Thursday, 26 March 2009

Land of Richard Jefferies - goodbye!

Dayhouse Lane, looking towards Liddington Hill with some of the stones from the small Coate Stone Circle just visible in the meadow on the left
(double click with mouse over photo to enlarge - for a better view of the circle)
The unbroken views toward Liddington Hill from Coate Water - this will be replaced by another uniform housing development if the Save Coate fight loses its long battle to preserve the landscape
Today I was on Dayhouse Lane which runs alongside the Richard Jefferies museum by Coate Water - the lane runs towards Badbury and Liddington Hill which was greatly loved by Victorian writer Richard Jefferies (1848-1887). Richard Jefferies wrote about this land (and his walks through it) in much of his writing. There are many references to the old house and the land around it: The old house by the silent country road, secluded by many a long, long mile and yet again secluded within the great walls of the garden. Often and often I have rambled up to the milestone which stood under an oak, to look at the chipped inscription low down - "To London, 79 miles" (From The Life of the Fields first published 1884)

The Old House still stands, now a museum and so too does the milestone - though the road it stood on is now redundant replaced by a dual carriageway to speed motorists towards the M4. The land around Dayhouse Lane (and Dayhouse Lane itself) will soon start to disappear if developers win the right to build houses, a business park and a university there. There is a small stone circle in one of the fields just off Dayhouse Lane and stunning rural views towards Liddington Hill. Walking along there today the sense of unspoilt countryside went a long way to ameliorate the distant thunder of the M4 motorway.
Richard Jefferies was born at Coate Farmhouse, Coate in 1848. In those days Coate was a small hamlet close to Swindon on the Hungerford Road. Richard Jefferies spent the first 29 years of his life there and wrote extensively about nature and his rambles up to Liddington Hill and beyond. His book Bevis is thought to be an autobiographical adventure recalling his childhood around Coate Water. His later work became a somewhat inner journey which he wrote of in Story of My Heart. He married a neighbouring farmer's daughter Jessie Baden of Daye House Farm and they had three children. Sadly, Richard Jefferies' health deteriorated at a young age and he died in Worthing in 1887 at the age of 39.