that it is a very early church — ^how early
he does not know — and adds that it was built "for
the convenience of the inhabitants of the place." An
odd statement, seeing that the place has every ap-
pearance of having always been what it is, a forest,
and that the inhabitants thereof are weasels, foxes,
jays and such-like, and doubtless in former days in-
cluded wolves, boars, roe-deer and stags, beings which,
as Walt Whitman truly remarks, do not worry them-
selves about their souls.

With this question, however, we need nof concern
ourselves. To me, after stumbling by chance on the
little church in that solitary woodland place, the story
of its origin was accepted as true; no doubt it had
come down unaltered from generation to generation
through all those centuries, and it moved my pity
yet was a delight to hear, as great perhaps as it had
been to listen to the beautiful chimes many times
multiplied from the wooded hill. And if I have a
purpose in this book, which is without a purpose, a
message to deliver and a lesson to teach, it is only
this — the charm of the unknown, and the infinitely
greater pleasure in discovering the interesting things
for ourselves than in informing ourselves of them by
reading. It is like the difference in flavour in wild
fruits and all wild meats found and gathered by our
own hands in wild places and that of the same pre-
pared and put on the table for us. The ever-varying
aspects of nature, of earth and sea and cloud, are
a perpetual joy to the artist, who waits and watches
for their appearance, who knows that sun and atmos-


Afoot in England

pherc have for him revelations without end. They
come and go and mock his best efforts ; he knows that
his striving is in vain — that his weak hands and earthy
pigments cannot reproduce these effects or express
his feeling — that, as Leighton said, "every picture is
a subject thrown away." But he has his joy none
the less; it is in the pursuit and in the dream of captur-
ing something illusive, mysterious, and inexpressibly


Chapter Two: On Going Back

In looking over the preceding chapter it occurred to
me that I had omitted something, or rather that it
would have been well to drop a word of warning to
those who have the desire to revisit a place where
they have experienced a delightful surprise. Alas!
they cannot have that sensation a second time, and
on this account alone the mental image must always be
better than its reality. Let the image — the first sharp
impression — content us. Many a beautiful picture is
spoilt by the artist who cannot be satisfied that he
has made the best of his subject, and retouching his
canvas to bring out some subtle charm which made the
work a success loses it altogether. So in going back,
the result of the inevitable disillusionment is that the
early mental picture loses something of its original
freshness. The very fact that the delightful place
or scene was discovered by us made it the shining place
it is in memory. And again, the charm we found in
it may have been in a measure due to the mood we
were in, or to the peculiar aspect in which it came be-
fore us at the first, due to the season, to atmospheric
and sunlight effects, to some human interest, or to a
conjunction of several favourable circumstances; we


Afoot in England

know we can never see it again in that aspect and with
that precise feeling.

On this account I am shy of revisiting the places
where I have experienced the keenest delight. For
example, I have no desire to revisit that small ancient
town among the hills, described in the last chapter;
to go on a Sunday evening through that narrow gorge,
filled with the musical roar of the church bells; to
leave that great sound behind and stand again listen-
ing to the marvellous echo from the wooded hill on
the other side of the valley. Nor would I care to go
again in search of that small ancient lost church in
the forest. It would not be early April with the clear
sunbeams shining through the old leafless oaks on the
floor of fallen yellow leaves with the cuckoo fluting
before his time; nor would that straggling procession
of villagers appear, headed by an old man in a smock
frock with a big book in his hand; nor would I hear
for the first time the strange history of the church
which so enchanted me.

I will here give an account of yet another of the
many well-remembered delightful spots which I would
not revisit, nor even look upon again if I could avoid
doing so by going several miles out of my way.

It was green open country in the west of England
— very far west, although on the east side of the Tam-
ar — in a beautiful spot remote from railroads and
large towns, and the road by which I was travelling
(on this occasion on a bicycle) ran or serpentined
along the foot of a range of low round hills on my
right hand, while on my left I had a green valley with


On Going Back

other low round green hills beyond it. The valley had
a marshy stream with sedgy margins and occasional
clumps of alder and willow trees. It was the end of a
hot midsummer day; the sun went down a vast globe
of crimson fire in a crystal clear sky; and as I was
going east I was obliged to dismount and stand still
to watch its setting. When the great red disc had
gone down behind the green world I resumed my way
but went slowly, then slower still, the better to enjoy
the delicious coolness which came from the moist
valley and the beauty of the evening in that solitary
place which I had never looked on before. Nor was
there any need to hurry; I had but three or four miles
to go to the small old town where I intended passing
the night. By and by the winding road led me down
close to the stream at a point where it broadened to
a large still pool. This was the ford, and on the
other side was a small rustic village, consisting of a
church, two or three farm-houses with their barns
and outbuildings, and a few ancient-looking stone
cottages with thatched roofs. But the church was the
main thing; it was a noble building with a very fine
tower, and from its size and beauty I concluded that
it was an ancient church dating back to the time when
there was a passion in the West Country and in many
parts of England of building these great fanes even
in the remotest and most thinly populated parishes.
In this I was mistaken through having seen it at a
distance from the other side of the ford after the
sun had set.

Never, I thought, had I seen a lovelier village with


Afoot in England

its old picturesque cottages shaded by ancient oaks and
elms, and the great church with its stately tower look-
ing dark against the luminous western sky. Dis-
mounting again I stood for some time admiring the
scene, wishing that I could make that village my home
for the rest of my life, conscious at the same time
that is was the mood, the season, the magical hour
which made it seem so enchanting. Presently a

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry HudsonAfoot in England → online text (page 1 of 19)