June 2009’s website article
On our recent visit to Rose Cottage, we took the opportunity to visit places in the vicinity that Elizabeth had been to and written about. I love to think of her tramping the lanes with her dogs, getting to know the aspects of her new home as she approached it from different angles and routes. Then later maybe, being driven by Jessie through the changing seasons of this gentle landscape.
The land here becomes much more intimate; a long thin ribbon of hills stretching away towards Bedfordshire, which are covered in little woods and spinneys with open farmed land in-between. The soil looks almost white because of the large quantity of stones, chalk and flint, which litter the surface of the fields. Scratch a slope and find the chalk, white ribbons ascending hills. Tethered above almost every field was a Red Kite, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one county, banking and billowing just like the fields they flew over, same colour as the winter woods falling away behind us. The air was raw, and a grey mist concealed all distances, enhancing the remoteness of this place, set apart from the corridor of man’s development ,which trails into London and out to the ever growing towns in the country.
We came upon Turville, Elizabeth’s template for Appleshaw, by surprise, and drove to park under the avenue of Limes. They had grown into small spinneys either side of the lane and were not in leaf. But their supple tops still swayed and gossiped to each other, while their feet were pooled in the azure of blue bells. We walked the lane under them towards the village hearing the wind in the branches and little else except the call of birds.
The village is lovely, all red brick warmth and steep tiled red roofs grouped around a green, with footpaths leading up to the Chiltern way and the wonderful black and white windmill which was filmed as Truly Scrumptious’s home in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The church of St Mary the Virgin, used in the television series The Vicar of Dibley, sits to one side of the green and has the loveliest of the flint and stone cottages in its demise, an old fashioned briar rose rambling over its front. One enters the church by descending three steep stone steps and inside it has a pure simplicity that delights. Wooden barrel roof, dark painting of the Madonna and Child in one chancel, and heraldic glass from the former Vicarage in its windows. Outside the graves slope peacefully, like pillows propped up in a bed, and the trees dip and sway on the edges.
The house which could be the model for The Laurels was close to the church, if not opposite. It had a walled garden with a door in the thickness of its stone, but it was called uninspiring Orchard Cottage, and I couldn’t see the tunnel of wisteria which led to the front door, just a gate and a gravelled drive. Probably another instance of Elizabeth transposing a childhood memory to some where else.
The cottages where Paul lived with his bitter wife Valerie are opposite the pub he used and are as compact and charming as Elizabeth describes them, with colourful front gardens and sparkling windows, they are named Wisteria, Windmill and Chiltern their back gardens tucked under the steep green bluff. They are tiny indeed, and you can’t help remembering Valerie’s friends being nonplussed at her complaints about housework, they would be considered small apartments today.
Walking back through the village, we heard the sound of an approaching pony and trap and stopped to watch it pass. Shades were conjured of the two Mary’s coming to the village, one to seek peace and respite from a hostile world and another, a small child come to visit an Aunt, both of them drove with the unaware horse’s handlers. They passed us driving away through the Limes as little Mary would have done, tearfully hoping to return some day to see her Aunt, in her strange house, set apart as if in a painting.
Job chapter 14
verses 7 to 9
- for there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
- Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
- Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
This sense of renewal is something Elizabeth experienced again and again through out her life, and it is one of the precious gifts she won, struggling with her own personal demons.
The scent of water was in the air today, misting through the trees and slicking the horizon with the promise of proper rain. It gave to this pretty little village glamour, a soft beauty the harsher light of summer with its compliment of tourists would have destroyed.
We too drove off the same way, and were soon climbing a steep coombe through a magnificent beech hanger wood, whose roots resembling elephant’s trunks held the banks apart so that the road could pass. We stopped at the top of the rise to watch the still sleeping woods slip into the valley and a Golden Pheasant stroll around a field, the Chinese lantern of yet another kite cruising overhead. We passed through Nettlebed, a place of old boundaries and brick kilns which produced clay bricks for local use. This is the village in The White Witch to which Froniga takes Will to be cured of the “King’s Evil” ,the skin disease scurvy. Charles I was staying at The White Hart. Today it is more recognisable as the setting for The Midsomer Murder’s series.
We headed towards Peppard Common and the church of All Saints that Elizabeth had attended during her life in the village. She like Mary wanted the chance to experience the last dregs of country life before they vanished. The village is spread out, more a series of hamlets than a village with a centre, a throw back to ancient times when it was surrounded by extensive common land. Its name is derived from an old word for cattle lands and the Pipard or Pypard family who once held the local manor at Blount’s Court, The Court famous for a tulip tree which was planted by Charles I.
From the outside the church is sturdy, built of local flint and brick with a distinctive red tiled steeple. It’s surrounded by a large church yard bordered by mature trees. Inside is surprisingly spacious, white walled, early arches and good wood. The stained glass is varied, of a high quality and depicts unusual themes; such as the west window showing the Northumbrian saints St Bede and St Aidan, all stormy seas and misted islands against which the saints are resting. The central window in the north aisle shows a memorial to Nicholas John Cottle licensed Reader of this Church, incorporating the figure of the intellectually brilliant 5th century Bishop St Augustine of Hippo, last seen on our visit to Ely cathedral. I’m sure as an avid reader Elizabeth would have enjoyed this particular window. But my favourite is a small slim window situated in the south side of the chancel which has the words “Blessed are the peace makers” on its jewelled colours. A kneeling knight offers the hilt of his sword to make a cross, and his hand is being shaken by another who stands to one side. The figure of Christ dominates the background. The alter is one of the loveliest pieces of marketry I’ve seen, and is a representation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, with the faces of the disciplines vivid under a well placed spot light. I can see why Elizabeth came to love and venerate this church; it contains enough beauty to satisfy the soul without being pretentious or distracting.
I sat for a while towards the back of the church where I thought Elizabeth might have sat and remembered poor Mary in her Christmas church feeling dark and separate until the walls cracked and the fire came out, and Lucilla lighting up the morning for Hilary when she attended the morning service, and John Wentworth, Parson Hawthorn, and even Adam Aylescough in Ely, all stumbling their way towards God, all reaching for the bliss of perfect communion, and just for a moment, I felt close to them too and therefore to Elizabeth, a moment of connection.
Her memorial service was held here on Friday 6th April 1984 and attended by her family and friends, a thanks giving for the life and work of a great lady. Traherne’s prayer that she quotes in Scent of Water was recited as part of the service.
Lord have Mercy
Thee I adore
Into Thy Hands.