It has been a long time since we’d first envisaged doing the walks as a way to engage with people along the river and today was the last time we would deliver one for this project ... where has the time gone? Jules Pretty had been one of the first people we’d thought of when making our wishlist of speakers and we have been looking forward to his walk, especially since his topic for today was the local myths and legends of dragons. We had seen the dragon on the wall of Wiston Church but the large dragon carved into the side of a hill nearby had still eluded us.
Before setting off from Arger Fen Jules filled our heads with tales and sightings of creatures unknown, including something he’d seen himself: a deer carcass whose ribs had been snipped by a large cat. With these images in our head we set off across The East Country, the title of Jules' newly published book, from which he read excerpts along the way, not knowing what lay in store for us. The answer was in fact lots of gently rolling hills with lovely views across the valley, which provided the perfect accompaniment to conversations with friends new and old. It wasn’t long though before we spotted something strange ... some markings on a hill yonder. Large ones at that. Curious, but definitely man made. The more we walked the more it became recognisable, as a dragon. It’s what we’d been hoping to see for months, but still it didn’t look quite right, so we walked on further until we reached a farm track leading to St Stephen’s Chapel. Standing outside was Geoffrey Probert, as if on cue, to greet us.
As the story goes, an ancestor of Geoffrey’s acquired the surrounding land, and then derelict chapel, which remained in use as a cattle shelter, until another family member Biz Badcock (one of the first female students at the Slade) decided to restore it in a faux medieval style. We were invited inside the very quiet and beautiful space, which was somewhat dominated by three tombs which had been rescued from somewhere in the reformation, stored in the parish church and eventually moved here. There was also a fair selection of medieval graffiti on display which provided some photo opportunities. We then headed out the opposite door, and finally the big reveal ... the Wormingford Dragon. Geoffrey explained how and why had created the dragon in 2012, with some help from his sons whilst we all marvelled at it and the gliders above used it as a landmark.
After spending some time here we carried on over Cuckoo Hill, Clickett Hill, and down into the valley to cross the river at Bures Mill which has to be one of the most beautiful buildings and setting on the river. The moment was made even more beautiful as the clouds parted and the sun shone down upon us for the rest of the walk. We stood here a while listening to the Buzzards calling from high above us, until they started fighting with a Red Kite, which was rather spectacular. There was also a huge gathering of ink cap mushrooms which inspired a few more photographs. As we headest east across the fields we spoke about migrating blackbirds fighting with resident ones, why donkeys are kept with horses, skylarks, rooks and jackdaws, indigenous trees such as ash, elm, oak and black poplar, the water transfer system moving water between Anglian rivers and reservoirs, and dragon’s eggs. We also passed the fascinating Wormingford Mere, the depths of which have apparently still not been mapped even with high tech modern technology, before passing through a small wood and arriving at St.Andrew’s Church, Wormingford our final destination.
All in all we had a great walk through beautiful landscape and some rich conversations on the way. Hmmm, now we need to organise some more.