At about 1pm we packed the car with case, maps and puppies and left for Northamptonshire. We had a short stop at Serendipity Dog Hotel – I know I said we were never going to use them again but Cresswell’s was full and, of course I should have booked yonks ago but…well, no excuse really! Anyway, the girl at Serendipity was nice as pie and remembered the puppies from last year saying “Oh, how they’ve grown” and being generally nice. Of course, although Mirinda rang up and booked them in, there was no booking written down in the book!
Then we hit the long road. Via the A3 to the A31 then turn left at the M25 to the A1(M) and A14 with a stop at some services called ‘Extra’ for a baguette and some Macca’s. A funny road sign for the services. Instead of the usual ‘Services 2m’ someone had had the bright idea of putting the company’s name on as well so it read ‘Services 2m Extra’. It wasn’t true! There was only the first one!
In all it took us about 3.5 hours to get to Tichmarsh, a lovely little village in the Nene Valley, not far from Peter and Jeremy in Sudborough. The first thing I feel I need to clear up is the spelling of the village name. According to my local source, the traditional spelling has only the one ‘t’ but the civil authorities (whoever they are) and the Ordnance Survey people have added an extra one, presumably to hint at the great gardener who does not live there. Whatever the reason, I’ll stick with the Anglo-Saxons and drop the second ‘t’.
The population of Tichmarsh has never been even remotely huge. In 1086, the Domesday Book gives it as probably 200. Nearly 800 years later it seems to have peaked at 905. I’m not sure why but it seems to be undergoing a growth spurt, having dropped to 480 in 1971, it is now over 530. In saying this, there’s not an awful lot to do in Tichmarsh. The most popular occupation for the kids seems to be riding their bikes up and down the streets. There purports to be a shop, however, I didn’t find it though I walked the length and breadth. There was a mysterious roller door in the side of a barn which could have sold farm produce but there was no signage, just an empty bench outside it. There is, however, two pubs (The Dog and Pheasant and The Wheatsheaf Inn) and a grand church.
The buildings are nearly all grey brick and lovely with it. There was a castle here in about 1300 but all that remains now is a grassy mound just the other side of the road from our room. No soldiers anymore, just a herd of cows roams its precincts. Oh and their groom, a man with a brush who came over to give them a good brush down on Sunday morning. Actually, there are a lot of cows around the village: big doleful caramel coloured cows. Nursie would love this place.
After we settled into our room at the Wheatsheaf I left Mirinda to have a little snooze and took a stroll down to the church. It is another of those St Mary the Virgins and sits on an island created by the ha ha that surrounds it. This is apparently quite rare and I have to admit I’ve never seen it before. I assume this is to keep the more devout cows out of the vestry.
Inside the church is airy and light with lots of long, almost unreadable memorials. I noted one for Erasmus and Mary Dryden and wondered if they had anything to do with John, the poet. From reading the guide, it appears they were his parents. He was poet laureate from 1670 – 1688 and died in 1700. He had a brother, Sir Gilbert Pickering (Mary’s maiden name was Pickering) who became Lord Chamberlain to Oliver Cromwell. You can imagine the sort of family get togethers they had! Just think about the Christmas toast to the king.
The churchyard is lovely with more gravestones than graves. In fact, due to space they have laid stones in front of upright graves. Of course this could be to make sure the newer residents don’t get out. At the end of one row there’s a grave with a tiny wall around it. It is the final resting place of Walter Packing who died in London on October 8, 1878. I’m not sure what killed him but the fact that an enormous tree has grown from his chest is a grim warning about swallowing apple pips! The tree was obviously too big as it’s been cut down to the stump. Poor Walter. Cut down in his prime in the awful streets of 19th century London only to have his DNA cut down as well.
The churchyard is also home to a million very much alive rabbits, happily munching on grass until they spied me. They then all sped off and vanished under the gardener’s shed which is an amazing structure, standing on only a few bits of banked earth, the rest having been eroded into a massive warren.
From the church I walked along Chapel Street, in search of the chapel which just had to be there. I found a building which could have been the chapel but now stands a bit lost and lonely. There is no cross on top and nothing to indicate it’s anything any grander than a village hall. Two galvanised iron supports lead up the two steps to the big double doors, leading me to imagine a lot of the weaker pilgrims once visited here. The corner stone was laid in 1871 so it’s not THAT old.
When I turned the corner at the end of Chapel Street I realised I was back at the Inn where two girls were wandering, lost, trying to work out how to book in to their rooms. I let them in on the secret (there’s a side door with a bell as the pub does not open until 7) then wandered down to the other end of the village.
Down this end I found the thinnest cottage I think I’ve ever seen. It’s called the Sportsman’s Cottage but I’m not sure what sport you could possibly play in such a small place. It looked just like a Lilliput Lane model come to life and plonked down between two normal end of terraces. From here I walked around Castle Farm and chatted to a couple of the cows there, assuring them I knew what they were and they had nothing to fear from us city folk. I now know what baleful means.
I slowly walked back to the room and accidentally woke Mirinda up who, after a refreshing cup of tea, started to mark her scripts. I waited patiently for the clock to click round to 7 then popped into the pub for a couple of pints of Smith’s as there was no local brew.
Later we had a lovely dinner at the Wheatsheaf. Steak and mushroom pie (me) and Chicken Kiev (Mirinda) with a side order of onion rings and garlic bread. Unfortunately there appears to be a shortage of garlic in Tichmarsh as there didn’t seem to be very much in the meals that required it. Actually, there wasn’t any at all, I was just being generous.
After our meals we took a stroll down to the Sportsman’s Cottage for a bit of a laugh then back to our room. We were both pretty zonked. I watched three movies (The Quick and the Dead, Varsity Blues and Dirty Harry) by flipping every ten minutes but was bored by midnight and finally flipped for the final time then slept.