Little, along with Great Henny form part of the necklace of border land villages that ease Essex into Suffolk. They are as pretty as a picture and exist here and now as comfortably as they did in the thirties, as quietly as in Edwardian times and could quite easily, if one closes ones eyes and suspends belief, be the backdrop from an episode of Midsummer Murders. Thatched cottages caress red brick houses that sidle up to each other in a comfort of forgotten eras.
Time still makes its own way here and at a different pace to the rest of the kingdom. I find it hard to conceive that anyone here and I know I am being naive, suffers from stress or anxiety; life seems so easy here, so laid back and unhurried.
There is also an abundance of villages in this region with the prefix of either little or great. Great and Little Henny being one but there are also Great and Little Maplestock, Great Dunmow which is further in the heart of Essex, Great Baddow, Little Burstead, Great Sampford, Great Wakering , Great Leigh’s and goodness knows how many more. Perhaps these ancient old names, or at least the people who created them, were caught in some peasant game of one-up-man-ship? Maybe some where there is a series of villages with a string of ludicrous names that begin with lesser before moving onto little which in turn is superseded by great only for that superlative to be out done by supreme.
There are several signs that forewarn you that you have entered rural England. The smell of compost, the circle of birds that hover over the fields of grain, the excitable pheasant that does an idiot jig in front of me zigzagging from left to right as I approach and the liberally released cow pats that be-speckle the road like corrupt, rotten pancakes.
Two horses give me the once over when they see me before returning to chewing grass. A small dog, a terrier, yaps a warning as I pass, its tiny frame shaking with each violent, if a little squeaky, bark. Its tail stands proud and quivering as though it were an arrow that has just struck its mark. The village church hides itself in peaceful seclusion behind a growth of hedge and tree. The arched gateway has a smaller side gate that leans against the main structure in a manner that reminds me of a foal leaning against its mother. The legend carved above the gateway is, presumably, Norman as this church, like so many in this area were built in that period. A scattering of gravestones give an indication of the time this place has stood here, of its history.
One of the gravestones, broken and splintered and sinking back into the soil, has the lid hanging half off. I want to go closer to look but have a creepy notion that if I did a skeletal hand would reach and grab me, dragging me deep down into the remorseless dirt and clay. It has a haunted feeling that is hard to shake off. I move on.
I walk on, dust gathering on my blood red boots. A single pigeon, stupid and slow watches me as I gain ground on it and then, at the last moment before I tread on the dumb bird, it takes flight. Turning a bend in the road I see a series of reclusive thatched cottages that shelter timidly behind a tangle of hedgerow. The shrubbery keeps their beauty secret while their inhabitants have an envious privacy. There are so many thatched cottages here that I am truly spoilt for choice in my selecting a few for photos.
They are so very pretty and picturesque, lying quietly, demurely even as they bask in this odd autumn weather we are having. Today it is in the mid-eighties and my tan, of which I am very proud and which, I have to say is typically English in that it only covers my forearms, face and my neck, is topping up nicely. Anyone of these delightful cottages would make fine chocolate box lids or greeting card covers. I try to find some fault with these antiquated homesteads but I am hard pushed to find any as they all seem so perfect. Perhaps, and being purely selfish, the owners might trim their hedges more often and to a lesser height just so that I, and anyone else for that matter, might better see the homes behind them. It is only a thought, mind.
Great and Little Henny fall behind me; Middleton, Twinstead and Pebmarsh lay ahead. They too have the same sort of homes that angle them selves away from prying eyes while remaining as coquettish as seventeenth century ladies gathered at a ball. I wonder if there is a season that matches the charm of these places other than summer. I imagine that winter, if we still had the winters of Dickens’s day, snow white and crystal precise, would make a fine picture if set against these venerable cottages. The art of thatching is still very much alive in Britain and especially England as there still a great many cottages like these about. In many ways they, along with the patch work quilted farm lands, are the epitome of the English country side. I have holidayed in places like these and they make fine homes with their odd little nooks and crannies, their unforgiving beams and their stone flagged floors. Like any decent architecture, the soul of the people and the surrounding area that claims home to them is reflected in their pastoral design. They are as much a part of where they stand as the trees and hedgerow.
Pebmarsh church is far larger and grander than its Henny counterpart. A plaque on the door informs me that is has mention made of it in the Domesday Book of 1086. More history brought to life in the here and now. There is one gravestone that bears an inscription along with a date: 1742. The gravestone has a rather macabre skull adorning it that instantly makes me think of Captain Jack Sparrow and of pirates. There are no pirates here though as we are far from the sea and as equally far from the estuary. The church has all the hallmark characteristics of Norman design: long, elegant pointed arches, stout parapets and sharp corners. They are far less rustic than the ones built by the Anglo-Saxons and are often far larger too.
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