The world is a blur. The incessant rain drums against the windows and conservatory roof, crackling like bracken pods in flame. The flood-gates have opened and no-one knows quite how to close them back up. All is saturated; swollen rivers heave and burst. Winds tear across the Downs, sweeping in and out of combe and valley, flora bowing to their mighty force. Tree, fence, and bridge tumbled, insufficient to fend off the onslaught. The deluge of the last two weeks has drowned the Land. Hungry spirits once confined within their banks have spilled out upon the sickly turgid waters, to assuage their appetite in the eddying swell. The ghosts of the meadow tramp their haunt-ways with wet feet. Outside the window, my garden resembles the marshes I am so fond of; creeping trickles and atramentous, liver-thick mools. And I ponder upon floodwater relocating memories locked within soil to other locales.
Out on lonely stretches of land, deep in the vales, upon hollow hills, beside darkened waters, beneath cursed canopies of twisted boughs and at unholy crossroads – places that are home to lonely thresholds and, more often than not, deep buried carcasses – ghost soil is thick and loamy. Our blood-soaked Land is utterly drenched in folklore, fed by that which lies sleeping at its core. And when our land shifts in the resultant alluvion of inundation, it carries that which has been stored within it, transplanting ghosts and spirits to new grounds. Memories of place and people caught upon turbulent waters, settle to affect the lives of those who inhabit neighbouring counties.
Native Hooklandian writer, Cecil W. Chalmers, mentions this method of “ghost transportation” in an entry to his diary dated November 4th 1836:
“Far away ghosts flow into our county by way of the rivers, especially when floodwaters deposit silt and soil from miles around, which then find a new home and interacts with the landscape of Hookland. In the resulting entanglements, the land becomes something more than we could ever hope it to be. More saturated than it once was. Outside influences shape the stories of our land and in turn shapes us.”
This reminds me of a story I was told by my Uncle when I was a child. The story of Ellin Greenblood, a river sprite who once lived in the sparkling waters around the source of a long, winding river. Sightings of her along the river banks and votive offerings from differing centuries were found and recorded over time. Ellin moved slowly from one town to the next, where the townsfolk were said to all have poured ale into a hollowed-out stones beside the river for her to drink. All sightings vanished at port, and the source of the stories were no more, relegated from daily life to fireside retellings. We can only presume she had made her way out to sea to be washed up on a distant shore.
“We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places — retreated to most often when we are most remote from them — are among the most important landscapes we possess.”
– Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
We must also remember that while “those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality” still affect us, those spirits who once inhabited our Land may have moved on too, and new spirits have washed in to replace those that once held dominion.
So upon the edges of the floodwaters utter your welcome and cast your gifts to those who may be out of time and out of place…
Text and Images: Sarah-Jayne Farrer