Articles, memories and miscellany
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"Lanterns", an extract from an unedited discussion with Jonathan Barkley from the 18th May 1927 edition of the Holt Chronicle.
I got up early in the morning that day at roughly 4am. It was still dark, added to further by this relentless fog we'd been having of late. It was so little into the nightly hours before a man should get up that even the curlews had failed to arise from their minimal slumber.
My long walk from Wells to Blakeney Quay ferry was an uneventful one, except that I saw not a soul on the Stiffkey Road. The only sounds to accompany me were the rustle of my fishing bag, the occasional brushing of my fishing rod with the lower down branches of pines along the road and the breeze giving life to the fauna around me.
My boat was moored at Blakeney Quay, so I followed the Beach Road and walked along to the point where I parked my belongings and rowed out into the water. The early morning during that time of year is good for fishing. I manoeuvred the boat outwards, away from the Blakeney Eye and into the flooded fields and reed beds of the marsh. My boat glided well along its waters which were remarkably calm for the weather (a breeze was blowing the reeds around me but the water itself seemed little interested in giving an equal reaction).
My boat moved into Arnold's Marsh by the East Bank, or at least I think it was around there for at the time, I was beginning to get lost. Afraid to move further into the marsh, I moored up in a quiet spot near what looked to be Purdy's Drift and stayed there for quite some time. The fishing was poor. An hour or so went by and still nothing had even given a bite. I started to lose hope that this would be a successful trip and gathered up my equipment ready to leave.
The day had started to become lighter with the sun beginning to edge out over the horizon. Yet with this added aid to my cause, I could still not see well at all. At first, I thought it was marsh gas, but it seemed too deliberate, too knowing to be a natural phenomenon. It blocked my vision of even a few feet in front. With the arrogance of a fool, I believed that the journey back would be a simple case of the turning the boat about. After trying and failing for another hour to find my way, I began to worry.
My boat was still in the middle of the marsh as far as I could perceive, and I had gained no further distance back to the quay. I kept it still for a moment, thinking my scenario through. How had I got lost in this marsh? It wasn't too big an area and the river ways were barely sailable unless flooded like it had been recently.
While pondering these thoughts, something caught my eye. Through the misty air, I could see the edge of reed-bed a little way further along the water. Within the tangle of reeds, there seemed to be a figure standing there.
It only appeared for a second. Closer viewing revealed nothing but the swaying plants. The warblers had woken up and gave a slight sense of company. Sometime later and still lost in the early morning of the marsh, my boat had led me seemingly further in land and away from the sound of sea which had been heard earlier to crash on the nearby beach. The marsh seemed thicker than ever when I first saw the light. It was a vague, yellowy light floating across the water some way ahead of the boat. It seemed to be coming from a lantern, clearly held by what looked like a man. At last! I thought I had found my saviour; this person would of course know the way out of this marsh or at least be able navigate more effectively with their bright lantern. As I rowed closer to the light it seemed to move away. I called out but my voice appeared lost on them.
I gained some distance towards this lantern before I started to notice something even stranger. My boat was close enough to be able to logically see at least the faint outline of this person's boat, but I could not. The mist had begun to thin in the few feet around and yet I still could not see their boat. It then became clear that the lantern was being by carried by someone wading through the water. I called again but the light did not stop or change direction. The strangeness of this person's movement and the almost sickly glow of the light began to give great feelings of unease.
My oar suddenly slipped from my hand, the foolishness of a lack of concentration on my part. I only just caught it in time for the oar had almost sunk. It then occurred to me how deep this water really was. I tested it with the full length of the oar and found the bed of the water to be untouchable. How could this person wade through this deep causeway? The realisation was beginning to sink in that I had been lured away from my true path. I noticed that the fight ahead had now stopped. The silhouette of the person was now clear, stood arched and motionless some way ahead in the water.
I panicked and quietly turned my boat, aware that this creature (it was most definitely inhuman if able to traverse this water without a boat) was watching my movement. Yet the light followed, slowly at first and then quickly. My rowing became heavier as the lantern got closer, the devilish creature seemed to play with my situation, deliberately speeding up when it noticed my pace had slowed due to fatigue. My delirium had led my boat to another clump of reeds but instead of just the gentle nudge of the vegetation, there was the firm thud of land. Land! I had found land and what seemed to be a pathway, perhaps even leading back to one of the villages. I scrambled up its small slope, leaving behind my equipment and boat, stumbling as fast as I could down the muddy path. The light had disappeared and did not seem to be giving chase.
I was some way down the path (a path I later learned to be Meadow Lane) when I saw another figure stood some way ahead, a lit lantern held in their hand. I was too tired to try and turn back so simply stood still and let the veiled figure approach. Its movement was jittery and unnatural, it appeared to be a black mass rather than have any definite features. I fell past it in exhaustion as it closed in and a clawed hand reached out from under and scratched the side of my body until it cut through my clothes and finally to my skin. It seemed to scream as it stood there with its claw digging into my side.
My memory fades of what happened afterwards. I have no further memories of being on Meadow Lane or almost anything between then and when I arrived at The George pub. An image plays upon my memory of wandering around the heath-land over on Telegraph Hill but little else. The roads, with their tunnels of foliage, seem oddly familiar though I can't quite place them. I felt lost and drained and still do. I cannot comprehend what it was that guided and lured me away from safety but heed my warning: if you have any sense, never venture out into the Salthouse Marshes. It is a place that punishes.
"Blakeney" by Arthur J Rees: A foreword to his book, "The Shrieking Pit", set mainly in Cley, 1919
The sea beats in at Blakeney
Beats wild and waste at Blakeney;
O'er ruined quay and cobbled street,
O'er broken masts of fisher fleet,
Which go no more to sea.
The bitter pools at ebb-tide lie,
In barren sands at Blakeney;
Green, grey and green the marshes creep,
To where the grey north waters leap
By dead and silent Blakeney.
And Time is dead at Blakeney
In old, forgotten Blakeney;
What care they for Time's Scythe or Glass;
Who do not feel the hours pass,
Who sleep in sea-worn Blakeney?
By the old grey church in Blakeney,
By quenched turret light in Blakeney,
They slumber deep, they do not know,
If Life's told tale is Death and Woe;
Through all eternity.
But Love still lives at Blakeney,
'Tis graven deep at Blakeney;
Of Love which seeks beyond the grave,
Of Love's sad faith which fain would save
The headstones tell the story.
Grave-grasses grow at Blakeney
Sea pansies, sedge, and rosemary;
Frail fronds thrust forth in dim dank air,
A message from those lying there:
Wan leaves of memory.
I send you this from Blakeney
From distant, dreaming Blakeney;
Love and Remembrance: These are sure;
Though Death is strong they shall endure,
Till all things cease to be.