The Platform at Aston Rowant

Based on a lyrical passage in The Oxford, Gloucester and Milford Haven Road, by Charles G Harper. Harper’s entire oeuvre of “Road” books has long been out of print, but no travel writer I know paints a broader and more colourful picture of Edwardian England. The places described are also part of the composite of places I have come to view as home.

From Aston Rowant to Kingston Blount
From halt to halt, it beetled west
For miles below the Chiltern crest
A country line, of no account ..

Now trains no longer skirt these hills
And fencing posts alone remain
To bound a weed-choked, unwalked lane
And yet the sight brings boyhood thrills

The platform ledge now runs with briars
A playground once it was for me,
And in life’s voyage a parting quay
For farmers’ sons of brother shires

What private dramas, hopes and fears
Filled waiting thoughts as, London-bound
They left their homes and daily rounds
With farewells flushed and stifling tears?

Left for offices, works and schools
And ’prenticeships in far-off towns
With dubbined boots and half a crown
For food and clothing, books and tools

Their sisters, sent to manse and store
They paced here too, at break of day
And twice the specials hauled away
Good Bucks and Oxon men, to war

Doctors roused to midnight call
Alighted here with anxious heart
To clatter off in farmer’s cart
To stricken Fanes at Wormsley Hall

Or troubled cottage birth; and men
Of Boards and business, Trilby’d strangers
Come to sow the seeds of change
With deed in hand and fountain pen …

Through memory’s veil I see them flit
Across the stage of village life
From this wing; I hear the fife
Of the evening train, yellow-lit

And think of those like me who roamed
And on returning, sanctuary found
Upon this crumbling platform mound
And knew once more the joy of home

From Aston Rowant to Kingston Blount
From halt to halt, it beetled west
For miles below the Chiltern crest
A country line, of no account ..

 

© Joe Slater 2018