Day 41, churches & hedges
[Saturday, 25 June] I didn’t mention my walk yesterday after lunch. It’s worth going back to talk about because I saw something that, in fact, has turned out to be significant.
So I took a walk after lunch yesterday. Because it was a feast day, Liturgy was served later in the morning, so lunch was later, as well. That meant it ended 2-ish, and the day was warmer, so I decided to see what was down Old Rectory Road going the other direction from the way I go to walk through Tolleshunt Knights into Tiptree. There isn’t much, I found out: a couple of houses, a horse pasture, and, near the end of the road (for it is a dead end about ½ a mile from the monastery), there is an old stone church with a cemetery surrounding it.
The old church looked interesting. I was sorry I didn’t have my camera with me. It’s not a big church, and I couldn’t tell how old was. It had a medieval feel about it, but the sense of it was messed up because part of the exterior had been plastered over at some point. There was no sign on the building or the grounds, the bells were missing from the belfry, and I could see nothing through the large key-hole in the door. There were a couple or three dozen graves scattered about the church yard, all in various stages of disrepair, with leaning headstones and all. The earliest grave I found was dated 1801; the latest were for two local men who had died in the Great War. The church seems to have been abandoned shortly thereafter. But finding an old church answers the question about why the monastery is located on “Old Rectory Road,” for, in fact, the original building for the monastery was the old rectory for this church (the old rectory, I found out, is about 400-500 years old itself).
At any rate, the whole old-church-and-cemetery thing had that romantic, Victorian quality about it you think of when you think of old village churches in England. A few ancient oak trees lent themselves to the ambience. The place was quiet. “Tempus fugit,” “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and other funereal phrases came to mind. All it needed was a resident ghost to be perfect. You half expect to find the place footnoted in a poem by Shelley.
Walking back from the old church to the monastery, I sauntered along and gave thought to the hedges that lined both sides of the road. There seem to be a whole lot of hedges hereabouts, mostly overgrown wild things that form a barrier between the road and a wheat field, or this man’s plot and that. Some of the hedges nearer the villages are well-kept arbor vitae, or other shrubberies we would recognize, but these rural ones have real character. They vary in depth, from a few to several feet deep, and most of them are impenetrable, except to rabbits and birds. What I found especially attractive was that you couldn’t walk more than a dozen yards along any hedge without running across a large patch of (black?-)berry brambles forming part of it, and all of the brambles are completely covered in blossoms. There is going to be a prodigious crop of berries this summer, that is, if the birds leave anything for the locals to pick. I asked one of the nuns about the berries, and she said that in some years they have gone out and picked, and thought that they would again this year, just because the crop looked so promising.
Also growing wild in the hedges are roses. I have seen the traditional five-petaled white rose (House of York or Plantagenet?), which has a light fragrance, and produces very large hips, as big around as a quarter; some are ripening already. There is also a purple-red rose, with more petals, that produces a smaller hip, but has a fragrance that’s simply intoxicating. Really, I’ve found one of the most fragrant roses I’ve ever come across, and it’s growing wild in a hedge in Essex.