The Wrong Way
by Kim Farleigh
In 597AD, the first Benedictine monasteries were constructed in England. They were centres of learning where travellers could stay indefinitely.
My guidebook mentioned one in Leicestershire. Through yellow-leafed woods, that rose from an orange-brown, autumnal floor, I saw the keep of Ulverscroft Priory above the treetops.
A track took me to within eyesight of what remained of the priory. The timber fence surrounding the priory was covered by signs warning â€œtrespassersâ€ of prosecution â€“ and that â€œyou can be seen from the house!â€
Barbed-wire surrounded the field the house was in. A man and a woman were mounting horses in a stables next to the house. The lady was wearing a tartan jumper, a pair of cream riding slacks, and an equestrian helmet. Her natural frown magnified when I approached and said: â€œHello.â€
A pitchforkâ€™s prongs made shadows on a brick wall behind her.
She looked away when I said: â€œI didnâ€™t know that the priory was privately owned.â€
â€œYES!â€ the man she was with snapped. â€œITâ€™S MINE!!â€
His teeth were clenched. The womanâ€™s nose resembled a gargoyle. She looked like a gargoyle that had come to life.
â€œYouâ€™re trespassing!â€ the man seethed.
His mouth sucked in, as if for him breathing was painful. The muddy ground beneath him was full of sodden, dead leaves.
â€œSorry,â€ I replied. â€œI didnâ€™t know. My guide—-â€
â€œWhich way is it,â€ I asked, â€œback to Copt Oak?â€
He turned and pointed. His nose was hooked was like an eagleâ€™s. A coiled-up hose on the ground near the pitchfork reminded me of a resting snake.
â€œJump over that fence,â€ he commanded. â€œWalk across that field. Turn left at that tree. Go through thatâ€¦.blah, blah, blah…â€
He turned his obedient horse away. The horseâ€™s snout obscured a lemon tree.
After extracting myself from barbed wire, I wandered across a field, attempting to retrace my previous route.
â€œKNEE-OHHHH!!â€ the man screamed. â€œYOUâ€™RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!â€
Four horses charged across the field I was in. They were charging in my direction! Even the cows, who had had plenty of time to grow familiar with these creatures, were fleeing, their hind legs spinning without traction in the muddy ground in their bids to escape these charging thoroughbreds who were flying in our direction!
The horses missed me by inches, throwing up mud and leaves. They stopped at the barbed-wire to greet their master, who, perched upon his steed, yelled out at me: â€œITâ€™S THAT WAY!!â€
The womanâ€™s eyes were like glinting rock-faces of disdain. The irritation that poured from her hard pebbles was mixed with amazement at my inability to follow simple instructions.
I turned back to climb back over the barbed-wire. The man and the woman rode away towards the ruin whose main body was slowly turning into rumble, time having hit the building with air attacks of deterioration. I could see the slow, incredulous moving of the manâ€™s head as I got tangled in the wire again.
â€œShall I get you a pair of cutters?â€ he yelled.
Her ladyshipâ€™s face gleamed with joy at her loverâ€™s wit.
â€œWhat good would two forty-foot boats be in a place like this?â€ I asked.
The womanâ€™s chin went up as if she had been hit by a fist of insolence. I began walking across the field that they were riding in. They rode towards me on their way back to the house. The womanâ€™s gargoyle was up as she rode by me. Her eyes were averted as her thoroughbredâ€™s hooves ploughed through mud, crunching rotting leaves and breaking up cow dung.
The man barked: â€œDOWN THERE!â€
â€œDown where?â€ I asked, feigning ignorance.
â€œLook,â€ the man said, â€œdo you want me to get the police to help you?â€
â€œDonâ€™t bother,â€ I replied. â€œIâ€™ve decided not to have you arrested.â€
The womanâ€™s right hand shot from its rein to form a lightning bolt of disgust. Dying roses against the wall of the house were visible under her raised arm.
â€œDo not,â€ the man replied, â€œever come back here again!â€
He whipped his stallionâ€™s hindquarters that were now facing the prioryâ€™s keep, the only part of a once hospitable place that time had yet to erode.
The Wrong Way