Hampshire Pilgrimage

From: Deborah Gaudin
Category: Category 1
Date: 22 Sep 2006
Our first adventure was a pilgrimage I had wanted to make for a long time. It was in fact one of the chief reasons for choosing to come to this part of the country. Elizabeth Goudge went to school here, wrote her Eliot Saga based in this area, and was passionately fond of it. I’m not sure why she didn’t come and live here, instead of Oxfordshire, which she had to learn to love.  We drove through the New Forest, heath land covered in gorse and heather in its dormant state, but groups of beautiful, ponies and small new forest horses, some with young. Very cute! The woods closed back in and we drove past a cluster of houses around a lake with swans, and then the road turned under some dark trees, a short drive along a lane and we were at Buckler’s Hard. This was the point on the coast that I wanted to start at. Many of E.G. characters, especially the Eliots were always visiting. It was obviously one of the places E.G. visited when at school. Although I was slightly miffed at paying to get in, it was well worth the small charge paid. As Nick said, it had ensured its survival. It surpassed all expectations. A quiet street of red brick houses sloping down to the waters of a tree lined estuary. We were enchanted. The weather had kept most people away, and we virtually had the place to ourselves for the first two hours. We walked along the water front admiring the boats, sparkling water, and tree clad shores. Nick was in his element, snapping away at views and piles of cut timber, some of which looked like baby Crux. We walked a little further past King George’s Son’s Bath house, a thatched covered salt water swimming pool, built to help alleviate the pain of his arthritis, past the dry docks of the marine, through the woods for a way until, we decided that we would rather go on a trip down the estuary than walk further.

We got back to the jetty in time for the 11.30 boat trip. 11.30 came and went and we were the only people aboard, so the obliging crew of two took Nick and I all on our own on a cruise down the river to the estuary and back to Buckler’s Hard. It was beautiful. Houses of great wealth and beauty were sited here and there, glimpsed through trees or up lawns where herds of deer grazed. George and Nadine wouldn’t have stood a chance of buying an Inn on the river now, unless they were multi millionaires. I did see the ghost of Damerosehay serene behind a mini oak wood, large porch gazing out across the estuary waters. One could imagine hearing the plover greet the dawn here. One of the stranger sights was a series of slender, mast like trees, presumably alder, swaying above the tidal flow like the masts of drowned boats. The view of Buckler’s Hard from the water as sailors and workmen would have seen it, an atavistic pleasure. Like them I wanted to go straight to the chapel to say a prayer of thanks for a safe journey. So we shook hands cordially with the crew, who had been fascinated by Nick snapping away and wanted to know if he had got the shots he wanted.

The slope up from the river is quite steep and the slapping of the water passed into silence, as I stood outside the oak door of the chapel. It had been the cobbler’s shop and a dame school, before being converted to a chapel mainly by Lady Poole, who certainly made it beautiful. It is panelled in oak, carved and plain, with a statue of the Black Madonna in a lit niche. The alter cloth embroidered by and for a local family with symbols that meant something to them. I sat in silence and said a prayer for Kate and Sylvia.   The wind sighed under the loose fitting door, the only other sound the Tink Tink of the sail ropes against the metal masts, that sad, haunting music of the foreshore. I felt blessed. I had finally made it to one of the places E.G. loved best. A question had been answered, thanks and praise given.

It was time to leave. We left to twist slowly along country lanes, keeping the salt marshes and the sea on our left, while overhead, banked masses of clouds scudded along in a deep blue sky. The lanes led us to the awe inspiring totally unexpected sight of a ruined Abbey, church, called St Leonard’s, which was built into the walls and structure of a farm. A mare and her blond foal were IMG_4962grazing the verges, and a stocky fawn coloured stallion came to inspect me and see if this strange human had any food. Happening to meet a man, before I got into the village, I, pointing with my whip, across towards the Abbey, said to the man, ‘I suppose there is a bridge down here to get across to the Abbey.’ ‘That’s not the Abbey, Sir,’ says he: ‘The Abbey is about four miles further on.’ I was astonished to hear this; but he was very positive; said that some people called it the Abbey; but that the Abbey was further on; and was at a farm occupied by farmer John Biel. Having chapter and verse for it, as the saying is, I believed the man; and pushed on towards farmer John Biel’s, which I found, as he had told me, at the end of about four miles. When I got there (not having, observe, gone over the water to ascertain that the other was the spot where the Abbey stood), I really thought, at first, that this must have been the site of the Abbey of Beaulieu; because, the name meaning fine place, this was a thousand times finer place that where the Abbey, as I afterwards found, really stood. After looking about it for some time, I was satisfied that it had not been an abbey; but the place is one of the finest that ever was seen in this world. It stands at about half a mile’s distance from the water’s edge at high-water mark, and at about the middle of the space along the coast, from Calshot castle to Lymington haven. It stands, of course, upon a rising ground; it has a gentle slope down to the water. To the right, you see Hurst castle, and that narrow passage called the Needles, I believe; and, to the left, you see Spithead, and all the ships that are sailing or lie any where opposite Portsmouth. The Isle of Wight is right before you, and you have in view, at one and the same time, the towns of Yarmouth, Newton, Cowes and Newport, with all the beautiful fields of the island, lying upon the side of a great bank before, and going up the ridge of hills in the middle of the island.

Here are two little streams, nearly close to the ruin, which filled ponds for fresh water fish; while there was the Beaulieu river at about half a mile or three quarters of a mile to the left, to bring up the salt-water fish. The ruins consist of part of the walls of a building about 200 feet long and about 40 feet wide. It has been turned into a barn, in part, and the rest into cattle-sheds, cow-pens, and enclosures and walls to enclose a small yard. But, there is another ruin, which was a church or chapel, and which stands now very near to the farm house of Mr. John Biel, who rents the farm of the Duchess of Buccleugh, who is now the owner of the abbey-lands and of the lands belonging to this place. The little church or chapel, of which I have just been speaking, appears to have been a very beautiful building. A part only of its walls are standing; but you see, by what remains of the arches, that it was finished in manner the most elegant and expensive of the day in which it was built. Part of the outside of the building is now surrounded by the farmer’s garden; the interior is partly a pig-stye and partly a goose-pen. Under that arch which had once seen so many rich men bow their heads, we entered into the goose-pen, which is by no means one of the nicest concerns in the world. Beyond the goose-pen was the pig stye and in it a hog, which, when fat, will weigh about 30 score, actually rubbing his shoulders against the little sort of column which had supported the font and its holy water. The farmer told us that there was a hole, which, indeed, we saw, going down into the wall, or rather, into the column where the font had stood. And he told us that many attempts had been made to bring water to fill that hole, but that it had never been done. Mr. Biel was very civil to us.

As far as related to us, he performed the office of hospitality, which was the main business of those who formerly inhabited the spot. … So much for the abbey; and, now, as for the ruins on the farm of Mr. John Biel, they were the dwelling-place of Knights’ Templars, or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The building they inhabited was called an Hospital, and their business was, to relieve travellers, strangers, and persons in distress; and, if called upon, to accompany the king in his wars to uphold Christianity. Their estate was also confiscated by Henry VIII. It was worth at the time of being confiscated, upwards of two thousand pounds a year, money of the present day. This establishment was founded a little before the Abbey of Beaulieu was founded; and it was this foundation and not the other, that gave the name of Beaulieu to both establishments. The abbey is not situated in a very fine place. The situation is low; the lands above it rather a swamp than otherwise; pretty enough, altogether; but, by no means a fine place. The Templars had all the reason in the world to give the name of Beaulieu to their place. And it is by no means surprising, that the monks were willing to apply it to their abbey.

This description of St Leonard’s was written by William Cobbett in his Hampshire Rides and certainly can not be bettered by me. I was thrilled to find out the ruins were so important, more so than the Abbey which we ignored. Summer’s angels, the swifts and swallows were haunting the walls, flying in and out of windows and doors, tracing their flight routes where roof beams once straddled the ether. I had a strong conviction at the time and do so even more now, that E.G. had seen these ruins too and that she had used them as inspiration for “Herb of Grace” She loved the old writers so much and adored Hampshire, so I can not believe that she hadn’t read Cobbett.

We too had lunch over looking the Solent and Island, at a place called Needs Oar Point, which had been an advanced landing ground during the war. The ruins of the Templars behind us we started off refreshed to Keyhaven and the Salt marshes. The rain was misting across the fields and Hurst castle barely visible, obscured by rain and sea spray. It did a very good job of brooding. The shingle bank still hides some of the caravans that so offended E.G. What it also does, as well as being an excellent sea defence, is hide an incredible view of the Needles. E.G never mentions them in her description of the Island. Perhaps they located it too precisely for her comfort. One is down in the saltings right on the shoreline at this point, no colours reflecting from the sky but greys no birds visible except the ever hungry gulls. I did notice sea lavender and poppy and holly though. I think this is part of the coast line that she played around with a bit, Damerosehay and the Inn being her two points of the compass. We didn’t seek out Lavender Cottage, the third point, as Big Village doesn’t really exist.

Next stop New Milton and the final resting place the Goudge family chose. After circling around like pigeons we finally found the church of St Mary Magdalene and its HUGE grave yard. Nick left me to wander around for a while looking at bluebells, archaic grave stones, forlorn graves, desecrated crosses, dark dripping yews, and listen to the sound of traffic, coming muffled by trees from the passing road. I couldn’t imagine how I would start looking for the grave itself or what on earth E.G was doing being buried here. I remembered from S.G. that it was a cross and a flat slab, but nothing to indicate whereabouts it was. I wandered towards the edge of the cemetery where it was bounded by a brick wall. A path lead off through the trees towards the newer part of the ground. Then suddenly there it was, under the boughs of a shading dark fir. The only green on it the fading leaves of some snowdrops that had once been planted there. For the rest, grey of marble, the simplest of slabs recording the bare fact of her being, and that she was a beloved author, and the rusty bronze of dead fir needles. I felt a genuine grief that she was not more feted and celebrated. Later on in the holiday, I was to find this a minor reoccurring theme. It puzzled me for a long time, why the family chose to be buried here. Apart from it being where they lived at the time, and where Rev Goudge ministered. Now I think it was also he’s last tongue in cheek to he’s strict Calvinist up bringing. Reading E.G.s auto biography again, the incident of his parents finding the Catholic Literature in his bedroom caught my attention. To be buried at St Mary Magdalene, how delightful! I found the whole day insightful, thrilling, enthralling, and emotionally draining.

There is no doubt that the shade of E.G. was at my shoulder for parts of the day, gently nudging me in the right directions. Later, at home, I realized I had even been sitting in the same seat she used at the Chapel Look at this view, experience this peace, marvel at this wonder The eternal verities are still here, even if jets roar over head, and there are more cars than ever. .The ruins a point in question, and the finding of her grave, well that was almost as if she had directed me there. Not to pay homage you understand, but because she knew it was important to me.

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