Twenty-four thousand times in any year, lightning strikes
and kills. On the Heath, the timber shells, like bony Flemish spires,
point heavenwards in warning. The stags take note and bow their heads
at the sky’s first challenge, or hurl a bellowing peal back in defiance.
Quicken your pace. Ask for Belfont, Bedfound, Bedefunde, Beda’s spring,
however the changes ring, where he dispatched his woman each morning
from their heap of halfsmart, crosswort, bloodcup, from under their thatch, to fetch
even in such storms, even when she had reached nine months ...
When will it end, this barrenness, these waves of agony, barefoot
through lynchet, dyke, furze, thistle, the gusts and groans, water
breaking overhead? Beda’s woman lies back in the heather bed
of history; you press on. At your feet is a baby, and another,
heads like mushrooms, crowning, crying, put out for the Heath
to take care of. Their mewings pierce the air. But there is no milk.
Do not pick them. Leave them to the Dama dama who gather round.
Consider instead the oaks, each ring another year that these
might have suffered. Pass on through Hag Lane into Bedfont. Spring
with a drinking vessel. Old English byden, a tub or container,
funta, on loan from Rome (whose roots and tesserae lie scattered
beneath your modern tread), fons or fontus. That distant rumbling
is just a farmer bringing home grain. They are far behind you now
between dead oaks and dark enclosing deer, exposed, yet silent.
Thunder has paused. Head for the church, the fighting cocks (or peacocks)
of St. Mary the Virgin, East Bedfont, and hurry on through its topiary
nonsense, past the tombs of those who died on February the 31st,
or aged three hundred and sixty-one. Enter the pudding stone.
At the font like a cowled servant presenting the first and final course,
is a Friar, sworn to poverty, chastity, his vessel raised, fending off storms.