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OUR FIRST DAY'S STAGE.
mild excitement of exploring an unknown part of the world, even though such were a portion of our own country? I believe there are few who appreciate the charms of the country side more than your hard-worked Londoner just escaped from office or professional employment. He who lives all the year round in the midst of natural beauties seldom values his advantages. The effect on the mind of even the fairest scenes is wonderfully enhanced by contrast with less lovely surroundings.
As I have before stated, our first day's stage took us to the Langdon Hills, a spot
Hills, a spot seemingly much out of the world ; so primitive the village of that name, so unsophisticated the people, we felt that both it and they might be leagues away in some untravelled corner of the distant shires—a spot that might be miles from anywhere. In fact, the whole place gave us a strange feeling of remoteness, a very real feeling, yet one hardly to be described in words or analysed. So did the slumberous calm, the old-world tranquillity of the place, impress us, we could scarcely realise that only that morning we had been in the midst of the hurry and bustle of the greatest city of this eager money-making century, so great was the contrast of the feverish activity and rush of modern London life with the dreamy and soothing atmosphere of the spot, so far removed did we seem from noise and smoke of town' and from the madding crowd's ignoble strife.'
Somehow-I have never yet been able to define to my satisfaction exactly how it is—but somehow, when travelling by road, upon arriving at any spot,
one feels so much further away from the rest of the world than when one has arrived at the selfsame place by the speedy railway. Possibly it may be that the gradual progress, the countless green fields, the miles of spreading country, the straggling villages, the many homes passed by, the numbers of things seen on the way, give to the driving tourist an impression of distance that no mere rapid transit by rail from one station to another can possibly afford. By road the distance between different towns and villages seems lengthened, in comparison with the same distance done by train, in a curious manner ; the country appears more spacious, the connecting link between places seems slighter, and the illusion of remoteness is enhanced thereby to a degree that no one who has not travelled the same country both by road and rail can realise or understand. The iron horse has annihilated distance for us, speed has in a measure overcome space ; nowadays we rush through the land snugly ensconced the while in a comfortably padded carriage, so that we simply arrive at our destination with little or no knowledge or care of what intervenes ; thus we lose all idea of remoteness and the vague charm it adds of apparent inaccessibility.
But, after this too long digression, to return to the Langdon Hills. As we mounted to the summit of these, we passed by the few straggling cottages that form the tiny hamlet that so impressed us with its primitive picturesqueness and old-time look. One of these lowly cottages that does duty as a Post Office we noticed with pleasure had a thatched roof,
THE LANGDON HILLS.
a roof bronzed and tinted with age, green with mosses here and there; the small window also was gay with scarlet geraniums and fuchsias, two flowers that appear to be the special favourites of cottagers, and that always seem to flourish with them. A cottage it was that suggested Devonshire to us, rather than the eastern counties; possibly our imagination was heightened by the wooded hills beyond—hills that certainly did not give us the impression of a county as flat as a pancake,' as a popular writer has termed Essex, which only proves to me that some people glibly describe places that they have never taken the trouble to see. Indeed, a certain guide-book compiler whom I chanced to meet during my wanderings, taking his holiday at a watering-place, in an unguarded moment honestly confessed to me that he had visited scarcely one of the numerous places and picturesque spots that he professed to give an account of : ‘How could I see them?' he said ; "the sum I was paid for the copy, though fairly liberal as such work is paid for, would not have recouped me for my time and hotel expenses; the thing could not be done. No, I collected all the works I could relating to the part of the country I was commissioned to write upon, and gathered my information from them, and one of
your books was amongst the number.'
Reaching the top of the Langdon Hills we came upon a homely little hostel ; here we obtained a modest meal and a welcome rest ; but, though modest our repast, it was served nicely upon a scrupulously clean cloth, the ale was cool and clear, and the charge for two of us gave change from half-a-crown, and, marvellous to say, the civil waitress (not charged for in the bill) did not loiter about—as is the usual wont of her kind—to be remembered, though she did not lose thereby. As we were about to leave we were asked if we would care to go to the top of the house to see the view from there, which the landlady told us was very fine; so we went. A lad showed us up, but he, too, as soon as he had pointed out the different landmarks, suddenly disappeared and we saw no more of him. What a happy land this, where backsheesh is a thing unknown, and simple attentions are willingly given without looking for reward!
The prospect from the highest point of the Langdon Hills is one worth going far to see. It is astonishing that a spot of so much beauty (possessing a peculiar character all its own, and not to be repeated in England) should be so near to town and so little known. For ourselves I must confess that it was quite by accident that we went to Langdon, and had it not been for our planless mode of wandering about country it never would have been seen by us. All of which goes to prove how much of interest, how many unknown spots await the traveller who explores the land in our rambling leisurely fashion, content merely to enjoy his outing and take his chance of the good things that are sure to come to him, careless of performing any definite itinerary.
From where we stood we looked down through the sun-filled air upon a glorious expanse of waving woods, green meadows, and red tilled fields, down upon miles of smiling verdure dotted here and there
A GLORIOUS PROSPECT.
with scattered farmsteads and red-roofed villages, with ever and again a peep of a distant church tower or spire : all this goodly prospect bounded only by the circling blue of the far-away horizon where land and sky were blended together in a dim dreamy uncertainty. Right through the heart of this map-like panorama wound the silvery Thames—at least it appeared silvery to us, we could trace the river's winding course from just below Purfleet in the west, to where it widened out and lost its identity in the long line of gleaming silver of the distant sea. A magnificent prospect, in truth, so space-expressing ; our vision rejoiced in its unaccustomed freedom, confined as it is for so great a portion of the year to the sadly limited vista of a London street. The stately river was dotted with ships outward and inward bound, from the mighty ocean steamer (so dwarfed by distance that it was difficult to realise that the tiny moving speck with the long trail of smoke behind was actually a little world afloat) to the humble barge : several of these picturesque craft were noticeable on the water, their many sails, light in sunshine and dark in shade, added greatly to the effect of the picture by the life they gave to it, and, as they glided downward with the tide, we watched them
pass on and on, and go From less to less, and vanish into light. Yet, though now so little known, the view from the Langdon Hills has often been written about and described by travellers of the last century, who being unblest with railways, when journeying this way,