Icknield Way, day six

Day 6. 19th May 2018, Linton to Kentford

B and B with Monica in the immaculate Harefied Rise in Linton. A leisurely breakfast. The Royal wedding blurb in snatches from the kitchen. Both hosts are keen to discuss the area, and the Icknield Way.

Monica’s husband is a retired archdeacon.

‘Of course we have a lot of connections with the Icknield Way… we threw teddy bears with parachutes off the church tower in Linton…’

I look at him enquiringly, trying to work out the link.

‘The parachutes were made in Baldock…’, he explains.

On and off throughout the day, I picture small bears descending bravely, parachutes emblazoned with Icknield Way.

A morning haze hangs over the fields, ammil, or haze-fire, mist burning in the morning sun. I think of my grandfather, whose war diary I have been reading. A 100 years ago he looked out at the strafe of gunfire hanging over a valley in Italy, and thought how it looked like early morning mist. Now I return the thought whenever I see the ammil, thank God it is not the smoking remains of battle.

I walk through Linton with glimpses, through gates, of back gardens, many times bigger than their small cottages, built in a time when gardens would be lived in, and used, as much if not more than inside space.

This is my second time walking the stretch to Balsham, the first time having been completed at twilight. I am keen to stride the Roman road again, and test the ghosts; to see the way in a different light.

Past the wood where, last time, darkness grew from the roots, this time loud with song: a concert hall, melodies resounding within its space. I scribble bursts of quavers and semi quavers on the guide; with no stave, a futile attempt to remember song, but sight of the notes is a reminder of the spill of music from the trees and the irresistible urge to somehow be part of it.

At the end of the wood, a ploughed field, studded with flints every blue of the sea. In it, a great oak tree; a strong heart beat. A feeling of well met.

The first sign of horror is not a Roman legion, but a hedge, grey and thick webbed. I approach cautiously: it is covered in small black stripy caterpillars, sliding and twisting, tiny acrobats on a cow parsley trapeze. In horrified fascination, I stand close to watch, then look down: a couple on my legs, several more on my feet, busy taking hold. How long, if I stand still, will it take them to claim me?

Later, I discover they are Cherry Ermine Moth caterpillars, gregarious, voracious, party larvae; larva, from the Latin ‘ghost’, seeming particularly appropriate for these uncanny caterpillars.

The approach to the Roman road across a ploughed field is really rather pedestrian without a sunset at my back. I pass through the gap in the hedge and stand on the edge, teetering on tiptoe, as a swimmer stands on the side of a cold pool. I look for a few moments, make my demands. Show yourselves!

Nothing. I step on, close my eyes, listen with all my might. Different. But not distinctly negative. Wait a moment, to be sure. Start walking. I imagined it after all.

But unease begins. It grows from my toes, turns my stomach and whispers to my mind; I walk faster and faster until I step off into the woods. Relax. I wonder again what might be embedded in place, there for those of us who care to hear; set this up against the worming doubts and fears that can wriggle into my suggestible mind.

Hedgerows, green, white, yellow, flickering with butterflies, little scraps of happiness, as if flowers are taking flight. One flutters to my shoulder, and rests for a while; others I pass as fellow travellers.

Cow parsley, glimpsey, lavish and everywhere. I dip my hands in and out of their froth. Their space is as different as dipping a hand in water.

Forget-me-not, chickweed. Buttercup and red clover. Greater stitchwort. Nettles and cow parsley by the light of the evening sun. Outlined in silver. Iced with sun. Gloria of the evening.

Close to Newmarket now, and every other path seems to pass horses. At Wooditton the path emerges next to a sandy track. A soft thumping thunder, and twenty riders appear, dressed in white with black scarves wrapped around heads and over mouths, eyes in dark glasses. ISIS invading, triumphant on horseback.

Otherwise, an empty world. Everyone is at the royal wedding. I am the only guest in paradise.

At Dalham, great trees, lofty horse chestnuts, giants on the ground. I stand and stare in utter disbelief.

Feet bruised and tender. A big field to cross, crop soft in the evening light, the last field before the road to the station.

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