The Way Home: Streatley, March 2013

My horse, Lily

My horse, Lily

“You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you

Are not all that is here,

I believe that much unseen is also here…..”    

Walt Whitman Song of the Open Road

The poet Laurence Binyon died in 1943, a year after I was born. His ashes are scattered in Aldworth church yard, a stone’s throw from where, once again, I shall begin my journey along the Ridgeway – “Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours/ Nothing is certain, only the certain spring,” he wrote. I shall ride into the certain spring along the old road.  If age and melancholy turn me to poetry there is a reason. It clarifies and inspires like nothing else.  So, with my pilgrim soul about me and when the late March days grow longer, I ride dappled grey Lily out into the morning sun and along the Ridgeway’s slow westward rise from Streatley.

The Ridgeway in March 2013 when I started my journey

The Ridgeway in March 2013 when I started my journey

It feels decidedly suburban. Inland golf courses have an uncanny knack of bringing that feeling about. In 1894 a group of army officers persuaded their friend Ernest Gardiner who owned the low sweep of sheep grazed downland marching with the eastern edge of the Ridgeway, to be turned  into a golf course. (One of the founding members of the Goring and Streatley Golf Club, Sir William Horwood, became the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force and very nearly died after eating a box of poisoned chocolates sent through the post.) By the early 1900s the Club had become so fashionable that a string of well heeled villas began to spring up alongside it. They are now secreted behind redbrick walls and neatly clipped hedges – Downsend,   Oakridge House, The Hold, Gwynfryn, Olde Woodford, Linksdown,  Fairway- the tidiness is absolute.  The golf course, with its chemically enhanced greens, the ultimate civilized landscape.  Further on, beyond grand flint gate piers and fat Irish yews, the ghost of a white lady still haunts the rambling arts and crafts house of Thurle Grange, built around an earlier farm house.

Track off the Ridgeway towards Laurence Binyon’s farm houseThe metalled road begins to peter out as it climbs above the little commune of clapboard cottages and converted barns of Warren Farm. Ivy clad sycamores, ash and oak saplings form a dark green cathedral over the chalk track and the sun shines through  at the end of the tunnel.  Out in the open and away from the cawing of rooks there is a deep silence. To the south Streatley Warren is scooped out of the downs in a bowl below, with scatterings of may trees on the steeper sides. Two children run towards us down the ridgeway, a brother and sister of twelve and eight perhaps, with their mother far behind, calling to them to slow down and a few fat pheasants, disturbed by the whoops of joy, flutter heavily up from the scrub, safe until the next shooting season.

A fir copse crowns the high horizon of Westridge Green where, hidden away down a steep track, is the brick farmhouse of Lawrence Binyon and his adored wife Cicely to whom he wrote many love poems. In 1914, Seven weeks into the First World Warhis elegy “For the Fallen” was printed in the Times. “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow cold:/Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn/At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them.” Having spent nearly all his working life in the Prints and Drawings Department of British Museum, (he was a painter as well as a poet), he retired to Westridge Farmhouse in 1934 where he wrote some of his finest poetry including “The Burning of the Leaves.” “A wise, poor, happy and incorruptible lover of truth and beauty,” wrote Cyril Connolly  when Binyon died, a man who knew, “how to be both warm and detached, in fact, a sage.”

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