This year after a mild wet winter, more akin to Wales than Lincolnshire, the snowdrops were in bloom early and the Tennyson valley (Lower Lymndale) is a good place to admire them. These Lent lilies as Tennyson called them help lift the spirits and are an indication that the darkest days of winter are on the wane.
Harrington is a good place to start and churchyards are usually good places to look and St. Mary’s is no exception. It is well hidden standing back from the road at the end of a wooded path. Its secluded site is surrounded by trees with a line of fine yew beside a high wall separating the church from the hall and to the east and north is a wood. This is where most of the snowdrops can be found. The church is a Victorian rebuild but the font is medieval and in common with the one at neighbouring Bag Enderby of interesting and intricate design.
Also inside the church is information about Tennyson’s link with Harrington Hall at the time the Baring family were its occupants and Alfred was particularly taken by Rosemary Baring the youngest of three sisters. She seems to have inspired a number of poems from him of which “Come into the Garden Maud” is the most famous. Unfortunately she was a little out of Alfred’s reach but nevertheless seemed flattered by his attention.
Between Harrington and Bag Enderby nestled in a wooded dell is Woodsman’s Cottage (Smackdam Cottage on OS maps). Opposite the old whitewashed thatched cottage is a mass of snowdrops which spread out away from the lane and along the stream. It is probably the most impressive display in the area and easy to photograph from the lane.
After passing by Bag Enderby you soon enter Tennyson’s village of Somersby. (See Somersby and Bag Enderby Blog.) This pretty village has snowdrops along the roadside and in the grounds of the tiny sandstone church of St Margaret. To the north of the village alongside the winding lane to Tetford is Holywell Wood. From the roadside it is possible to admire the drifts of snowdrops and later in the year a mass of bluebells cover the woodland floor. This marks it out as a long undisturbed wood and this assumption is reinforced by the rugged ground cut by two deep gullies which merge down in the ravine at the far side of the wood. Close to the lane but hidden from it by laurel bushes in the more northerly gully are the ruined remains of a schoolroom. This is where Alfred and his brothers were taught for a few years. Further back in time it had been a medieval bathhouse and had been built close to or possibly even over the little stream which tumbles down to the ravine. (See New England Ravine and Warden Hill Blog.)
Snowdrop time is the best time to locate this site due to the lack of any other undergrowth at this time of year and it is possible to clearly see the pile of sandstone blocks and a scattering of later nineteenth century roof tiles marking the place where schoolhouse once stood. At the time I found it the little stream was flowing fast and clear after all the heavy winter rains, which added to the charm of the scene and made it easier to imagine a functional bathhouse here. It was probably quite rudimentary however merely collecting water by the bucket full from the stream below and then heating it with wood previously collected from the surrounding coppice. Now there is only a cascade of rubble sliding down the side of the gully and into the stream.
For Alfred and his brothers the wood with its trees, sandstone bluffs and streams would have made for quite an enticing playground filled with natural features to play on. Their time spent at the schoolhouse was brief, just a few years, though this would have coincided with the most formative time of Alfred’s imagination. This intimacy with nature would stay with him for the rest of his life and by the bedrock of many of his most famous poems.