Friday, 28 August 2009

Morton's Way


My father first waved a copy of H.V.Morton's In Search of England at me in the sixties. With virtually no knowledge of the things Morton talked about I suppose I found it quaint; somewhat dated without knowing what it was outdated from. I re-read it a couple of times, but hadn't picked it up again until very recently. What a difference forty years makes. I now find it stands up with the very best of English topographical literature, mainly because Morton is such a good travelling companion. In those early editions the sepia photograph of the Peddars Way in Norfolk always struck a lost chord, and so these pictures are my homage to him and his work. The Peddars Way runs down from Holme next the Sea to, well, nobody really knows. The Romans utilised it as a route to Colchester, pilgrims sang along it to get nearer to Walsingham. These days the trackway (and very occasionally metalled road) appears to run out at a place called Gasthorpe, but I walked a section of it recently up in North Norfolk near Great Massingham. Morton wrote: "I am conscious that this is a ghostly spot. Every time a leaf falls, every time there is a sudden rustle in the undergrowth I look up, half-expecting to see a figure not of this age coming towards me along the dead road". Believe me, I now know what he means.

21 comments:

Diplomate said...

Big fan of old roads myself - default period for my imagination tends to be early 19th century, preferably a bit of livestock shuffling along, perhaps a few geese at heel amongst the bullocks, cattle dogs weaving with a wary eye for stragglers. Drovers themselves will be weary, hessian sacks pulled over the shoulders to keep out the drizzle - dusk gives way to dark, hedge tops and the odd sentinel Oak outlined sharp against wintry sky and in the distance, down by that spinney at the valley bottom, a flicker from an orange parrafin-lit window or open door warms the heart and raises the expectation of an evening halt. The stock will be turned out in the Fiddler's paddock, the men will retire for a fireside drink, a play at the game of drunken wench groping followed by a stinking night's sleep and a sore head in the morning...........

Peter Ashley said...

Oh Diplo, what an evocative description. Some of it could have been only last week. Actually, I think it might have been.

Sue said...

I love "In Search of England". I've always thought it would be a good book concept to follow in his tyre tracks and see how much is left eighty years later or whatever it is!

Peter Ashley said...

Very interesting that Sue. I too have often thought that it would be a good idea to make a series of films exactly as you say, hiring a blue bullnose Morris and getting out there, with some reconstructions with someone like Nigel Havers wandering about in a big trilby. Nicholas Crane (Map Man, Coast did something similar in a half hour programme a couple of years ago, and it was very good as far as it went, but the subject demands a bigger budget and more time.

Diplomate said...

yes - Crane thing was sort of OK - not too sure about the "reconstructed" photo ops

Bucks Retronaut said...

There were also the Dan Cruikshank television programmes named The Lost World of Friese Greene and the similar of Mitchell and Kenyon which I thought were ok- ish,possibly a bit precious and contrived. I reckon the best of this genre were Rene Cutforth and Denis Mitchell`s European Journey in I think 1971 or thereabouts.Sadly wrong side of the Channel though.
And if I can go a bit self indulgently off message just don`t get me started about the films Two Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider, and Vanishing Point.
Cue:Chris Rea`s definition of Heaven : The happiness of going somewhere.when there`s still someplace to go.
That`ll do for me !

Peter Ashley said...

Ah yes, Two Lane Blacktop, one of my favourites I must add to my profile list. And the Rene Cutforth thing, that was fabulous. Didn't he and Denis go round in a black Morris Minor and talk bollocks whilst having picnics?

Diplomate said...

Bucks - The Band - "The Weight"

Diplomate said...

ooh yes ! - like the additional photo - those sentinels'll be Ash then, not Oak. Could you just pull the light back a bit to, say, "dusk + 45minutes"

Bucks Retronaut said...

Way to go,Diplo and Peter. Right on the money !
Talking Bollocks,Big Picnics and a Never Ending Road ......these are a few of my Favourite Things......not sure Julie Andrews would approve though.
Where`s Affer when we need him ?!
Yeehaar! (or otherwise Hurrah !).

Diplomate said...

a propos absolutely nothing, but in the knowledge that I have, here in this high culture corner of Unmitigated England, a sympathetic ear - when did you last see Jubal ? - '56 classic Othelo re-make with perhaps the best outing for Steiger, a young Bronson, tough Ford and type-cast Borgnine. Can't think what brought this to mind but you must all watch it immediately.

Bucks Retronaut said...

Diplo.Could it just be that the memory of the best dam band known to humanity ,(save perhaps The Stones) and first line of The Night Thsy Drove Ol Dixie Down ?
("Jubal Cain was my name and I served on the Danville train ") ?
Sorry but can`t help with the other reference .
Up the Rebels wherever we may be !

Ron Combo said...

With a lot of day for night shots, eh Peter?

Peter Ashley said...

Don't get me going Ron. Day for night shooting is OK except the sky stays bright blue,as seen in Witchfinder General. What one needs is the Wendy Light, invented by the late great David Watkin. Basically a bunch of lights is put up on a crane, way up above the shot.

Diplomate said...

Ace dayfernite footage in Ill Met By Moonlight of course

Thud said...

Another for the list....and then perhaps a joint effort at a reworking?

Diplomate said...

As for the re-working - a long held wish of mine to walk west to east across crete - i s'pose i could manage a camera aswell

Jon Dudley said...

Blimey boys and girls, that's the thing about this blog...from HVMorton to 'Vanishing Point' in a few posts. Wonderful! Kipling's 'Way through the Woods' sums up the vanished, disused and hidden roads quite nicely and our sunken tracks here in Sussex have the very atmosphere to which you allude Mr.A. I agree about the Dan Cruikshank programme, although I quite like his delivery he was 'driving' the 30/98 Vauxhall from a trailer most of the time. At least young Crane was creeping around properly in the Bullnose. Between us we have enough eccentric period vehicles to commence exploration...

Philip Wilkinson said...

I always get distracted when the likes of Dan C start holding forth while 'driving' on a trailer. Cries of 'watch the road!' or 'left hand down a bit!' are apt to be heard chez Wilko. But I agree Crane did a decent job - both with his driving and his account of Morton's writings.

But old roads. They curve across the paintings of Sutherland and Nash, influence the plots of novels by Hardy and Geoffrey Household, and wend their way through poems by Kipling and Edward Thomas. They get under our skin.

ChrisP said...

What irritates me is the way producers focus on the car because they like movement, so you get endless shots of presenter yakking in car, car coming into shot round bend, car vanishing into distant landscape, then a five second shot of the item the presenter was talking about. The godawful David Dimbleby travelogue thing a couple of years back was about 90% Dimbleby in car.

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