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History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.

— Israeli diplomat Abba Eban.

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Into and out of Nowhere

We approached Little Gidding across the Fens, through Ramsey and into the middle of nowhere.

This particular Nowhere, in case you should stumble into it, is a stunning piece of countryside away from the bustle of suburbs and motorways, – a distance measured not so much in miles as in degrees of reality.

It is not far south-west of where my great-grandfather – and probably his father – lived and died. That was Norman’s Cross, and it has been pretty much brushed out of the landscape by the A1(M). But it nudges up against Folksworth, which is where those two ancestors are buried, the wording on their tombstones fading visibly in the short time since I had seen them last.

We ate Sunday lunch there, in the Fox – which I can recommend highly.

I had been rather embarrassed about originating from an area I had regarded as “near Peterborough”, which seemed about as boring a bit of Middle England as you could get. Having spent a couple of days at Little Gidding, which my ancestors must have known, I feel rather differently.

Some of this comes from reading the poem of the same name – the last of T S Eliot’s magical Four Quartets, which contains the same quiet beauty as the place itself. We read it right through on the Sunday morning in Ferrar House, a matter of yards from the beautiful little church dedicated to St John, with whom Eliot had much in common. Use of words, most obviously.

From the same house the previous day we had watched a rather haphazard attempt at a hunt, with horses and dogs milling about and another fox racing across the middle distance. Not my choice of Saturday afternoon leisure, but it reinforced the “nowhere” feeling. Or maybe it was “somewhere else”. Maybe it didn’t happen. Who knows?

The following day we took the short, slightly muddy walk up to Steeple Gidding, with its empty, pewless church and wonderful views. And after lunch in the Folksworth Fox we slipped on to that destructive A1(M) and headed south towards Cambridge.

A quicker route, but cruel: sadly, and without warning, Nowhere vanished.