Category Archives: Autumn

Dorothy Wordsworth walking and talking in England’s Lake District,

It is Tuesday 2nd October 1849 and Dorothy Wordsworth is in Grasmere in England’s Lake District. It would appear to be a semi-planned time as she writes into her diary:

‘A very rainy morning.  We walked after dinner to observe the torrents.  I followed William to Rydale, he afterwards went to Butterlip How.  I came home to receive the Lloyds.  They walked with us to see Churnmilk force and the Black quarter.  The black quarter looked marshy, and the general prospect was cold, but the Force was very grand.

We also find an interesting conversation regarding the manners of the rich of the country.  These are described as avaricious and greedy for gain while having the effeminacy, unnaturalness and the unworthiness of their kind.

I don’t think Dorothy liked the upper-crust of Britain’s rich!

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October 1st – a new month begins

October has arrived and the world is changing.  The awareness and observation of this change has been noted, and recorded, and described across the world.  Here in Britain the Chambers Book of Days for 1864 describes the country:

The woods never look more beautiful than from the close of last month to the middle of October, for by that time it seems as if nature had exhausted all her choicest colours on the foliage.  We see the rich, burnished bronze of the oak, red of many hues, up to the gaudiest scarlet; every shade of yellow, from the wan gold of the primrose to the deep orange of the tiger-lily …. and all so blended and softened together in parts, that like the colours on a dove’s neck, we cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

Beautiful

 

The term October – October is now the tenth month of the year but in Roman times it was the eighth month on the calendar.  So where did the name come from them?  Nowhere, actually, the word ‘Octo’ in Latin meant ‘eight’.

By now, summer was sinking into a memory – but winter was still a few weeks away.  In Anglo-Saxon times this time was ‘Wyn-monath’ – the month for treading the wine-vats. In Domesday Book the vineyards are perpetually mentioned.

At this time the grain harvest would normally be safely gathered in and attention changed to preparing the ground for next year.  One of the pieces of advice – or was it instruction? – says: ‘In October dung your field, and your land its wealth shall yield’.

Another proverb refers to the all-important production of malt for beer and whisky.  That says: ‘Dry your barley in October or you’ll always be sober.’

I think I may take notice of this last one!

Today is Michaelmas day – the day of St Michael and All Angels.

29th September is one of the four days of the year on which quarterly rents are/were traditionally paid. For many it was also the day when Goose would be served for dinner. It was thought that eating goose on St Michael’s Day would bring financial prosperity in the year to come. The geese were fattened for the table by allowing them to glean fallen grain on the stubble fields after the harvest – and are often referred to in past-times as a “stubble-goose”.
Allegedly this tradition stems back to the practice of giving one’s Landlord a goose as a gift on this rent day – either in lieu of money or to keep him at ease with you.

In 1575 George Gascoigne wrote ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne’ which includes:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent,
They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a Capon, at Michael a goose,
And somewhat else at New-year’s tide, for fear their lease flies loose.

There is another perk if you are interested: by tradition one may sleep late on St Michael’s Day! The tradition says that ‘Nature requires five, Custom gives seven; Laziness takes nine, and Michaelmas eleven.’

 

PS: There is a local link for some readers of these blogs: Most of Gascoigne’s works were published during the last years of his life. He died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack, near Stamford, England, where he was the guest of George Whetstone.  He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

Green eyes

In the middle ages the little village had a reputation for being a centre for witchcraft and black magic. Even now one could understand how the reputation would have grown. The narrow cobbled streets twisted between tall stone houses. Every now and then an even narrower passage led off the streets into dark and secret courtyards. All around the mountains towered. Sheer faces of dark rock rose thousands of feet into the clear blue sky. Progress seemed to have passed it by. Just one road wound through the village, following the valley. Coming from nowhere and leading to nowhere. Cars were few and tourists even fewer.

It had been quite by chance that Peter Jefferson had found the village at all. He was heading north at the end of a leisurely touring holiday when he seemed to lose his bearings. He must have missed a turning somewhere, he had decided. He had driven on for a while and was just considering whether to turn back or not when he reached the village. He found a little bar that was still open and went in for a drink and a bite to eat. The talkative owner had told him something of the history of the village; of the witchcraft and black magic that had been practiced there in years past. Peter had discounted them with a shrug and a laugh, a reaction that seemed to have upset the landlord.

Peter decided that, as long as he was there, he might just as well have a look round. As he strolled through the village he could imagine how the stories would have grown. Even in the bright afternoon sun some corners of the village seemed foreboding. As it does in the mountains in autumn, the dusk started to fall quite early – the depth of the valley accentuating the differences between the bright sun on the mountains and the darkening shadows near the houses.

Just as he was thinking that he should go back to his car and get on his way Peter found himself at the edge of the village. The road out of the village stretched before him across the open valley floor. A little stream flowed along the side of the road. To his right was the last house in the main street.

He stood and looked around. The flat open valley floor swept round behind the house. Little wisps of mist were beginning to gather near the stream in the rapidly cooling air. Alongside the house was a lane – narrow and edged with low stone walls. At the end of the lane was a small cottage. The door was open and he could see in the lighted interior an old woman, seemingly bent with age, and a young girl with very long, dark, hair. They appeared to be busy over some task that he could not see.

For reasons he could not explain he began to walk down the lane toward the little cottage and its open door. As he did so the girl suddenly stood straight and threw back her head with what looked like a laugh – but Peter heard nothing. The whole village appeared devoid of life and of sound. He stood there in the failing light in complete silence.

As he stood there he saw a cat – large and black – sitting on a wall nearby; watching him. Peter stared at it and the cat stared back – green eyes glinting, shining; reflecting the last rays of the setting sun.

Deliberately the cat stood up, stretched and jumped lightly from the wall. It started to walk, almost slink, towards him – watching him with those glinting green eyes. Peter looked up from the cat towards the cottage. The old woman and the girl stood looking out of the door – watching him and the cat. A preposterous thought went through his mind. ‘They look just like an old witch and her child. They were weaving spells when I first saw them – and now they are watching the results.’

He shook himself. It was preposterous. This was the 21st century. It was just the old village, the failing light and the landlord’s tales that were creating the illusion. Despite himself he shivered. Time to go he decided. He looked back at the cat – the big, black witch’s cat. It now stood watching him.

He turned and walked towards the road. He wanted to run but resisted the temptation. As he walked, the cat followed him; stalking him down the lane.

Reaching the end of the lane Peter turned right, heading away from town. Why he did it he couldn’t tell. He just found himself walking toward the open valley in the failing light. Just behind him, green eyes glinting, stalked the cat.

He stopped and shooed it. The cat stopped and gazed back at him. He shooed it again. Again the cat stayed firm – its green eyes staring back. Sudden, unreasoning panic gripped him; panic and fear, and directed toward the cat, the witch cat. He took a step toward it and kicked. He felt his foot make contact and the cat, without a sound, flew through the air and landed on the grass verge.

Panic and fear still gripped him; now it was compounded by confusion. Why had he kicked the animal? The animal that now sat looking at him from the spot where it had landed. Still its green eyes were fixed on him – Peter Jefferson.

Standing and seemingly rooted to the spot, Peter looked away from those eyes; away and toward the little cottage. He could still see the open door, the light and the silhouettes of the two women, young and old, standing there.

He turned his gaze back to the cat. It was moving toward him again – moving in a peculiar way; a menacing way. The movement reminded him of a big, black, squat toad moving slowly, remorselessly across the road toward him; another companion of witches – the witches from the cottage in the lane.

The animal moved closer still making no sound. Terror grew again in his mind. Movement returned to his legs and he kicked again – wildly, viciously. He felt his foot make contact. This time the animal made a noise – something akin to a snake’s hiss. The sheer unexpectedness of it completed the return of movement to his whole body. He started to run, but still away from the town; away from the women in the cottage, away from the animal whatever it was.

The release of pent up fear gave him speed – a frenetic panic stricken dash up the road. He turned to look over his shoulder and the animal was still there – now large, black and Panther-like; bounding along silently and close. As he looked Peter stumbled and started to fall and, as he fell, l the animal leapt; white fangs glinting in the half-light, its green eyes shining, a low chilling growl coming from its throat.

At that moment a bolt of lightning hurtled across the now dark sky. A deep and threatening roll of thunder followed. Another bolt of lightning came from sky to ground, striking a tree that flared and split with a loud crack. Suddenly everywhere appeared to be on fire – yet everything had gone silent and the green-eyed animal had gone.

Peter lay where he had fallen. Then he heard a voice – a deep, clear, quiet voice; a voice of authority.

‘Stranger – what are you doing here?’  Peter looked round. There was no-one.

‘Speak stranger. Speak or …..’ The voice tailed off. The threat, the unknown threat, was ominous.

‘I hear you. Who are you? Where are you?’

Another bolt of lightning illuminated the dark, foreboding, sky.  ‘I ask the questions. What are you doing here?’

Peter looked around. There was nothing; no one. In the background there was a low roll of thunder.

‘I am waiting.’

‘I am here by accident; lost.’

‘Leave now. You will know your way.’

Peter didn’t argue. He climbed to his feet. His car was strangely close to him. He got in. The back seat held his belongings. He started the engine and set off along a road he had not seen before. It was strange to him – but he ‘knew’ it was the right road. It turned left between two sharp-faced hills, and as he did he heard a low rumble of thunder behind him – then nothing.

Beneath a clear evening sky he followed ‘his’ road. In less than 15 minutes he drove into a neat village. In the centre, looking across the market place, there was a hotel.  He stopped and went in.  It had a room available.

‘Where have you come from?’ mine host asked. ‘Have you come far?’

Peter told him of the holiday he had taken and that he was now on his way home. He said that he had thought of staying at the village a 15 minute drive away but it didn’t seem to have a hotel so he had driven along to here.

‘There is no village that way sir’ the hotelier told him. ‘There was one many, many years ago – but it is not there now. That village was demolished, razed to the ground, over 100 years ago. Strange things, bad things, were reported to have happened there. It was not a good place to be – especially for strangers – it was said.’

‘Tell me about it – sometime’ said Peter. ‘Which way is the bar?’

Peter slept surprisingly well that night. In the morning he had a good breakfast and checked out.

‘Thank you Sir. Have a safe journey.  ‘I am sure you will know the way’, he added in a voice that Peter felt he had heard not too many hours before.

It was then that Peter decided that, perhaps, he would not come this way again.