Summer walk on the South Downs

Last year we came to a place on the South Downs Way that seemed unremarkable…except for the gigantic trees emerging from the swirling mist. Later, this poem was another thing that emerged from those mists!

At Hyden Cross

Summer rides at full pelt & we step

Under the easy rush of hazy, heady southern air

Where hills are near invisible & we are almost lost

Among the criss-crossed lanes, the drizzle

Of drifting clouds descending, dripping,

Dimming those warm, ripe distances.

 

Our downland world is furred & blurred,

All mosses velvet, tufted, soft along the path,

And our feet soundless, weightless on the cushioned loam.

For us the sole realities are hazels trailing honeysuckle

With tendrils of perfume as curled & intertwined

As the vines themselves. And wild white garlic-stars

Among the smell of last year’s leaves on settled earth:

The rich fragrance of woods in summertime.

 

At Hyden Cross the path is flanked by beeches.

Rising into the morning fog, they arch around us,

Substantial in the mist’s shape-shifting shadows.

In this dreamscape only they are solid, tangible,

Though all their leaves lift & vanish into lacy light.

So, trembling, we go below them as on holy ground.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-13 10.34.05

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Winchester Trilogy III

Here’s the final poem in the Winchester series. It marks the end of our one hundred mile walk from Eastbourne to Winchester…which took us a long time!

III      Two Walkers

The path delivers us, worn weary
With all the walking, down the last long hopper
Of the rolling trail. And so we are harvested
Earthy as rough grain
From the wind & rain of the track.

We are come to the end of a pilgrimage.
We are come home, come back.

Now buffeted & footsore
We are refined like wheat,
Sifted like fine white flour,
Now shaking the dust from our coats, our feet.
Worn, yes, but reborn on reaching

The end of the long southern ridge:
The end of our South Downs pilgrimage.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-09-06 14.04.51

Winchester Trilogy

Followers of this blog over the last year know that our challenging, gorgeous trek along the whole length of the South Downs Way is over. We celebrated the end of our 100-mile westward walk by spending several days in historic Winchester.  Here follow some of our impressions, starting with the Winchester City Mill.

TO WINCHESTER

I      The City Mill

Upstream the water unreels diamond clear from its cress-bed source
Over chalk-beds white as sifted flour:
Bird-dipped, sliding, slipping in silence
It glitters in its shallow course.

Upstream the water drifts in a dream,
Soundless, limpid below blue-green willows:
Swan-swum, trailing skeins of water weed,
Beaded with pennywort, with ferns fountaining,

But then—above the gabled red-brick mill—divides.

One side flows smooth, the other rough-grained like wood,
Braided suddenly in faster-flowing fibres;
In light-shot silver bands it runs
In a hissing murmur, strands twisting ever tighter,
Drawn inexorably through the deepening sluice.
Soon it rushes, slices over tiny stones,
Over long-lost Saxon buckles, Roman coins
And stream-washed rainbow trout bones
Drawn into the foaming white churn of the mill,
Roiling, boiling & the great black wheel
Turning, toiling, with the flap, the slap of blades
Clacking, iron cogs clicking
And the bright wet-shine of water on old oak,
And the rattle of pulley chains
As a cascade of wheat-grains
Descends to feed the yawning hopper.
Now Winchester’s city mill roars.
Old timber floors tremble
At the guttural growl, the groaning grind
Of mountainous grit-stones turning…

But then—below the thundering mill—
The sundered water joins its twin tides once again.

Downstream the river drifts in a dream,
Soundless, limpid below blue-green willows:
Swan-swum, trailing skeins of water weed,
Beaded with pennywort, with ferns fountaining.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-09-08 11.02.302015-09-08 10.37.25

 

 

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

2015-07-13 13.37.14

 

Summer on the South Downs

We’re about to set out on more summer walks along the ridge of the South Downs Way – probably in the rain! Today, though, the sun is baking most of southern England.

 

Grasslands

Before these fields turn yellow as a Van Gogh reverie,
Before those rooks descend and cast
Dark shadows squawking on the grain,
Stand here & watch the meadows grow:
The longed-for greening of the naked ground.

Before the harvester rolls down with sharpened shears,
See arrowed spears dart up—
Fescue & timothy in chalk & loam;
See blade tips bristle, soft as painters’ brushes,
A watercolour haze on fallow-field horizons:
Tufted, wafted, wavy in the mill-wheel of the wind;
Brush-stroked with milky strands of corn-silk,
Sap-streaked, gingered with bees, rain-washed—
A veil of sprouts & stalks (& later seed-heads)
Rising, cresting in a tide, a sea of green.

And afterwards, look! Grasses are studded
With thistle & poppy, spectrum-ends flashing
Violet, scarlet in the blaze of August’s arc-lamp:
Pixel-thin stems stripe an Impressionist landscape,
Luminous with absinthe light on grasslands’ stretching canvas.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2014-07-06 15.15.54

Landscape, love, and long views

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

Ribbons

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

2015-02-16 13.57.33

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”:

http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/south-downs-way/blog/christmas-coming

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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?

http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/south-downs-way/news/lizzie-ballagher-becomes-sdw-first-poet-residence

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