I was due to fly to Greece for a week in the Mani at Kardamili yesterday, but it became a pandemic victim. Tom Sawford’s excellent web site dedicated to Patrick Leigh Fermor, patrickleighfermor.org, reminded me that my departure would have been very close to birth date of Bruce Chatwin (13th May 1940 – 18th January 1989). Chatwin and Leigh Fermor were friends and Chatwin finished writing Songlines in Kardamili; his ashes were scattered around the tiny Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos, Hora, a few miles to the south.
I visited Agios Nikolaos several times between 2007 and 2011; it became a place of pilgrimage for me. On 12th July 2007 I wrote:
On to Exochori where we walked along a ridge past goats and between black-trunked olives to Agios Nikolaos, Hora, treading in the footsteps of Bruce Chatwin to the final resting place of his ashes. At the end of the ridge the church of rough-hewn stone sits on a rectangular terrace bounded by a rugged stone wall. On the left the land drops into to a gully then rises up through hills covered with deciduous trees. Ahead the landscape rolls away, shimmering grey-green as the olives dance in the wind; a huge oak punctuates the middle distance; beyond the olives the hills rise up to the grey scarred scarps of the Tygetos. Far away the pale smudge of Kalamata is a pause in the blue green land which tapers into the Gulf of Messenia. A sandy track leads away and disappears round the foot of a hill; the bare, blackened skeleton of an oak reaches up through the greenery. Swifts skimmed silently overhead. Cicadas called; the breeze rustled olive leaves; a church bell rang, once; goat bells revealed an unseen procession through the trees; voices floated up from across the gully.
The New Bedford River, also known as the Hundred Foot Drain because of the distance between the tops of the two embankments on either, is a man-made cut-off or by-pass channel of the River Great Ouse in the Fens. It provides an almost straight channel between Earith and Denver Sluices. It was opened in 1652.
The Magog Downs were gilded delicately with cowslips on Friday, showing up the trashy gaudiness of lurid fields of rape. I like the brilliance of the blue here, the spiral and the way the end on the rope is pointing to the horizon. Shame about the composition though: a lower view point would have eliminated the intrusive path.
Shingle Street is not somewhere you go for the architecture. Pevsner ignores it in his Suffolk, though that is no surprise. Its distinctions are found in the works of nature, not humankind. Yet the hamlet is not without interest, with some vernacular cottages, the roughcast drum of a Martello tower (c.1812) and the solid beacon-like terrace of the coastguard cottages (c.1879). Plus something unique: the German Ocean Mansion, two single storey red brick wings running north-south from a central sun room below a lookout reached by spiral stairs.
The Marine Lodging Houses were built ‘on the continental model in two attached blocks, North and South’ by Thomas Neale Fonnereau in 1876. An advertisement offered: ‘Furnished residence of seven rooms can be let for one, two or three months. The let can either be in five or seven rooms’. In 1878 the south block was sold and it became one house renamed the German Ocean Mansion – the German Ocean was the usual name for the North Sea up until 1914. The Mansion became the summer home of the Colleys, a Roman Catholic family that arrived each year with horses, yachts, friends and a chaplain. Residents supplemented their often precarious incomes by gardening, domestic work and looking after the horses.
A visit to Shingle Street yesterday – first since October 2020 – a day of haze and bright April sun with skylarks singing and hares out on the marshes. The cycle of changes rolls on: a new island has formed off-shore; and the main lagoons continue to lose definition, fill with slime, mud and shingle and no longer invite swimming. Land artists have added decorative flourishes to the shell line.