In the bleak midwinter – a test of memory at Pin Mill

DSC00247 - cropTalking with my Mum yesterday about the weather (among other things!) made me think about the long-distance research I had to do for Suffolk Folk Tales. It hammered down with rain on Saturday morning, but was glorious with sunshine in the afternoon … here in Gloucestershire.  Just the opposite in Suffolk.  Weather’s always tricky, and it’s impossible to second guess it, especially four counties away!  And of course, if you work as well as write, you can only go on outings at set times – especially with train prices being what they are.  On the weekend I went over to research the Orwell Mermaid it snowed.  Oh boy, did it snow.  And then the snow bedded down.  But I had things to do, research deadlines to meet.  So off we went – and though I might have plenty to say about 4x4s in general, but stepdad really does need one to access his remote clients, and we wouldn’t have done this trip without it.

Because the story was set on the River Orwell, in that evocative location: Pin Mill. Down one of the steepest slopes in Suffolk!  Down we slithered – there is no way we could have got any further than the car park at the top of the village, I am sure.  Then we teetered down on foot – and straight into the famous Butt and Oyster pub for a warming morning coffee.  Then Mum and I went out to walk into the woods, to get an idea of the landscape around the village, away from what would have been a bustling port and boatyard.

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The walk was silent except for the crunch of our boots in the crisp frosted snow. We walked past the houseboats along the shoreline, seemingly deserted in this cold weather, and then up the hill – we could barely work out where the path was going in some cases, there was so much snow.  Now, this is where memory starts to let you down.  In my memory, there was a dog, who barked, and I am sure that it was that melded for me the last scene of the story, where the fishermen’s dogs discover the mermaid lying on the frozen earth.  But am I imagining that now?  Whether or not there was a dog, the ethereal snowy landscape set the scene for me, and I knew how that last section had to be – the chill landscape reflecting the bleakness of our heroine’s emotions.  Would I have felt it so strongly if we’d visited in summer, with the birds singing in the trees, and lots of other folk tramping the paths, and coming in and out of the houseboats?  Well, the story only has one possible ending, but I know it would have felt very different, and thus I would have written in differently.

All images copyright Kirsty Hartsiotis, 2012

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