Back in 1983 I was introduced to the poem Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray through a track on Rick Wakeman’s Cost Of Living album which featured his music over a recital of the poem by Robert Powell, who I had considered to be absolutely awesome in Jesus Of Nazareth. It was a perfect combination for me and instantly made the poem one of my favourites. You can try it for yourself through the magic of YouTube here.
Where is this going, you wonder (other than to Stoke Poges, which you have assumed from the title of this blog). Well, my daughter had been invited to a birthday party at Stoke Park, so I was looking through the Crimson Short Walks guide for a route that I could walk with my son while my daughter was off enjoying herself, and I came across the 3.5 mile one for Stoke Poges which took in not only St Giles’ Church but also a huge monument to Gray in Gray’s Field. Another perfect combination. And what with the brilliant weather we had been having over the Bank Holiday weekend. Ah, that is where it fell apart a little, as normal service had been resumed, Winter changed into Spring, Spring changed into Summer, Summer changed back into Winter, and Winter gave Spring and Summer a miss and went straight on into Autumn. It was raining, and heavily. Not to worry, because I had my Rab jacket to wear underneath and my Mountain Equipment jacket to wear on top, and my son had his North Face Jacket, in which I imagine he must go on so many adventures. And, anyway, as Peter Gabriel once said, it’s only water.
So we set off from Stoke Park in the pouring rain, walking down the long driveway which runs through the frankly beautiful golf course,
turned right on to the main road and continued along it until we reached a sign for Stoke Poges Church, where we turned right again, and not too far further on we found the church, on the right, and passed through two lychgates to reach the building. It dates from Saxon times, although there are clearly later additions, and it is said to be the location where Thomas Gray wrote his most famous work, Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard.
He lies buried here, and although his name does not appear on the family vault there is now a sign which informs the casual passer-by. We returned to the second lychgate we had come through and turned left to go into Gray’s Field, walking over to the right of the field to reach the huge monument to Gray. ‘Huge’ barely describes it.
From there we walked over to the other side of the field, avoiding some cows who suddenly took an interest in us, and went through a stile, crossed the road we had come down from Stoke Park and went into an opposite field which then led into one which contained horses. Fortunately they were on the other side of a fence. Unfortunately there was nothing between the fence posts. They did not trouble us as we gave them a wide berth and crossed to the far corner of the field, which took us out to a road junction where we joined Farthing Green Lane. The rain had practically stopped by now, though my son preferred to keep his hood up.
We followed this past a house named Touchstone (which should appeal to all my Prog readers), and having passed a footpath on our right we took the next bridleway, an oak and hawthorn bordered path, and that brought us to a road at the edge of a housing estate. We followed that road to a T-junction and turned right, on to a road I recognised from when I used to work around these parts. I used to go to yoga classes at the gym along here. We left the route at this point because we were running out of time, so instead of turning left alongside Wexham Park Golf Course we carried straight on, past Berry Farm and a new housing estate which appears to have replaced the cattle market. We reached the hospital and turned right on to a footpath which passed through more fields with horses.
There certainly seem to be a lot of horses around here. The ground was muddy and wet as we continued our walk and I was somewhat concerned that the guide spoke of a “concealed and boggy ditch”, but I need not have worried because someone has now built a wooden bridge across it.
We walked across the next field and came out at a lane where we turned left. This brought us out to the main road, and when we got to the next junction we turned left again and then carried straight on to reach the road we had followed out of Stoke Park.
We were back before the party had fully finished, so my son was able to join in with the pinata bashing, while I helped myself to the proffered scones. The rain had never stood a chance if it wanted to spoil our day, and we had all enjoyed an excellent time.
You can see more of my photos from the walk here.