Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Walking in the countryside before
a walk in Lichfield Cathedral Close

A carpet of pink blossom in the grounds of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The weather forecast for Monday evening’s walking tour/lecture in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield was rather bleak, with predictions of heavy rain and showers for most of the evening. As I sat down to lunch in the Hedgehog on Stafford Road, my worst fears appeared to be well founded, with heavy rain falling down outside.

But I knew Kate Gomez, who organised the evening lecture and tour with ‘Lichfield Discovered’ had Plan A in place and Plan B to fall back on: Plan A involved going ahead if the rain was light, Plan B involved a PowerPoint presentation in the Lichfield Heritage Centre in Saint Mary’s Church in the Market Square.

Plan B might have been second best, but we hoped it would prompt anyone who turned up to shape their own tailor-made, person walking tour of the Close.

Cross in Hand Lane ... a stroll through rural Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

After lunch, I took a brief stroll through the grounds of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, where I am staying. The grass was still damp, but the skies were beginning to clear, and some of the ground was covered in pink blossom from the over-hanging braches of trees.

I knew it was worth going for a walk in the countryside nearby, and headed out along Cross in Hand Lane behind the Hedgehog, on the narrow, winding, road in rolling countryside that leads out to the quaintly named villages of Farewell and Chorley.

The bright yellow rapeseed reflected in rain pools in the brown soil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The English countryside is beautiful at this time of the year, and this is the Heart of England. The fields are green with grass and corn and yellow with rapeseed, the hedgerows rise above banks of bluebells and daisies, with a ploughed brown field here and there, while occasionally the puddles left in the brown mud by the spring rain reflect the golden rapeseed.

Here and there, there was a hidden blue pond or pool, a rivulet or a little babbling brook. The birds were singing and hopping, horses were grazing, and there were a few rams and sheep in one farmstead. Apart from an occasional car passing along gently and one tractor, the only human sound was that of children playing on swings behind one cottage.

This landscape and the shape of the fields have hardly changed since Anglo-Saxon times, as we now know because of the Staffordshire Hoard found recently outside Lichfield.

The power station at Rugeley to the distance in the north-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The only blight on the landscape might have been the smoking stacks of the power station a few miles to the north-east at Rugeley, but even these seemed to fit into the landscape this afternoon as the sun gently became warmer, and the white clouds faded away. Sky and countryside combined to create a landscape of rainbow colours.

Later, as the afternoon was about to turn to evening, I walked the 20 minutes down Beacon Street to Lichfield Cathedral and slipped into the chapter stalls for Choral Evensong.

There, my thoughts about the mixture of rain and sunshine this afternoon were given new meaning as the girls’ choir sang one of the appointed Psalms for evening on Day 12:

A portion of Psalm 65 as sung at Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral on Monday evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Thou visitest the earth and blessest it : thou makest it very plenteous.
The river of God is full of water : thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest for the earth.
Thou waterest her furrows, thou sendest rain into the little valleys thereof : thou makest it soft with drops of rain, and blesses the increase of it.
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness : and thy clouds drop fatness.
They shall drop upon the dwellings of the wilderness : and the little hills shall rejoice on every side.
The folds shall full of sheep : the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing.
– (Psalm 65: 9-14)

Candles in the chapter stalls and choir stalls after Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

As I left the cathedral, I had one last walk around the Close to make sure I knew each building I was going to introduce later in the evening.

In the Market Place, those who were joining the evening’s walking tour and lecture collected slowly, but soon there were 40-50 people in the group as we set off around the Cathedral Close.

We began in Dam Street, to talk about Dyott’s shot that killed Brooke during the siege of the Close in the 17th century. We walked along the south side of Minster Pool (the Moggs) to see the southern rim of the Close, and we continued along by the Gardens of Remembrance, and looked at Langton House, Moat House, Erasmus Darwin House and Dimble House, before moving on into the Cathedral Close, to talk about its houses, its residents, and their stories, including tales of scandal and snobbery.

We even found a few silent residents with stories to tell, and wondered at the survival of the many figures on the north transept door.

We talked and walked for two hours. No rain fell throughout that time, and there was a need to think of falling back on Plan B.

Virtual friends introduced themselves as real friends. There were new and old friends from Comberford, from Lichfield Cathedral, and from the Lichfield Gazette, and Facebook friends who were meeting for the first time. In many ways it was a wonder so many were there given that the Mayor’s Banquet was on last night too. I imagine the conversations could have continued much longer.

Outside Lichfield Cathedral during Monday evening’s walking tour and lecture (Photograph: Kate Gomez/Lichfield Discovered, 2014)

As I headed back to the Hedgehog, Lichfield and the surrounding countryside were bathed in the silver and gold light of a full moon.

Thou visitest the earth and blessest it : thou makest it very plenteous. ... Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.

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