Kilvert’s diary

The Rev Francis Kilvert’s diary is astonishingly beautiful to read, lyrical, charming, earthy and humane. Here are a few small bits that have struck me so far for one reason or another.

1. 29/03/1870
“Turned aside into the meadow to look at the great stone of Cross Ffordd… I suppose no one will ever know now what the grey silent mysterious witness means, or why it was set there. Perhaps it could tell some strange wild tales and many generations have flowed and ebbed around it. There is something very solemn about these great solitary stones which stand about the country, monuments of some one or something, but the memory has perished and the history is forgotten.”

Not his poetic best by any means, but this passage epitomises the rare pagan sensibility that Kilvert has, given that he is an Anglican priest. Standing stones, stone circles, cromlechs and so on are all an abiding fascination for me, and I will always go well out of my way if I have a chance to find them. I think when reading these lines particularly of one in Northumberland M. and I found last year on our valedictory excursion before his departure to America. I have some very satisfying pictures of it (which, along with others, I am forever intending to submit to the two major megalith websites). In a way, as Kilvert suggests, perhaps this fascination is a very simple, almost trite one – and he certainly encapsulates the sentiment far more successfully in one paragraph than M Scott Peck does in his entire book, In Search of Stones, which I read wanting to like it, and enjoyed the premise, but the reality was constantly marred by his ego, not to mention his dim knowledge of Britain.

2. 05/04/1870
“It does seem very odd at this age of the world in the latter part of the 19th century to see monks gravely wearing such dresses and at work in them in broad day. One could not help thinking how much more sensible and really religious was the dress and occupation of the masons [ie stonemasons working nearby] and of the hearty healthy girl washing at the Chapel House, living naturally in the world and taking their share of its work, cares and pleasures, than the morbid unnatural life of these monks going back into the errors of the dark ages and shutting themselves up from the world to pray for the world.”

Kilvert writes this while visiting the work at Capel-y-Ffin, where the eminence gris ‘Father Ignatius’ attempted to revive monasticism, just a mile away from the ruins of Llanthony Priory. This passage (and the pages around it) mean a lot to more for a whole amalgam of reasons: H. and I visited Capel-y-Ffin itself on a cycling holiday only last year, and I have a picture painted by her father of the chapel in my cottage (I also went to Llanthony as a child with my parents, and have a photograph of them there I am fond of); and I happened to read this very passage to H. at random recently, just when I was reading Iain Sinclair’s novel Landor’s Tower which is partly about the same area – Sinclair quotes this very passage; also, more generally, I have perhaps a slightly unreasonable distaste for the concept of monks and nuns in general – which perhaps I’ll reflect on another time – and Kilvert’s down-to-earth response would echo precisely my own.

3. 07/04/1870
“I had the satisfaction of managing to walk from Hay to Clyro by the fields without meeting a single person, always a great triumph to me and a subject for warm self-congratulation for I have a peculiar dislike to meeting people, and a peculiar liking for a deserted road.”

I wouldn’t go quite as far as that myself, but I do appreciate what he means, and I suspect most walkers would (with the exception of the Goretexed flocks of Ramblers).

Many more things deserve comment, but I’m exhausted from travelling, working and then cycling this evening, so will stop shortly.

Cycling’s so much a part of all this for me. I bought a new bike today, much more comfortable for exploring country lanes, and it thrills me to meander down them, gratuitous sprays of cow parsley in the fecund hedges either side of the roads around Upton Scudamore. I don’t think there’s anything that has ever given me quite the same sense of freedom as cycling does. But now: rest.