Up the barrows

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
April 2023

February leaks into March. By Maxim Griffin.

Grey into grey – grey that gets into your lungs – murk that sets in – damp without rain, mild without warmth – still, the first signals of spring are being broadcast – snowdrops, daffodils, Easter eggs in the supermarket – first light gets earlier – geese on the wing, lambs lambing – an update pings through from home – HE’S FINE – ENJOY THE CAMP XXX

It’s cold today – minus 5 overnight – and bright too – the mail coat of the eastern sky bleeds full tilt sun – there will be shadows on the tracks – the kind of sky Turner raced for – a Constable abstraction – heading west to avoid the dazzle – a rucksack of things, lunch, supper, a winter sleeping bag, a tiny Polish army tent – there’s a spot in mind, might see the full moon come up.

A fast, blue sky with little clouds speeding inland – green fields, ochre fields – woodland still in winter camo – today the colour of woods is new bruises, purple and grey – in a month the canopies will be back in style – beyond that there’s the gable end of a red brick house and the white window sills are shining.

There’s smoke from the chimney bending with the speed of the air and two white sheets on the washing line match the shape of the clouds – the pop pop of some rural gunplay – one more pop – impossible to tell which direction – the birds aren’t fazed – sun on the red brick gable with a white gull and a black crow.

Across the valley on tamped down clay tracks that slip and skid – ex-railway embankments hidden in tangles – along until the fine brick bridge – there’s a tent pitched down behind a screen of tyres and deadfall – the guy ropes tied to head-sized stones – this place is occupied – skirt round, don’t judge, the story isn’t known – make a note of it – out from the tangles and tracks – green fields under giant clouds – there’s a sharpness to the day – one path along a hedge line thick with litter and debris – wrappers and ribbons – a kind of archaeology.

Mounds ahead – they have survived landowners and enclosures and ploughs – they outlasted the Romans and barely noticed the 20th century – sentinel, weird – long dry grasses shake – 2,000 years older than Jesus and never been excavated – early Bronze Age – no one can hear it anymore – just like us – same joys, same troubles, different hats – round houses on the top of the Wolds – mounds of chalk and flint and earth for the dead – over the hedge a Royal Mail van passes.

A sudden chill
Tucked into the ley of a tumulus with a flask of coffee and a ham roll – a vast cloud hurtles over with the weight of a battleship and eclipses the sun – a sudden chill – hackles up for a moment – you’ve got to watch yourself around barrows – best pay for the stop with a token, thanks for the shelter lads – pour out a coffee and leave a finger of Kit Kat – it was drummed in from an early age that one must pass through the places of the dead with good manners. The sun comes out again and a pair of Typhoons scream low against the heavens, headed hard for the North Sea.

Eyes closed – sun through lids – engines burning east – wind shaking long dry grass – pop pop – shotguns again – the rookery panics – is it that a figure in the treeline passed the mounds? The gun didn’t sound that close – two more shots but the woods and the size of the fields confuses the sound – is that a figure?

It darkens – drizzle squalling in – it lightens – shine through rain – wet road with a blue sky and the rainbow that follows bends in the shape of the barrows – gulls lit up against the pig iron cloud that the sun will turn into steel. A message from home reads SNOWING HERE!!! X – huh – the west looks inviting, summery almost – green fields all the way to Lincoln – trudge on – a half path to a mound that falls off the maps somewhere around 1888 – it’s still there but hidden in a crown of ash trees – the sort of place that ought to be wrapped in folklore and stories but there’s nothing – it seems to be the case for all barrows in Lincolnshire – no oral culture of mystery, not even a mention in Watkins’ The Old Straight Track – which is surprising given how enigmatic these monuments are. It’s a good spot – similar to Bigger Trees near Warter by Hockney – it’d be a mission to drag a canvas up here, but it would be worth it – just as Hockney did back in ’06 – mind you, he had assistants.

Wild camp
This is the place for the night – a wild camp of sorts – such things are frowned upon, you may have seen the news about Dartmoor. Tucked into the hollow should be good enough – the Polish tent up in seconds, out of sight – noodles and things for later – keep low, it’ll be warm enough – phone pings – another message – HE’S BEEN SICK AGAIN – duty, therefore, calls – tear down the canvas and haul the rucksack back on – so it goes – look – the weather is coming.

Another wave of drizzle – clouds now collapsing on themselves – a whole system of tumbling – sun still coming from the south at angles with the towers of sleet – the east turns monochrome – sleet hardening to proper snow – it is, for a few moments, a full-on blizzard – caught between an ash tree and a burial mound – the kind of snow that a yeti would thrive in – hood up, it’ll pass. Out in the fields something strange forms – the sideways sun catching the face of the squall – a fogbow, a snowbow, a squall bow – an arc of ice and spectrum – the sun wins this battle and the solid weather pushes on across the Wolds leaving a brief and glittering trail in its wake – the last few particles of snow falling fade out against a sky of solid blue and sun.

Send a message home – ON MY WAY – 2 HOURS – WILL PICK UP MORE CALPOL XXX

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