Thursday, 29 November 2012
The Manor in the Floods
‘The grey rain driveth all astray -/Which way through the floods, good carle, I pray?’, asks the narrator in Morris’s ‘The Little Tower’; and if you explore Lechlade and Kelmscott in November, you are likely to encounter weather conditions every bit as challenging as those in this poem or the more famous ‘Haystack in the Floods’.
The path from St Lawrence’s Church in Lechlade across to the Trout Inn has become a causeway with flooded fields on both sides; water rats swim beside it and a great gathering of migrant geese honk furiously from a raised bank a stone’s throw away. Vast quantities of muddy water force their way through St John’s Lock and the Trout Weir, and under such inclement conditions the normally idyllic upper Thames takes on some aspects of the Icelandic sublime (faint shades of the great waterfall at Dettifoss, perhaps). At Kelmscott itself the field you normally walk over to get to the Thames now is the Thames (see image above). The brook behind the Manor has burst its banks and reached the outbuildings, so the staff are moving items up to the first floor for fear of worse to come. ‘God send us three more days such rain’, cries the ‘Little Tower’ narrator, which is the very last thing people here want.
November tourism has much to be said for it; you certainly avoid the madding crowd. ‘I am a man of the North’, William Morris once stoutly declared, and I therefore can’t help feeling that the gentle, willowy, summer Thames-scapes of Kelmscott frustrated as well as delighted him. So we can and should share his own November exhilarations, as with that ‘insane attempt to fish’ here on 9 November 1875: ‘out on the river ... the wind right in one’s teeth and the eddies going like a Japanese tea-tray: I must say it was delightful: almost as good as Iceland on a small scale’.