Looking for Ludchurch I

From the Wild Spaces Wild Magic Trip, Nov 2017

Thursday. Thursbitch and (at the end of the day) Ludchurch. 

Mat and I arrive at the Pym Chair Car Park and set off. I feel ready for anything, eager (again) to find, to connect, to (in some way) believe. A short climb off the road, then a quick slog along the path towards Shining Tor. Rocks – the surprise of the hard stubs of rock – to our left. Mat goes to investigate, but they are not Thoon. More than once we thank Charlie Roche (@charlesroche) for the foundational work he did mapping where we might find the outcrop.  I fear that we might miss it, and realise how much I want to see Thoon, as if this is the crowning of the time spent looking for Thursbitch. Looking but not finding Thoon last year is more important than I’d realised. This time – it almost feels like stolen time – away from family, University, the Wild Spaces Wild Magic project is for me some search for that nebulous thing closure. Last year Thoon was hidden, Thursbitch a place of unease and haste: this year we have time, and the microclimate that defeated us then is not the same.

This time the sky is moving, and the  wind is strong defeating Mat’s attempts with the 360-degree camera and tripod. With the same determination that took us through the cloud to Thursbitch last year, we continue. Oldgate Nick, where the sun apparently rises; it reminds me of Old Nick.  More walking in mud and grass and flagstones, and then we cross into the rough field beyond the broken wall. We turn. Saltersford Hall is away to the right, and hiding in a fold of the valleys in Howlersknowl Farm.  The valley – the Valley of the Demon – is stretched out below us.  Down in the greener fields to the left are the rectangles of ruins of Thursbitch farm.  I begin as if for the first time to understand how these hamlets and farms interrelate, and how Garner’s keen eye has found in the death of Jack Turner, who “died when he shouldn’t”   the spur for the writing of Thursbitch, and its culmination. This is the view the modern protagonists encounter, the doubtful Ian and the redoubtable Sal.

It is Mat’s keen eye and his faith in what he sees that moves us along the ridge and against the fierce and steady wind towards a small outcrop.   Bilberry, a range of grasses, some bracken and the cube of dark stone growing in sight. We have made it, me on a flatter top path, Mat braving the steeper slope. We are careful not to race each other, understanding how much this means, then all of a sudden this is it, this is it. A throne, a shelter, a mouth (is the whole hillside the Big Thing, the þurs?), a natural cromlech for “Crom asleep in the ground”? From Thoon you can look to Saltersford – and the Hall looks back at you. An open space next to the farm could be where Garner imagines the bull-sacrifice in the terrifying midsummer ritual. This is it – and foolishly, and suddenly, I am in tears, half-embarrassed, half-surprised. What Alan Garner has excavated feels very close: a tribute to his writing.

I have sat in Thoon. And I don’t care if Nan Sarah and Ian and Sal are just figures walking out of a book, I have sat with them. Then, reenacting something of what Garner imagines the places to be  – and maybe signifies to him, and to his friends in the local community – I leave a dab of honey and a splash of Talisker. Mat and I take a quick, celebratory sip, too, and begin the descent. Mat is burdened by (but also engrossed in) the Googling project. His panorama shot and his subsequent trail down the hill are a wonder, while my ‘phone shots simply show a cube, a pillbox of an outcrop. Mat is painstaking on the rough ground and in the blustery wind.

Thoon above Thursbitch

What is curious is that, although Garner sees (as we do) a line of wet-loving sedges (?ID) from Thoon, it runs across and down the open field, not like the rest of the cuts of streams; is it an anomaly, evidence of an irrigation system, or something cultic? One of the fence posts does look very like a standing stone. One, or more? Are they connected with this all-but-clogged stream that goes the wrong way across the hillside?   At any rate it leads us away from Thursbitch, but we carefully move down – and then cautiously  (and respectfully) navigate the fencing, to cross the cropped green pasture and come to the ruined farm.

Mat pokes about, and I recall the ill-fitting remark from one of Garner’s sources ““They never should have buried that baby in Thursbitch.”  That I cannot even begin to think about. We note the rotting room beams, speculate on what each room might have been. It is less ordered down here than the ground plan we saw from Thoon. I explore elsewhere, we have our snap, or bagging, or picnic and the sun is out. Thursbitch is a different place today, and Thoon, tiny, but present, is a clear feature on the ridge, not veiled in cloud.

So we put to bed, as we walk away in the chilly sunshine, our looking for Thursbitch, and I will have to read and think about how understanding also diminishes and controls, how comprehension has an etymology connected with grasping, seizing. For now, we have had enough, and have the light to contend with as we make our way past picturesque Howlersknowl back to the car, off to Gradbach Mill, in sight of the looming round of the wooded hill of Ludchurch.  I know what’s in there more surely than I knew at Thoon, and look up at the hill with the larches turning and the beck clontering and the evening coming on.