The first few days back in Gloucestershire, I was disorientated and it felt like being in a dream. Part of that was due to sleep deprivation, which always does odd things to my head. Some weeks on, and the dream like quality remains. Thinking back to my childhood here, that slightly unreal feeling was (I think) present then too. Is that part of this place, or something in me?
Last week I spent an hour at twilight in the church grounds – a peaceful place to sit and contemplate, and to consider the ancestors. This week I did a little digging, marvelling at the richness of the soil, the soft, crumbling fertility of it. People around here grow a lot of fruits and vegetables. After the heavy clay, that I couldn’t persuade to grow anything much, this is an interesting change. A druid girl once commented on the richness of soil in a place we were visiting – how you could almost feed off it. I keep thinking about that comment. Not in an entirely literal way, but what rich soil does to the soul, compared to earth that has been denuded of life, or tarmacked over.
I’m conscious that the pace of life is slower here. Not as much traffic on the roads, not as much push and commerce. It’s not an area that could be called ‘thriving’ – employment opportunities are few, and the amenities you’d take for granted in a bigger place are absent. Sat in the sun yesterday, sewing and breathing, I became aware of the change of tempo, and that it is ok to rest a little. Part of that is more about my personal journey, but some of it is external as well.
I’m wondering just how much the character of the land affects the atmosphere of a place. Obviously, what humans have, or have not built makes a lot of difference, and that’s informed to a degree by the geography – too many steep hills and good farmland here to encourage other developments. Beyond that though, in the character of the soil, in the spirit of a place, can there be serious differences? Do I feel like I’m in a dream here because that is, in part, the nature of this land?
We are affected by what our ancestors of place bequeath to us in terms of their constructions – in some places in the UK, field systems and lanes are several thousand years old. We still have Viking street plans some places… history is very present, with narrow roads made before cars, and struggling with modern traffic. In the West Midlands, the ancestors of place were very much caught up in the industrial revolution, which creates its own legacy, then ongoing industrialisation, slums, new towns, and the falling away of the factories that supported them. In Gloucestershire the changes have been far less radical over time – and the area I’m in does a lot of farming, as it always did. Far fewer people work on the land now though.
I spend a lot of time looking at the landscape, feeling how it affects me, and wondering what on earth possessed me to leave here eleven years ago.