*I completely nicked that photo from here. It's not the ships I saw, but it's from the same church. If the photographer/copyright owner wants to sue me, go ahead. You won't get a penny out of me...
Thursday, 5 June 2014
Haunts of Ancient Peace
If I were better organised, I would have made sure I had a photo of something in Salthouse to accompany this post. Sadly, and all too predictably, I am not organised, I don’t have a proper photo, so you’re just going to have to imagine it for yourself, with the aid of a different picture. I could try and spin this as my evil cunning plan to get you to visit Salthouse for yourself to see what I’m banging on about, but it’s only just occurred to me that I should totally have done that, and you would have been really impressed by how seductive I make it sound, and thought I was really clever. Bum. Also, here, have this almighty earworm that’s been haunting me for over ten days now. No, you’re WELCOME (I'd forgotten about the crappy sax solo at the start. God, so much cringe).
August, 1990. Mum and I were spending the summer in the North Norfolk village of Salthouse, staying in a cottage on a narrow flint lane. I was alone, bored, mooching around the beach and countryside, out of things to entertain myself with, and decided to visit the church. I can’t really say why. Probably because it was there. Perched high on a hill overlooking the village, it dominates the landscape, much like Norwich Castle in my fine city, drawing the eye and intriguing. I wandered around, reading memorial plaques, flicking through the visitor book: ‘Lovely.’ ‘Lovely church.’ ‘We had a lovely visit.’ Not exactly mindblowing and inspirational thoughts. Certainly nothing lifechanging. I carried on exploring, past the pews, the kneelers, the tired flower displays. At the age of ten, I wasn’t much known for my self control (plus ca change) and started clambering over the choir stalls, trailing my fingers along the wood.
And I felt something.
Ships. Lots of ships. Initials too, and dates, but what struck my childish mind like a brick were the ships, carved into the wood. Some fairly scrawled, others etched deep into the ancient wood, painstakingly detailed. I traced my pudgy fingers over them slowly, probably with my mouth agape, eyes wide as dinner plates (I have a lot of eye to open), and I experienced a violent and terrifying connection to the people who hjad taken the time to record their presence, here, in this place, this very spot in which I stood, awestruck and amazed. And history stopped being dry and dusty dates and battles and long dead monarchs. Now it was people. People just like me… ok, maybe not like me, I know you can’t libel the dead, but still, people. People who had lived, died, left nothing behind, but a drawing of a ship, to be discovered by those who came after them, including a bored and lonely girl hundreds of years later.*
I don’t think I can say I’ve ever forgotten that experience. The memory of it has stayed with me. But the many, many years since have blunted it somewhat. It doesn’t have quite the same acidic sting it did immediately afterwards**. It became an ‘Oh yeah…’ memory, rather than an ‘Oh. WOW.’ one.
And then, at the start of half term, we had a weekend away in Sheringham. I am, by nature, an introvert. I need time to myself, every day. Being around other people for too long makes me twitchy, stabby, and an absolute bloody nightmare. So two unrelieved days in the company of Alistair, my mum, my nephew, The Blondies… I NEEDED to take some time away. As a matter of lifesaving urgency (not my life. Theirs). And that’s where the maps came in.
I fucking love maps. Especially Norfolk maps. Especially old maps. Especially Ordnance Survey maps. So joy was pretty unconfined in my heart when we arrived at the cottage on Saturday and I discovered that the walls of one room were covered in ORDNANCE SURVEY MAPS FROM THE 1930S!!! I think I spent whole hours of the weekend gazing at the walls, reading ‘Roman villa (remains of)’, looking at single dwellings located in the middle of farmland, tracing out obscure little streams and becks. As I rapidly ran out of patience with the world on Sunday evening, I happened to spot ‘Beeston Priory (ruins of)’. Oh, but of course! I’d read about it before, but I’d forgotten it was so close. No more than five minutes away as the booted twatty blogger walks.
‘I’m going to bed in that case.’ (He doesn’t do late nights).
I stalked off, up the road, across the common, onto a street that became a track, became a grassy lane,
It’s just there.
There’s no great showiness. A sign, giving you some of the history***. But for me, it was impossible not to stand, in silent awe of what remains of this building. And despite the fact that it’s a ruin, that the grass is overgrown, that it’s been this way for years, that it’s been patched up in places with modern brick, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who had gone before. The monks, the priors, the schoolboys, the farmers. The people, just like me. People who were born, lived, died, and faded from view, just like I one day will, leaving not a trace, not a wrack behind.
I walked around the shell of this beautiful skeleton, trying (and failing) to capture some of what I felt, taking photos, drinking in the silence and tranquillity that wrapped itself around me in the smokiness of the twilight. I looked across to All Saints Church, where my grandmother is buried, which would have been just as visible to all the people who walked this ground before me.
Over to Beeston Bump, silhouetted against the sky, a few hardy walkers enjoying the sunset over Norfolk, unaware of me capturing the moment, beyond the Priory pond, where fish were kept to feed the inhabitants of the priory.
The landscape changes, but it stays the same. And the buildings change too, but they remain. But the people are long gone, and we know nothing of them, their hopes, their wishes, their dreams, what they laughed at, cried at, what thoughts they carried. Not a trace of that remains.
But in one small corner, someone had left a marker of their time here. It’s not much. It was hard to make out as the sun slipped away, and the stars began to emerge. But I traced my pudgy fingers over it, and felt that connection again. To people, just like me.
**Although, having said that, as I was writing the paragraph above, I had to break off to cry a little bit. I’m such a twat.
*** I’m not even going to attempt to give you any of the history of it, because I’ll only get it wrong and some
smartarse kind, helpful and public spirited person will pop up
and correct me. If you want to know more about it, Wikipedia.