Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Did you see what I saw on the rainbow walk?

Did you see what I saw? A walk around D H Lawrence’s Rainbow country!

Looking for something different to do, we happened upon an advert for a guided walk of D H Lawrence country. I’ve long been a fan of the writer, having studied “The Rainbow” for my “A” levels, all those years ago, and my interest was sparked again a couple of years ago when we finally made it to the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre, and to Lawrence’s birthplace. That visit was quite exciting and I felt so moved by all I saw and read about both the writer and the industrial area of Eastwood, that I entered the D H Lawrence writing competition, penning a short story based on my own childhood in the coal mining valleys of South Wales.

Last summer, whilst holidaying in St Ives in Cornwall, we took the open-topped bus to Zennor, and from there we walked back along the coastal path to St Ives. In the early twentieth century, D H Lawrence, and several other artistic people (like Peter Warlock, and Katherine Mansfield) made Zennor their home, and it was certainly a most inspiring place to live. I must admit the walk back to St Ives was quite a hard one, but we managed it, and it was well worth it for the stunning views.

Then, earlier this year my interest in the author was again awakened when I attended one of Ray Sutton’s history evenings at Rawlins, at which he talked about the women in D H Lawrence’s life. One of these women, Louisa Burrows, lived much of her life in Quorn, and I remember having previously been told of the marriage proposal, which took place on a train on the Great Central Railway.

So, on learning that there was to be a walk, run by the Heritage Centre, around the areas where D H Lawrence lived, and which appeared in some of his writing, I couldn’t resist going along. As you Loughburians know, this year is the centenary of the creation of the Ladybird Books series, and the publication of the first book therein. This year is also the centenary of the publication of D H Lawrence’s novel, The Rainbow”. In fact, we chose to walk on a day that was almost 100 years to the day since the publication. Apparently, the book was ground-breaking, however, the authorities decided it was not appropriate for people like you and me to read, so all copies were destroyed. No problem for today though, as the walk leader had a recently published copy tucked under her arm, ready to read from at strategic points along the walk. 

The walk started from a pub in Strelley, (The Broad Oak) on the edge of Nottingham, and was led by a very capable lady, and accompanied by one of the staff from the Heritage Centre, a very knowledgeable lady who acted as a backmarker. There seemed to be quite a lot of people on this walk, although there were so many I didn’t actually count them all. Our leader began by telling us a little about Lawrence and of the history of The Rainbow”, and read a passage before we began our journey into the rainbow countryside.

We started our walk by turning right along Main Street, and headed off towards the footpaths, along a pavement that was laid with paving slabs apparently from the 14th century.
We passed the church, AllSaints, with its interesting gravestones,

before reaching Strelley Hall. Although the Mulberry Tree café looked and sounded lovely, this was only the beginning of our walk: perhaps we would stop here on the way back!

Our guide was keen to point out that all the things we’d passed so far would have been very familiar to Lawrence, and the view over the fields opposite the grounds of Strelley Hall would hardly have changed since his time. Opposite these grounds we took a footpath which would eventually lead us to Cossall, the village where Louisa Burrows (Lawrence’s one-time fiancée) lived as a child, with her parents and siblings.

Just as we turned into this first footpath, one of the walkers in the group told us about a small wood on our left where there was evidence of about 20 bell pits, purportedly created by monks in about the 15th century, when they were looking for coal. Slightly further along, we saw evidence of more coal mining – a slag heap, now grassed over, upon which was sitting a crane with a Union Jack atop! A grassy slag heap – what a familiar sight, although in my home country I’m sure there’d have been a Welsh dragon swaying in the breeze!

At the next crossroads, we turned left, and found ourselves on a bridge traversing the mighty M1! How strange to see it from this angle, and how fast the cars seemed to go! Despite it being Sunday morning, there was plenty of traffic using the motorway. And that’s one sight that D H Lawrence would not have seen! In fact, he was more likely to have seen Garendon Hall in Loughborough when it was still standing in all its glory, before the rubble resulting from its demolition was used for hard-core for this very same motorway!
Despite this being a relatively little path it was also quite busy as it was actually a traffic route as well as being for pedestrians, but once the three cars had passed us we were able to carry on with our walk. Paved and gravelled footpaths turned into paths of stubble, as we traversed the countryside, and made our way down the valley, with Ilkeston ahead of us, and Kimberley to our right (far away in the distance, of course!).

When we got to what must have been the highest point of our walk through the fields of wheat and stubble, our leader paused and gathered us together to hear another reading from the novel, this time the opening passage:

“The Brangwens had lived for generations on the Marsh Farm, in the meadows where the Erewash twisted sluggishly through alder trees, separating Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire. Two miles away, a church-tower stood on a hill, the houses of the little country town climbing assiduously up to it. Whenever one of the Brangwens in the fields lifted his head from his work, he saw the church-tower at Ilkeston in the empty sky. So that as he turned again to the horizontal land, he was aware of something standing above him and beyond him in the distance.”

As we stood together in our group, mesmerised by the image of farm labourers working under the watchful gaze of the church, we looked across at that very same church tower in Ilkeston, a view which had barely changed in a century.

Shaking ourselves from our reverie, we continued our walk, and eventually, our journey through the stubble fields opened out into a farm track. As we had approached, we’d been able to see the church at Cossall, so we knew this farm track would lead us to the tiny village, which was so significant to Lawrence, and which made an appearance in The Rainbow” as the village of Cossethay. 

 Of course, not having visited any of this area before, I had no idea that the path we were on would actually lead us up right between Church House – the house which was lived in by the Burrows family – and the church rooms, so slap bang in the middle of Rainbow country! Church House even had a plaque on it saying that it was the home of Louisa Burrows, who was once the fiancée of Lawrence, and was the home of the Brangwen family in The Rainbow. Quite a charming cottage.

Next to the church rooms were the Willoughby alms houses, set back from the road behind a low wall.

And, on the other side of the cottage was St Catherine’s church: although this was originally built in the thirteenth century, it was re-modelled in about 1842. In the wall surrounding the cemetery was a Victorian post box, cemented into the brick.

From here we walked along the road, and took a turning on the left, along a path which would eventually take us back to one of the crossroads we had come across earlier on the walk. This was a long, gentle slope which passed many interesting countryside features, like fruiting hedgerows, a beautiful old farmhouse that had been more recently extended, and farm animals!


Once we’d reached the crossroads we took the familiar path, back the way we had originally come, over the motorway bridge, past the field with swallows circling in the blue sky above, past the Union Jack-topped crane, and the wood with the hidden bell pits, until we reached the road. 

Taking a right turn here, we retraced our steps, past Strelley Hall, and stopped at the stream where we spotted some lovely birds.

We took more time to walk over the ancient sandstone paving slabs, observing where they were worn away with footsteps from the past. Approaching the church from the opposite direction, we better appreciated the sandstone wall, and noticed the memorials in the churchyard on the other side of the road. Passing by the very old barn, we arrived back in the car park from where we had started the walk about 2 hours before.

I’m told that Lawrence-themed walks also take place in the urban setting of Nottingham: this is one I will be sure to go on in Springtime when hayfever season puts a temporary pause on my countryside walks.   

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