Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking
5th October 2018 – Sunless, by Maxim Griffin.
One of those flat grey days on the southern edge of the Wolds. Autumn snuck in through the back door, the lanes carry leaf fall and the woods are set in deep rust. Old Bolingbroke behind me, I trudge uphill back towards Snipe Dales. There’s a faux Neolithic stone circle beyond the nature reserve – I’m not sure quite how I feel about it, needs investigating.
At the crest of the hill western Lincolnshire levels out before me – that same flat grey undercoat going all the way to the Trent – leaning up against a tree to swig some water, little mushrooms at the base of the trunk and a big crow in the uppermost branches – somewhere close, the sound of horses, the weight of horses – overcast shifts into murk over the higher ground. Drizzle.
1643. 11th of October. 375 years ago. Now.
The outriders brought news in the night of a sortie issued from Lincoln – 3,000 cavalry and nearly as many foot under the King’s colours, heading this way to break Parliament’s siege at Bolingbroke Castle. It’s difficult to say how many are sent to meet the royal troops – two-and-a-half, maybe three thousand, all horse – the infantry can wait in the trenches, hold the lines.
Cromwell’s up front, a little book of psalms – the weight of horses, wet leather, steel and primed carbines moving up the hill to where the shock of cavalry can be best put to use.
A silver 4×4 with personalised plates comes too fast from Winceby way – I stop again by the mast at Asgarby, an apple tree, big cookers in the grass – smells like Sundays – a sudden memory of roast pork with my parents, 1991 maybe, I was 8, a big book from the library about the English Civil War, colour drawings of dour looking fellows in lobster pot helmets.
Scribbling a few notes down as the riders deploy around me – the psalms louder now, clearer, like Good Friday at Red Hill – ahead – by the A158, the Royal infantry take up position as the cavalry canter ahead. It’ll kick off soon – 6,000 horses with 6,000 riders – adrenaline soaring into a psychic weather system stirring both armies tighter and tighter, higher and higher – the sheer volume of yet to be released energy earths itself through iron horseshoes into damp Lincolnshire clay.
I scurry off the lane and up a track – at the brown sign for the nature reserve there is a dead badger and the weather drives in a slate grey rush of rain.
Cromwell takes command of the situation – spurring – sword drawn, pistol cocked – ambition and righteous fury. Everything charges – shock and awe, curses and psalms, flags, cornets, feathers and metal.
I take a different path, downhill a little and munch on a cheese and pickle sandwich.
It’s the initial clash that does the most damage – point blank gun fire, falling horses, broken legs, the tangle of men and animals – blood blinded, broken nosed – the glancing melee peels off as both forces repel and regroup.
On the main road, a coach heads to Skegness – faces of old dears off for a bit of Friday razzle dazzle – chippy tea and an entertainment. I wave and get a wave back.
The cavalry swirls back from both sides, Cromwell, leading from the front again, in full psalm voice, flanked by a thousand ironsides – he’s making a name for himself. The second contact is harder than the first – a pummelling charge, full tilt concentrated havoc breaks any cohesion in the Royalist front – the battle is turning into a free-for-all – mass panic, broken spirits – some poor mount, open from throat latch to forearm, drowning in itself – those who can ride away do so – the royalist infantry caught between deserting cavalry and Cromwell’s tide draw a worse lot – as scattered as the leaves, no fight, only escape. Some head towards Horncastle, some Lincoln ways, a few hundred pour into the Wolds hoping to find cover or sanctuary. What begins as a setpiece battle ends in murder and banditry.
I pile down a path eastwards – I have to work my way home in the wake of seventeenth-century deserters. Local lore claims Cromwell rode this way after the fight at Winceby – at a good pace you can cross the Wolds on foot to Louth in four or five hours – I don’t imagine many of the fleeing troops got so far though.
Along the lanes, skirting Somersby to a hollow on the roadside that we always used to call The Rocks – a tiny open quarry of sorts, traces of exposed gritstone, soft enough to work with a sharp stick. A few faces crudely cut, quite weathered now but I recall, as a youth, they were quite fresh – we used to camp here and muck about, teenage adventures.
Down the back paths into Tetford passing the home of an old friend’s parents and along into the village – The White Hart is worth stopping at. The food is pretty good and the beer is well kept – I’m soaked though and have a way to go. No need to be tramping mud indoors for the sake of a pint.
Uphill again and out of the valley, a good prospect back to the scene of Winceby Fight and across to Hoe Hill where, in the heatwave, I was parched.
Rain easing to a speckled drizzle as I reach the uplands – a few cracks in the cloud reveal duck egg blues to the west – the sun, visible in rays, casting from the west as the weather passes and catches in amber ripples over the low sky. From this side of the Wolds sunset can be magnificent.
Onwards in a tiring fashion – claggy fields homeward towards the familiar paths. So the story goes, Cromwell and his men spent the night after the battle in Louth, at what is now the Helal curry house – I’ve kept pace with them as I reach the town, just the light side of dark – muddy and tired in the gloaming. From within the restaurant there is cheering and praise, a celebration meal by the sound of it – the smell of spiced meats and beer is thick and promising. The spectre of Colonel Cromwell sits among them. He has made a name for himself this day.