First day’s observations and enjoyment—rural
foot-paths; visit to
Tiptree farm—Alderman Mechi’s operations—improvements introduced,
decried, and adopted—steam power, under-draining, deep tillage,
On Wednesday, July 15th, 1863, I left London with the hope that I might be able to accomplish the northern half of my proposed “Walk from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s.” I had been practically prostrated by a serious indisposition for nearly two months, and was just able to walk one or two miles at a time about the city. Believing that country air and exercise would soon enable me to be longer on my feet, I concluded to set out as I was, without waiting for additional strength, so slow and difficult to attain in the smoky atmosphere and hot streets of London.
Few reading farmers in America there are who are not familiar with the name and fame of Alderman Mechi, as an agriculturist of that new and scientific school that is making such a revolution in the great primeval industry of mankind. His experiments on his Tiptree Farm have attained a world-wide publicity, and have given that homestead an interest that, perhaps, never attached to the same number of acres in any country or age. Thinking that this famous establishment would be a good starting point for my pedestrian tour, I concluded to proceed thither first by railway, and thence to walk northward, by easy stages, through the fertile and rural county of Essex. Taking an afternoon train, I reached Kelvedon about 5 p.m.,- -the station for Tiptree, and a good specimen of an English village, at two hours’ ride from London. Calling at the residence of a Friend, or Quaker, to inquire the way to the Alderman’s farm, he invited me to take tea with him, and be his guest for the night,—a hospitality which I very gladly accepted, as it was a longer walk than I had anticipated. After tea, my host, who was a farmer as well as miller, took me over his fields, and showed me his live stock, his crops of wheat, barley, oats, beans, and roots, which were all large and luxuriant, and looked a tableau vivant of plenty within the green hedges that enclosed and adorned them.
The next morning, after breakfast, my kind host set me on the way to Tiptree by a footpath through alternating fields of wheat, barley, oats, beans, and turnips, into which an English farm is generally divided. These footpaths are among the vested interests of the walking public throughout the United Kingdom. Most of them are centuries old. The footsteps of a dozen generations have given them the force and sanctity of a popular right. A farmer might as well undertake to barricade the turnpike road as to close one of these old paths across his best fields.