Water Lane, Guernsey

Water lanes as sources of pure running water saved lives during the plague years in England, and in many older settlements they can still be identified by that very name. We found one such in Guernsey ten years ago, its banks flooded by wild passionflowers. From that modest pathway winding down Guernsey hills to the sea sprang this brief poem.

Water Lane, Guernsey

Dabbling, scrabbling in sand & shards of quartz,
paired green mallards turn pebbles for morsels,
wade rock-pools, then climb the channel flowing clear
down Water Lane, where springs run soundlessly
from hills beyond.

Overhead, holm oaks seethe
in a breeze that smacks of salty seaweed.
Here, around our feet, passionflower chains
bind us together—forever ascending
Water Lane: a paradise prickling with bees—
all under that honeyed island sun.

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher


Those who have walked this way before us

On Old Winchester Hill

High on Old Winchester Hill, I wonder:

Did Victorian archaeologists miss the point

With their methodical measuring tapes,

Their neat white note-cards & their tapping trowels;

Their careful record books & counted shards

Of flint & iron & pottery?


The hill is healed now of all diggings: hollows & barrows

Softened by falling rain, by grass & honeyed clover,

By golden gorse & trefoil; by thistledown & scabious;

By poppies’ red splash & purple coils of rampant vetch.

Now rock-hard ramparts, humps & clumps of earth are blurred:

Jumbled by time & tempest, roots & rabbits.


What’s left to mark the memory of ancient ancestors

And long-lost clans?—those who lived before the builders of Stonehenge,

Before Romans drove their roads in dead straight lines & marched to ruin,

Before Arthur cantered out with wandering knights

Or Alfred was enthroned in royal halls at Winchester—

What’s left to mark their memory?


Only this: a gentle wooden seat to rest upon with you,

To stare back down & through the ages;

And this: our love shall last, not overlords.

We carry seeds of sweetness in our plantings

As surely as feathered corn-cockles flare

Open for another summer & another—


As surely as the children born to us

Will walk upon this hilltop once:

Their eyes fixed on the azure glory of the sky,

Their feet sunk deep in kingly blue of cornflowers

And golden hoards of seed-heads where today we go

In tracks of those who settled here six thousand years ago.


© Lizzie Ballagher

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Landscape, love, and long views

This poem now appears as well on the trail manager’s blog for the South Downs Way.


Untangle the knot;
Let ribbons unroll, uncurl at our feet:
Not the burning yellow ribbon wrapped around
A tree for some returning sweetheart;
Not the crimson ribbon of garlands at Christmastime,
Or broken hearts, or silken Valentines;
Not the black & lilac ribbons rustling
Their sibilance of sadness, sorrow & sighs.

Unravel the bow;
Let ribbons whirl, swirl at our feet:
The silver ribbons of roads to ride on
To places we have loved to be & longed to see;
The azure ribbon of skies to fly in, where jet-streams
Vanish behind us in little clouds of vapour dreams;
The turquoise ribbon of salty sea-lanes to sail on,
Waves frothing with kittiwakes & herring gulls.

Untangle the knot; unravel the bow.
Send us along the straggling, way-worn ribbons
Of trailway & pathway over distant downland
Where we shall walk together, side by side;
Where the dappled, dusty ribbon of every road,
Of every track we pass & every street,
Is the rhythm of our feet, our feet, our feet.
And—no—don’t roll out any red carpet. Not for us.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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News from Hampshire

News just in is that all the writing and walking are coming together again in and along the South Downs Way. This month, for the February issue, Hampshire Life Magazine is running a piece about our ongoing trek from Eastbourne to Winchester. By all means have a look at the South Downs Way and Hampshire Life websites for inspiration!

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Even a hill path has to start near a beach!

Walking the South Downs Way (and we’re half way along it) has been at once demanding and full of surprises. The start of the walk, at the foot of Beachy Head’s great white chalk cliffs, is no exception.

Please have a look at the Christmas post from the South Downs Way trail manager’s blog, including the poem “Beach Book, Bird Book”:




Exciting New Opportunity

Poet in Residence for the South Downs Way – this is a new opportunity I’ve just been given to celebrate one of Britain’s longest and most wonderful national trails. Follow the link below to read the trail manager’s blog and see the start of a new venture for me as a writer. Who ever said poetry was a purely indoor activity?






Woods in Tapestry – encouraging news

The poem below, written in 1993, has been chosen for its autumn showcase by Poetry Space. Click on the link below to read this and other autumn poems.

You taste the burning of sienna oaks,
The searing smoke of red-hot sumac leaves,
The sweet-and-sour, sharp-tongued chestnuts;
Saffron sycamores,
Turmeric trees
All spiced and smudging into autumn.
Today you taste the full earth dwindling down.

You hear the ringing of a million coins,
Shaking and spendthrift on a silver tree,
And the low weep of yellow-livered willows;
The march of mosses,
The slow seep of water through the stones
All soft and sifting into autumn.
Today you hear the rich earth dropping down.

You see the mass of layering cloud wads,
The turreting flock and fleece of them,
And the banked up brass of fearsome marigolds;
At the back-hand slap,
The black-edged snap of frost
All cruel and cutting into autumn,
Today you see the bright earth darkening down.

© Lizzie Ballagher


Oak, Oak


Planed smooth as babies’ skin,
Your robust rocking arms
Sheltered me, cradled me, your child, from harm.
Slower than an acorn then I grew
Into a sapling child: chafing on
The wicker seats of bees-waxed
Ladder-back chairs, ungrateful,
Knowing you not. Outside again,
I hung in you, laughing, swung in you,
Clung to the cleft of your branches:
Climbing, climbing.

Slowly suns moved; time dawdled past.
Later, I stepped below your arching ribs
Solemn, trembling with armfuls
Of lilies, roses, ferns, carnations,
Regarding you not at all
But closer to your heart, until
I climbed, climbed the turn
Of your branches, the spindle shaft
Of a newel post, the twist of oak-beamed stairs
Through the tolling bell-tower of an ancient church
To the rocking wooden bed of a marriage.

Here in middle age,
Severed by a death
From the trunk of my own tree
I write these words at an oaken desk
And feel, gratefully now, the patina
Of venerable wood: warm
Burnished, shining
Beneath my splintered hand.
Brass handles yield up life’s secrets.
In the sheen of gold-grained oak
I find the wisdom of my mother’s heartwood.

One day I’ll learn to love
Those ladder-back chairs,
The oaken rocker where I’ll rest,
At last, rest until I rest the last
Rest, slough off this sullen skin
In the arms of a robust oaken box
Planed silken smooth as shrunken skin;
Cradled like wine in a wooden cask,
But, now, without the rocking:
Cradled in your open arms again,
Climbing you, oak, oak, to heaven.

Then out of me, yes, even me,
Will grow another oaken tree.

© Lizzie BallagherOak Pathway

Beech in the Weald

Dwarfed by the sheer weight of wood, we stand in awe.
These are the elephant trees: great grey giants,
Graceful dignity enduring centuries.
From roots stitching thready ways
(Through chalk & stones, through soil, greensand & beechmast,
Through rock and bones searching, stretching and reaching)
There rise the rugged trunks: featureless except

Where time has cruelly carved
Marks in unprotesting bark;
Or where dark rain has chiselled
Channels & trickling runnels;
Or where lichen & fungi,
Moss & algae find their home;
Or where love has madly gouged
Sad letters, crosses, kisses,
Arrows, crazed hearts in a tree
Stalwart, too sure of its place
In the wild Weald to resist.

No, not featureless at all,
But feathered & flecked, each one
With scar tissue of its own;
Veins thrumming with green sap,
Limbs on fire with chaffinch choirs;
Leaves hazy with fine white down,
Bright-haloed with stained-glass luminosity,
Liquid light streaming from the emerald crown.

Unseen, within, timber has secret love-knots,
Circlets: whorls of golden silk swirl & fold, weave
In skeins, grains & ribbons as rare
As the filigree of fine capillaries
In these our fingers; as rare
As freckle constellations
On our fair embracing arms.

And, wondrous to comprehend:
He who calls the beech to be,
Who knows the tree’s end long before the shaft-fall,
Who loves my springing up, my branching out—yes—
He who knows each tree knows me.

© Lizzie Ballagher, 2013

Beech on the Greensand Way