Friday, June 22, 2007
Lark Rise to Candleford
Every time I drive to or from Sussex I pass a sign that says 'Juniper Hill Single Track Road'. I've always known that Juniper Hill was the real name of the hamlet of Lark Rise in Flora Thompson's trilogy 'Lark Rise', 'Candleford Green' and 'Over to Candleford. These tell the story of her rural childhood in Oxfordshire in the 1870's and 80's. For anyone interested in family history who discovers a long line of 'ag labs' among their ancestry, this will give a true picture of the hard lives that they lived. Hard does not necessarily translate as miserable or unhappy though, their pleasures were simple and few by our standards today but in many ways they were happier and more contented I think.
I had it in mind that I might turn off and have a quick look at Juniper Hill this time but it wasn't a definite plan - nevertheless when I saw the sign I found myself indicating and turning left into the narrow lane. I expected a longish drive but it was only a few hundred yards up the lane that I saw the sign telling me that I had arrived in Juniper Hill. Almost as soon as I passed it, the road widened slightly so I parked the car there. Almost immediately I was walking past the sign at the other end of the hamlet, it's a tiny place still and I would think that Flora Thompson would still find it relatively unchanged. It was like walking through a door in time into a different world, quiet and peaceful - incredible to think that not far away heavy traffic was still thundering along the A43.
This is the view that stretched before me, I stood in the middle of the road taking photographs and gazing about, the absence of cars was wonderful. I was surrounded by wheat fields scattered with bright red poppies and the reason that Flora called it Lark Rise soon became obvious - there were larks everywhere, soaring up into the clear blue sky.
Very pretty to look at but not really a sight to gladden the farmer's eye!
The roadside verges were filled with wild flowers, among them were these pretty little pink convolvulus. I walked up the lane for half a mile or so then turned back having come to the conclusion that there wasn't much else to see, no real indication of where Flora might have lived although I'd passed various small houses and cottages. I was about to get in the car and carry on my way when I spotted a little notice at the end of the tiny lane on the other side of the road saying Garden - Nursery. I decided to have a quick look and see whether there was anything worth buying. Reader, I never got there! I'd just set off down the lane when a lady appeared from round the bend. 'Are you looking for Lark Rise?' she asked me. 'Oh, yes' I replied, 'does it still exist?' I was invited to go back with her to the end of the lane while she put a notice in the village notice board after which she would show me where Flora had lived.
The lane leading down to Lark Rise cottage........
.....and here it is - it turned out, of course, that my new friend actually lived here:) She and her husband were expecting the arrival of a lady fom the BBC to do an interview and take some shots of the cottage for the local news programme, South Today. I was invited to look at an exhibition of photographs that was in the little garden house and then look round the garden while they were busy. The exhibition was really interesting - old photographs of Juniper Hill accompanied by quotes from the book and then a modern photograph showing how the places look today. It would make a very good little booklet for people to buy and hopefully might appear as such one day. The garden was lovely, a real cottage garden with fruit trees and bushes, a wildflower area and cottage-y borders.
This is the plaque on the front wall of the house.
This is the back of the cottage showing the original part, the garden in Flora's time ended just about where the line of shrubs begin, the rest of the current garden formed allotments. As I wandered back up the garden I was waved over to where the BBC lady was and asked if I'd mind being interviewed! I was fixed up with my little microphone and then I did my bit - unfortunately I have no idea whether it eventually was broadcast or not as I was back home by Friday evening when it was supposed to go out. So I may or may not be a star of stage,screen and radio by now:):) I shall be signing autographs later:):):)
After this bit of excitement Mrs Harvey asked if I'd like to go inside and see the original two rooms and was kind enough to say that I could take photographs.
This is the downstairs room. The fireplace isn't original of course but that is where the fire would have been and the cooking would probably have been done in an iron pot hanging from a hook.
The stairs leading up to
the bedroom. From what I've read elsewhere, ( A Country Calendar edited by Margaret Lane), I gather that there were once two other rooms, one up and one down, even then this would have been a tiny space for a family with five children to live in. I'd like to thank Mr and Mrs Harvey for making my visit to Juniper Hill so enjoyable and interesting - they were charming people who went out of their way to make me welcome.
As I was leaving Mrs Harvey showed me the path through the fields leading to the mother village of Cottisford ( Fordlow in the books) which is where Flora went to school and to church. I walked there and back - a distance of about 3 miles all told. The view is taken looking back towards Juniper Hill. I didn't see a soul the whole way, it was alive with birds, butterflies and wildflowers including the lovely...
The 13th century church at Cottisford. There are no aisles, just the central nave and chancel. It's a tiny church with the lovely old box pews that have disappeared from so many churches now. Flora's parents and grandparents are all buried here.
Sitting in Flora's grandfather's pew where she and her brother always sat, on summer days they could see this view through the open door to help them through the endless sermons of those times.
What was originally intended to be a 15-20 minute visit lasted about three and a half hours in the end - serendipity played a huge part in a wonderful morning. On I went to Sussex and by 3.30pm I was in the little village of Selborne home of Gilbert White. But that is for next time.