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I enjoy looking out of the window on train journeys and there is a lot to see on the route to Sheffield from Norwich. The first stop is at Thetford. R and I have only walked once in Thetford Forest and that was years ago before E was born. However, nearby is a favourite place of R’s and mine – Grime’s Graves. This is a really interesting and beautiful place. A wide open grassy area of quite a few acres surrounded by trees. The ground is pock-marked and humped – the remains of neolithic flint mines which had been back-filled after the flint had been abstracted. The first time we went there we went down one of the shafts which is open to the public and saw the extremely narrow tunnels made thousands of years ago. The experts think that children were used to dig the flint out which was very valuable and highly regarded at that time. R and I love walking around above ground too. It is very peaceful and there are so many different wild flowers growing in the short grass. The sound of sky-larks is all around.
The fens begin shortly after Thetford and even though we have had so much rainfall there didn’t seem to be too many places suffering from flooding. The soil is such a rich black colour and the contrast between it and the vivid green shoots of the wheat and barley was quite striking. This is no doubt one of the places where the ‘dirty celery’ comes from that I see for sale at home.
I love seeing Ely Cathedral as we approach it across the flat fens. It is an enormous building but so delicate looking. R and I went to Ely one weekend about twenty years ago and attended the Sunday morning service. I think it was late winter/early spring time and very windy just like now. It wasn’t that many years after the 1986 storm: the wind made me very nervous and I spent a sleepless night cowering under the bedclothes. I was also a little shy about going to the service at the cathedral; I remember feeling very awkward. We haven’t been back since – mainly lack of opportunity and time – but I would love to go again. From the train I saw many boats and houseboats tied up to the quays and boatbuilders working in their yards. Lots of birds too – heron, ducks, geese, mute swans, little egret.
Between Ely and Peterborough are more fens and The Hundred Foot Washes with the New Bedford River or Hundred Foot Drain on the Ely side, the Old Bedford River on the other and inbetween a wide expanse of water. The railway crosses this on a little causeway and with the wind making waves on the water one feels quite vulnerable and glad to get to the other side. I saw large flocks of swans on the fields; I couldn’t see whether they were Bewick’s or Whooper swans as the train was going too fast.
From one side of the train at Peterborough you can see the large mosque with its green dome and minaret and on the other side the rather squat cathedral.
After Peterborough the Fens are left behind and the countryside gets more hilly and wooded. I like to imagine myself walking through these woods and across the fields; wondering what I would see over the hill in the distance. The train goes through Grantham, Nottingham and Alfreton – lots of woody knolls near Alfreton – and then to Chesterfield of the twisted church spire, which can also be seen from the train!
I got to Sheffield in the pouring rain so decided to take a taxi to my hotel instead of walking. The lifts weren’t working and I foolishly said I didn’t need help with my luggage. After struggling up seven flights of stairs to get to my room I regretted this very much! I met A almost immediately and we had a very pleasant couple of hours chatting over a meal in a vegetarian café while it got dark outside and the rain got heavier. A’s dramatic society is called The Company and they were performing Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’. A had to be at the theatre at 6.30 so we set off at 6.00 to walk there – a fast walk and all uphill so I certainly got plenty of exercise after my sedentary journey. A had her umbrella; my coat has a hood so I carried the bag of things I had brought from home for her – a book, some letters and her walking trainers. We got to our destination just before 6.30 and A went to the dressing room to get ready. The doors didn’t open until after 7.00 so I waited outside – A left me her umbrella but I didn’t need it as I managed to get some shelter under the portico over the doors.
The play was very well performed; A was so good, as always, as Portia and the young man who played Cassius was excellent too. Afterwards, A walked back with me to my hotel to have a drink in the bar then came up to my room to see the enormous bed there. Four people could comfortably have slept in it! I walked with A to her bus-stop and saw her on to it before returning to the hotel. She texted a little later to say she was safely at home and already in bed. I spent the night clinging to the edge of my bed as to a raft in a stormy sea! I am not used to such space.
When I got home the following afternoon I found not only had I missed the septic tank being emptied (what a shame, I don’t think! Glad it’s been done though) but the work to clear the willow from around our pond had started that day and the top of our tall leylandii hedge, which serves as a windbrake on the south side of the house, had been trimmed. The pond and surround looks so different now especially as the JCB had sunk into the ground all round the pond and has left quite a quagmire. Most of the daffodils have gone and all of the cowslips and violets. Nevertheless, the work had to be done and we can always replace the daffodils if we want to and the cowslips and violets will return eventually. The men weren’t able to finish all the work so are coming back on Monday.
A phoned me today to say the rest of the run of the play went very well and they were reviewed in the Sheffield Star. She was mentioned personally!