Solivitur ambulando – It is solved by walking
Walk 5: Friday 16th June 2017 – a gentle breeze, the sun on my back.
I’m walking a section of Roman road, part of the way between Skegness and Lincoln. One can follow it on the maps with ease – miles of straight dotted green lines. My wife dropped me off on the A153 on the ridge to the south of Scamblesby a little way beyond the kennels at the Belchford crossroads. The 1889 Ordnance Survey map calls this place Flint Hill.
Overgrowth, bracken and grass variations – this is not a path that gets much use and there are no signs of any walker coming this way for several days at least. This was not always so. Imagine the scene: sometime in the mid-first century, a cohort of freshly drafted auxiliaries making their way from the coast. The crunch of hobnailed sandals and the grind of leather and metal. Better to be marching to Lindum than serving on the front in Germania – everyone has heard the stories about what happened to the three legions of Varus…
In an effort to echo the legionary style I’ve decked myself out in a crude approximation of Roman army gear – three quarter length shorts, a T-shirt with buttons at the neck, a homemade focale or sweat cloth wrapped around my neck. My backpack has rations in and a Polish army rain cape and I’ve a firesteel and tinder should I wish to brew tea. It’s a very good walking kit and if anything, it helps me feel the part. My cooking pot clanks against leather straps to the rhythm of each step – I’ll adopt this fashion for future walks.
The road descends. Either side is thick with ash and oak and bracken. Through the branches the fields sway with ripening barley. Rabbits dash ahead and a kestrel wheels in and out of sight. I can see the cathedral at Lincoln.
It’s a beautiful walk. I take a few photographs to work from later and make my way for a few miles in silence, save for crows and the distant thrum of a single prop aircraft.
The steady grind of hobnail sandals, the sun on our backs, Lindum by nightfall and muster with the IXth.
As the path becomes more official, bracken and waist deep grass turn to chalked farm track and over to the right are the ruins of Asterby Grange. Wind picks up across the crops. Sixty million heads of wheat move like reflections on water. The ridge pours away into the Bain Valley. A handful of Scots pine. It’s like a nineteenth-century landscape painting, something by Isaac Levitan perhaps – The Vladimirka Road springs to mind. A world away from the news of the week – my telephone comes to life with news of the rising death toll of the Grenfell fire. It’ll get worse.
Poppies in flower at the field’s edge. A Dakota flies, some way off, painted for Overlord.
I could follow this Roman road over the Caistor High Street and on towards Wragby but I angle myself east and leave the ghost of the cohort behind. Taking a track to the hamlet of Ranby past a water cannon, fine mist catching the air. It’s very refreshing. At Ranby I alarm a terrier and a farmer waves from aboard his tractor.
I’d planned to head to Donnington on Bain via Market Stainton, there’s an excellent shop at Donnington where one can purchase homemade cake and tins of Pilsner but I take the road to Goulceby instead. I’m half of a mind to stop at the Three Horseshoes there. It’s an excellent pub with a campsite, last time I was there I had the single best burger I have eaten. Rather than take a leisurely pub lunch I stop at a bench in the churchyard of All Saints and break into my provisions. Lots of salad, new potatoes, a little French cheese and some Hungarian sausage. The importance of good, clean food on a long walk should not be overlooked. As often happens, I find two headstones I made in a previous career. I remember both, 2006 seems like a long time ago, both stones have weathered handsomely.
Up the track across the road to the overgrown remains of a former churchyard – All Saints was moved from here in the 1890s but the graves remain. There’s a map at the gate of every grave, every name. Onwards again into open fields and a fine chestnut horse pokes her head through the hedge. I give her a pat and an apple from my pack.
Along again to the right, a field in full bloom with poppies. Overwhelming red. It’s a strange hue, a deep blood orange – I turn my mind to picture making – such a dense colour would seem too much, almost cliched. I move on past the earthworks on Imber Hill, iron age fortifications perhaps, and head through the farmyard onto country lanes. Taking the route ahead of me up to the Nature Reserve on Red Hill, some friends of mine live at Badger Farm opposite and I can hear music playing. It’s a steep climb up to Red Hill and I stop again in the reserve to take water. The field of poppies in extreme contrast with the surrounding countryside. With my telephone and binoculars, I make photographs through one lens – it looks like Jupiter. I did similar things on the Cumbrian edge of Morecambe Bay recently, like Max Ernst drawings, circles of texture freed from the context of their surroundings.
Up again and onwards. The road sign says seven miles back to Louth and I walk the road from Red Hill to Raithby in a little over an hour. Good going. The sun is beating down now and what little shade there is on this road is a comfort. I can feel the back of my legs taking the heat – no matter, a little sunburn is an insignificant injury. Beyond me the Wolds fall away towards the Outmarsh and the sea. It’s clear enough to see a ship on the Humber and the wind farms from Ravenser Odd to beyond Mablethorpe.
Returning towards Louth on familiar paths. Places I take my children, places I take my dogs. The vibration of the bypass, traffic heading to the sea. At Hubbard’s Hills, a large group of teenagers prepare a disposable barbecue and loll by the riverside. They are very lucky. More news unfolds from my telephone. It gets worse.