Thu, Jan 29, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Ye olde Rutland

A map from 1807 guides Stephen McClarence through the tranquil villages and fields of a corner of England barely changed in 200 years

By Stephen McClarence  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

The map, showing how the land was divided up between local families (including Beadman’s ancestors) during enclosure, the reorganization of land management at the end of the 18th century, was drawn up 10 years before the peasant poet John Clare came to work as a lime-burner a few kilometers away. Clare condemned enclosure, which left the land, he wrote: “In little parcels little minds to please.” In more positive mood, he declared:

How pleasant are the fields to roam and think

Whole Sabbaths through unnoticed and alone ...

Which, even on a Saturday rather than a Sabbath, is the perfect cue to start walking. A silver crescent moon lingers in the sky as I walk down through Braunston, past the village green and the village hall. Inside the 12th-century church, the red-backed Books of Common Prayer are neatly stacked and fragments of medieval wall paintings show angels with eagle-like wings. A plaque records the 1825 bequest of John and Ann Robinson for the sum of £20 (US$28) to be used for the poor of the parish: “To be distributed annually in bread on Christmas Day forever.” The Bequest Committee still meets twice a year, though bread has given way to £5 notes.

I pass a stone carving of a busty woman, possibly a pagan fertility symbol, and climb a stile into a broad meadow, where the low sun catches the undulating furrows of a medieval field system. The only sound is birdsong.

The grass has a crisp cushion of dead leaves. A winter stillness has settled on the landscape. I cross trickles of rivers and wade through marshy ground where the water almost reaches the top of my Wellingtons. I follow the yellow way-marking arrows, past Bushy Wood and Haydock Spinney, and, with my Ordnance Survey map flapping like a sheet in the keen wind, completely miss the double-trunked ash tree which will show me where to climb a hill. It doesn’t matter. It’s a marvelous morning.

Down a broad oak-lined avenue, through a bridle gate, and finally into a tunnel through dense bushes onto the road leading to the Blue Ball, Braunston’s other pub: smart and friendly.

To round off the day, I tackle part of the leaflet’s other Braunston-based walk, to nearby Brooke, a tiny village in a hollow. It has what many consider Rutland’s prettiest church: squat-towered with Elizabethan furnishings and the gravestones of the four wives of Henry Raullins who were buried between 1713 and 1722; his fifth wife buried him in 1742. On one of the choir stalls, someone has carved the outline of a church and added the initials IM and the date: 16 March, 1664.

Finally, to Oakham, a reassuringly old-fashioned town whose main street still has locally owned shops, including two jewelers: Mr Breeze and Mr Diggle. Over a gent’s outfitters is a 1920s sign, “Smiths Grand Teas, imported direct from the finest tea gardens of India and Ceylon.” A blue and gold sundial proclaims: “Tempus fugit.” Time flies. Here in Rutland, it seems to fly that bit more slowly.

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