To Mercia’s Vein

An iron-hard frost had bitten
turning the fields coruscating white
the hawthorn and elder lavish with rime
and the air obsidian-barbed
even now, near noon
unbending to a low, bloodless December sun.

We pedalled, wheezing, almost spent
up the last of the Scotch Hills
our boyish thighs protesting, lungs burning
wind-blown Siberian darts piercing our ears
until finally gaining the brow
and the half relief of the flat stretch
to Brakenhurst Wood.

Approaching the wood’s eaves
we redoubled our effort
easing through the gears
marshalling momentum
for the dizzy, headlong, howling descent
of Jackson’s Bank.

We imagined ourselves horse warriors
thundering downhill
our martial challenge echoing
through blurred, winter-bare Needwood.

Startled, rasping, a jay scolded
as we plunged on, heedless of danger
sure of immortality
free-wheeling at last to a skidding, icy halt
at the snow-swollen Swarbourn.

There, rheumy-eyed, runny-nosed
we tethered our mounts to the bridge
sucked liquorice root
and, contemplating the waters
on their chattering journey
to congress with the thirsty Trent

conjured tales of the Dane, longship-borne
up ancient Mercia’s vein to Battlestead
where, some say, Æthelstan’s fyrd
dispatched him, scattered, whipped
north to the Humber.


13 thoughts on “To Mercia’s Vein

  1. Wonderful descriptions, Julian. You bring to life the boys’ exciting ride across the frost-covered scenery with the ‘wind-blown Siberian darts’ piercing their ears. I can well imagine them ‘pedalling, wheezing’, before thundering like horse warriors downhill. As for the reference to Mercia, the Trent and Aethelstan the Danes… What can I say? Not only do I live close to the Trent, this is the theme of my books, so is very close to my heart. (Except that my books are set at the time of King Alfred and not his grandson. Thank you for sharing this lovely poem.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Julian. I’ve lived in Nottinghamshire since 1976. At present we’re right on the Notts/Lincs border, in a tiny village midway between Newark and Lincoln. Mercia was a huge kingdom – so I could well live a long way away from wherever you are. The River Trent is virtually on our doorstep and our four sons spent hours fishing it when they were younger. Nice to say ‘hello’ to you, Julian.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Burton on Trent is some distance west of here, in Staffordshire, I believe – all part of good old Mercia. As for Laughton, the only one I can think of is in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Gainsborough. If that’s the Laughton you know, Julian, it’s about 26 miles from where I live.
        Thank you for the links. I’ll try to find time to have a look!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this. Thank you! Although a lassie, I loved my childhood bike rides in the winter’s cold. I love “hawthorn and elder lavish with rime and the air obsidian-barbed”. Makes me gasp. And “horse warriors
    thundering downhill our martial challenge echoing”. I was a horse warrior too. In Lancashire.

    Liked by 1 person

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