Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley?
We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in fields of gold – Sting
Welford is a quiet village on the border of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire in the English East Midlands. In many ways it still speaks to the rural idyll of maids cycling to church, cricket on the green, mists on the meadow, warm beer. Certainly a couple of weeks here away from the daily grind has been good for the soul, if not the body.
This morning the sun shone and the breeze was light as I jogged along the Welford arm of the Grand Union Canal – this extension to Welford was re-opened in 1969. The canals of course have long since outlived their original industrial past. Instead they now teem with barges inhabited by quiet folk content to pass their days doing very little. I could easily fit into that world.
The rolling fields are quiet, the harvest is in though this summer the farmers could have waited a few weeks more. The landscape is lush green where the pastures lie, and shades of brown, yellow and gold where the fields have been ploughed ahead of the next planting. Everywhere there are rights of way, bridle paths, permitted access and the folk that live around here respect the land in return.
To the east is the village of Naseby. Here in 1645 was the decisive battle of the Civil War when Cromwell’s Model Army defeated the Royalists. You can read the interpretation boards and gaze over much the same landscape as Sir Thomas Fairfax and Prince Rupert of the Rhine did 370 years ago.
The village itself has two pubs, one at either end of the High Street. Down by the canal The Wharf is well-appointed and popular with villagers and visitors alike. Decent pub food and a nice selection of Real Ale. The Wharf is a cut above The Elizabethan at the top of the hill and I guess many of its patrons wouldn’t darken its doorstep. But The Elizabethan is a proper country bar with a pool table, dartboard and – again crucially – well-kept Real Ale. The locals follow rugby more than soccer, with top teams Northampton and Leicester being equidistant. And here they know their music and the jukebox can be loud with guitar heroes. In both establishments dogs are welcomed and you like them or lump them. Tucked away at the side is a Chinese takeaway which does a steady trade. Altogether a great spot.
Belying its outward appearance Welford is a hive of activity. There is inevitably an action group, August’s hot topic being speeding through the village. There are clubs and associations for everything – the church choir is in trouble through lack of numbers but the cricket team have started up again. The Gardening Club has a full programme of events and there is a Harvest Lunch at the Community Centre.
Crime reported recently – a man bitten by a dog, and petrol being siphoned from vehicles on the nearby A14.
But, if one excludes the Chinese takeaway, I don’t think I saw a non-white person in the whole of my time here.
So, is this the real England or have I just been living in a sort of ‘Vicar of Dibley’ set for a while? More to come on this.