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  • Writer's pictureMartin Castle

I Love Roads

Roads is the title of a poem by Edward Thomas, a man born in Lambeth and educated in London, who moved to and loved the countryside. His book The South Country, (Dutton, 1906; republished by Tuttle, 1993 and Little Toller Books, 2009) is a masterpiece of description about the English countryside. When I read it I could smell the earth and hear the hedgerows rustling.

Having been born in London and being ''small' in an Essex new town but ending up growing up in Kent, downland is the countryside I first walked and it always swells my soul when I return. Who would not be tickled by the last downland village before the dip into Canterbury being called Harbledown (from the description hobble up and down). If the pathways were good enough for Chaucer and his pilgrims, they are certainly good enough for the likes of me.

When I visit George in Winchester I drive along the Hog's Back and off the downs on the A31 towards Winchester. I can feel the excitement of discovering it anew, especially in spring as it is always two weeks further ahead than here in NN.

In Kent it was the North Downs, gloriously spewing its height out in The Channel at Dover and Folkestone. For Edward Thomas is was the South Downs - he lived in Steep (tells you all you need to know) near Petersfield, Hampshire.

The Seven Sister, Sussex

I have walked the South Downs Way (92 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne) with Katayoun and Julia. Scarp and dip slope offer different habitats (so the flora & fauna can be very varied) and challenges to the thighs but when you are on the ridge following paths scoured through the scant topsoil to the white chalk beneath, the route draws you onward and you are on top of the world with only sky and heaven above you. These downs, too, end at the sea at the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head (remember Eric Ravillious?).

George lives in a village, rather unusually, on top of a down, as downland villages are usually at the bottom of the slope where the water is. So he steps out and already has lines to follow. This was his walk last week when this poem Roads came to his mind and I share it with you now because he said I could...

I love roads:

The goddesses that dwell

Far along invisible

Are my favorite gods.

Roads go on

While we forget, and are

Forgotten like a star

That shoots and is gone.

On this earth 'tis sure

We men have not made

Anything that doth fade

So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain

In the sun would not gleam

Like a winding stream

If we trod it not again.

They are lonely

While we sleep, lonelier

For lack of the traveller

Who is now a dream only.

From dawn's twilight

And all the clouds like sheep

On the mountains of sleep

They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal

Heaven: upon the crest

The close pine clump, at rest

And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never

Yet of the road I weary,

Though long and steep and dreary,

As it winds on for ever.

Helen of the roads,

The mountain ways of Wales

And the Mabinogion tales,

Is one of the true gods,

Abiding in the trees,

The threes and fours so wise,

The larger companies,

That by the roadside be,

And beneath the rafter

Else uninhabited

Excepting by the dead;

And it is her laughter

At morn and night I hear

When the thrush cock sings

Bright irrelevant things,

And when the chanticleer

Calls back to their own night

Troops that make loneliness

With their light footsteps’ press,

As Helen’s own are light.

Now all roads lead to France

And heavy is the tread

Of the living; but the dead

Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road bring

To me or take from me,

They keep me company

With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude

Of the loops over the downs,

Hushing the roar of towns

and their brief multitude.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917) became a great friend of the poet W H Davis (you may know his poem Leisure) and was encouraged to write poetry by Robert Frost. Frost's most famous poem, The Road Not Taken, was inspired by walks with Thomas and Thomas's indecisiveness about which route to take!

He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France, at Arras, on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917.

I have added a quote below from Edward Thomas - seems to fit the mood at the moment.

I'll share a little secret as well - over the years I have been taking photos of pathways where you cannot see the destination. I'm sure it is something to do with a curiosity of what is round the corner but not wanting the surprise spoilt! One day I'll get around to sorting and editing them.


All this thought of walking has made me hungry and this recipe might use up some of the odd number of fresh vegetables after Easter Sunday

Vegetable & Cheese Bake

For when you have some veggies left over but not enough for a full blown Sunday.

Serves 4.


3 potatoes, peeled and sliced

2 onions, sliced

A carrot or two, peeled and sliced

That parsnip under the carrots, peeled & sliced

Small cauliflower broken into florets, larger ones cut in half.

The 40 peas in a bag in the freezer that you’ve forgotten about

Good bits from the spring greens you have left too long because you weren't sure what to do with them, folded up lengthways and sliced across

50g (2 oz) butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the cheese sauce

15g (1/2 oz) butter

1 tablespoon plain flour

250ml (8 fl oz) milk

200g (7 oz) strong mature Cheddar cheese, grated


1. Preheat oven to 180°c/350°f/Gas mark 4.

2. Add the potato, carrot, parsnip to a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the part cooked vegetables and put half across the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle the onions and cauliflower over the top, along with knobs of butter. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the peas.

4. To make the cheese sauce, heat the butter over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the flour and stir with the butter to combine well. Slowly add the milk to the pan, stirring constantly to ensure a smooth mixture. Reduce heat to low and add half of the cheese. Stir until cheese has melted, remove from heat and pour 3/4 of the mixture over the vegetables.

5. Layer the remaining cooked vegetables on top of the cheese sauce and vegetables. Cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until vegetables are tender and cheese is crisp.

7. Just before the main dish is ready, steam the greens in a little water till soft, drain and toss in a knob of butter.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"toppyup – common name of Vanellus vanellus, aka lapwing, green plover, peewit. Shimmering sky-dominoes; crested criers.

Spring foraging of bird's eggs, esp. the lapwing's, are the origin of modern-day chocolate Easter-egg hunts. These are common sight on the marshes of NN.


and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas. Stay Home; Protect the NHS; Save lives - the job is only half done - stick at it people!
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

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Miembro desconocido
13 abr 2020

Glad you enjoyed it. That view is really spectacular, especially as it tells the walker you are on the last stages of the SDW. I have a similar memory of my dad but at Waxham, on my first trip to Norfolk as a 5 year old. The North Sea ate one of his sandals!

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13 abr 2020

Morning....the first photo you posted of the Seven Sisters, Cuckmeer Haven, took me straight back to my childhood when we stayed in a tiny caravan on the steep side of the first hill...... at such an angle that the blood ran to your head when you lay down, ( my bed was on the table , as there were 5 of us and I was the youngest )

We collected field mushrooms, walked miles, and had the terrifying sight of seeing my father struggling out of the sea against the very strong under-tow of the sea on the steep shingle. ....... memories!

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