Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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...

...scarlet pimpernel.

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.


Anonymous said...

Oh, how I have enjoyed reading this lovely travel tale. Lucky you to strumble upon such a lovely place, and thanks for sharing.

meggie said...

Another totally engrossing visit with you. How lovely to see it all!
Thank you.

rel said...

Ah my dear, serendipity indeed! What a lovely excursion you've detailed for us here. In fact I was so taken with your tale , that I read it out loud with my best imitation of a british accent that I could muster. I enjoyed it so much I did it twice. Seriously, I did!
And if her ladyship would be so kind, an autograph would be held in my very high regard. A media star ...I'm impressed.
The only thing better would be to hear you read it aloud.
P.S. The church pics are priceless. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing these lovely tales of your journies. It is a small mini vacation for me to places I can only dream of visiting. A pleasant a lovely escape with my cup of tea!

sheila from life @ #17 said...

This was just a Perfect Little Outing for me :)

thanks for sharing & now I'm off to see if the library might have copies of Flora's books :)

Sheila said...

Oh Rowan, thank you so much. I was quite goose pimply reading this, and quite emotional. You see I have read the book several times in the 15 years since I first discovered it, and have always felt that it was an almost perfect existence.
How fortunate for you to meet the owner, and how wonderful that she was so hospitable. The church pictures are a delightful bonus..!
I will copy your photos into a special folder on my computer, for my own viewing only, if that would be alright.
Thank you again..

ancient one said...

I have just discovered your blog. What a find!! Thanks so much for taking us along on your journey. I enjoyed it so much!!

Lynda (Granny K) said...

I got goose-bumps reading this, Rowan! I've read Lark Rise and Still Glides the Stream more than once, I love them. How wonderful to see where Flora lived and wrote about. Thank you!!!!
I bet it felt like a dream!

Anonymous said...

Oh my, what a lovely, unexpected adventure. I felt as if I was going along with you. I must read the book which I started years ago and never finished.

BTW did you get a little something in the post yet?

Ragged Roses said...

Rowan, I love it when you go off on your travels. You always spoil us with wonderful tales when you get home. What a seemingly idyllic place! It certainly seems very calm from the photos - I'm going to hunt those books out, I've never got round to reading them!
Kim x

Miss Robyn said...

gorgeous Rowan, just gorgeous... I am going to sit and read it all again & fall in love with your part of England there. bless you xo

Miss Robyn said...

I am going to go and find myself that Trilogy - I have never heard of it... Rowan -this is such a magickal post, thankyou. Like I said before, England looks so beautiful - just like I dream of. I CANNOT wait til I get over there oneday.
Scarlet pimpernel - I have that here.. never knew what it was, I always thought it was just a weed. I am learning so much reading your post...

Julie said...


Thank you, thank you! An old college friend turned me on to "Lark Rise" years ago. I am going to re-read it this week. Now I will have some images in my mind when I read.

Scarlet pimpernel! I have never seen a photo what the flower actually looks like.

You are truly my link to lovely England.

Tea said...

Those books sound good Rowan and how wonderful that you were actually able to see where the author lived! What a nice cottage. Love those doors and the stairs. And the little church is so pretty. Really enjoyed reading about your adventure :) The next best thing to actually being able to go there myself.


PAT said...

Rowan, I enjoyed this post, so much. Some of our best adventures have been like this. Many times it takes 8 hours to drive a distance that should be 4 hours, because we veer away from the main highway. Very enjoyable traveling!

Back Porch Musings

Anonymous said...

How lucky to be able to visit Juniper Hill,the book Lark Rise to Candleford changed my life(funnily enough it was recommended to me by my dentist) as it made me so appreciate the wonderful village community I grew up in, in Norfolk.Now all changed alas by incomers from London,I still live here and my interest in the way ordinary people lived in the past increases all the time.

Jenny said...

I couldn't believe it when I read your wonderful post- the timing was just too perfect. I'd just stumbled across the Lark Rise to Candleford books for an Armchair Traveler book challenge I'm going to take part in. I had my "England" choices down to the Lark Rise trilogy and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and you certainly helped me to make up my mind. And a behind-the-scenes tour with an interview by the have such fascinating adventures- thanks for sharing them!

smilnsigh said...

What a fantastic entry. Thank you so much for sharing all of it, with us. Your blog is a true treasure, my Dear.

I've never read the trilogy but it's wonderful to know that there is a real place which was used as the setting. I love that.


R. Aastrup said...

Rowan...I've read and loved Lark Rise, but it's been awhile. This took me back in such a magical way! I'm so glad you chanced upon the village, and even happier that you shared it here!

Jenny said...

Thank you so much that was just lovely. How wonderful that it is still such a peaceful place. What a wonderful gift.

Tara said...

Hello! I want to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading about your travels and thank you for bringing Lark Rise to life for me. I had wondered what it would be like there now, and now I have the answer.

Lila Rostenberg said...

I'm so glad to have found this record of your visit...though I am over a month late in reading it!
I read the Larkrise to Candleford years ago and still make "griddle scones" occasionally!

Anonymous said...

I am here from Wildwood Cottage's post about Larkrise to Candleford. After reading her post and yours, I know I shall now have to read it. Thank you!

missjojo said...

Thank you so much for sharing, I recently stumbled across Flora's wonderful trilogy thanks to a genealogy forum and whilst only halfway through I was delighted to find that the program airs here in Australia beginning this week! Another tale of serendipity - thank you so much for sharing and for the photographs :) ~ jo

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Flora Thompson, and I found this post very interesting.

Richard said...

Just started watching this. Thank you for making it real.