The Autumn Equinox

Over the last two years I have spent many days discovering the special nature of the southern Lincolnshire Wolds, which is often only revealed under the right conditions and often well away from any roads. This quest to understand the special qualities of this still unspoiled countryside was to help me write my blog tennysoncountry.com. Remarkably little has changed in the locality where the great Victorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson spent most of his first twenty eight years living and growing up. Once away from the busy A 158 coast road the area around his family home in Somersby remains almost as tranquil as when his tall lean figure would stride along its lanes reciting poetry aloud.

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Lower Lymndale looking towards Park Hill.

Even today, despite most of his work not appealing to modern tastes, this area is still known as Tennyson Country but for practical purposes in my blog I often refer to it as Lymndale after the small river, which flows through the area and close by the house where he was born. Not able to match the bard’s lyrical ability my descriptions of the landscape tend to be more technical as I am able to draw on 200 years of scientific knowledge that was not available to Tennyson who grew up in a more romantic, God fearing age. Below is a reprise of some of the more special places I encountered during my time researching the area, which thanks to exceptional weather I was able to do this in one weekend close to the Autumn equinox.

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Retrieving straw bales on Green Hill.

After what had been a bright and breezy week the wind died away on Friday. As is the case when day and night are of equal length this allowed for warm afternoons but cool nights. The good weather looked set for the weekend offering great opportunities for landscape photography so I planned to return to some familiar locations which I thought might give me good results.

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Deepdale taken from near Dog Hill.

Although by Friday evening the sky overhead was cloudless where the sunsets far to the west, over the distant Pennines, I thought this might not be the case so I chose to head off for Green Hill, overlooking Driby, to take pictures of the sunset hoping that it would descend through streaks of cloud in the distant west. It is not possible to see the backbone of England from this vantage point as to the west Roach Ridge dominates the horizon with Warden Hill taking up the middle ground.

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Deep afterglow from Round Hills towards Lincoln.

My hunch was right and the sky coloured up vividly and the orange sun warmed the rolling hills of the Wolds, which were mostly close cropped stubble set between dark bands of bushy hedges. For a time Green Hill had become golden. The low sun also sent long shadows stretching over the land and filled the deep cleft of Deepdale and other glacial spillways to the north making them stand out more clearly. Surprisingly I was not alone on this bare open hill as two farm vehicles were busy clearing straw bales from the field before the light completely faded. One of the men came over to have a word and remarked that he had worked all over England contracting and had always been under the impression that Lincolnshire was flat but he thought that the landscape around here was amazing.

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Across Lower Lymndale to Sausthorpe.

Returning home long after the sun had set the sky in the west over Lincoln was still glowing red, with the city’s cathedral merely a dark smudge on the horizon. This promised more good weather for the morrow and the chance that a cool still night would bring the possibility of pockets of mist come dawn. I determined to get up early hoping to see the sunrise over mist filled valleys. The sky was bright when I rose with the sun not yet having broken the eastern horizon. There was not sign of mist as I travelled east until topping Roach Ridge near Fulletby. From here there was a view down into Lower Lymndale revealing streaks of mist in sheltered spots. Around Somersby it was only sparse but beyond Hagworthingham it was more widespread filling the bottom of the dale west of Sausthorpe.

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The view east from near Cinder Hill.

From Hagworthingham a footpath to Aswardby descends gradually between the knolls north of Cinder Hill giving wide views across the misty valley with dark clumps of hawthorn and elder punctuating the half hidden landscape. The sun was now rising and strengthening slowly driving away the mist. With the absence of rain for most of the month the earth was dry and hard  but the vegetation was dripping with dew – a legacy of the mist.

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Ponies browsing in Snipe Dales nature reserve.

The dew lingered much longer in deep valleys where the sun was slow to penetrate such as in Snipe Dales to the south of Hagworthingham. Also in contrast to the close cropped arable fields here the vegetation was still thick and full. In the nature reserve plants are left to allow seeds to fully ripen and disperse naturally or provide food for small birds in autumn and winter. The narrow shaded valley bottoms where streams trickle remained damp throughout the day. Apart from the mown paths the reserve looked unkempt and wild but this was because the reserve is being subtly managed by using ponies. They have been introduced because they were happy to browse the wide range of rank vegetation on offer.

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The gardens of Gunby Hall.

Further east the gardens of Gunby Hall were displaying a last flourish of autumn colour. After an early start it was time for a break and a snack at the café in the courtyard there. The day was now getting warm signalling that it was time to slow down and enjoy the extensive grounds of the hall at a leisurely pace. Most impressive  was a late vibrant display of chest high dahlias and Michaelmas daisies. In other parts of this compartmented garden there were heavily laden fruit trees and a bounteous vegetable garden. Under the shelter of a giant cedar tree a family played a game of croquet on a finely mown lawn in front of the stately seventeenth century house.

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The lime tree avenue at Gunby Hall.

The warm late afternoon sun made it feel like summer but the long shadows betrayed the lateness of the year. Also a breeze was beginning to rustle the tops of the tall limes by the entrance to the grounds. The trees were already in the middle of turning from dark green to butter yellow but this transition would not go smoothly as is usually the case rain and wind would detach the colouring leaves prematurely. Above the sky was already betraying signs of change with the perfect blue now interspersed with high altitude wisps of white. By next morning, although the sun was able to rise in the east, to the west the sky had become dark and brooding and by the afternoon the change could not have been more complete with a leaden sky, strong winds and persistent rain the order of the day.

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Bands of cirrus above the lime trees.

The weather for the rest of September continued in a similar unsettled vane as the year started its descent towards winter. There would but other golden autumn days to enjoy but with the nights becoming progressively longer than the days the summer warmth had gone for good. This fact only made the few still golden days that had just passed that more precious.

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