While going through some photos I took in 2005 while in the New Forest, I realized that I seemed to instinctively take photos of things that looked an awful lot like places in East Coker.
I was in the village of Lyndhurst, a short drive from Brockenhurst and about an hour’s walk from the tiny hamlet of Minstead, which I visited while there.
All along the walk to Minstead, I had this strange feeling that I was going somewhere important, but couldn’t place why the things I saw along the road made me feel this way. It seems that walking all the way made it sink in that much more, and by the time I got to Minstead I felt something of a letdown when it wasn’t what I was expecting- whatever that was. The whole trip- like so many trips I took while in the UK- was tinted with a strong feeling of true deja vu.
While the photos I took are hard to tell from coincidence because there are many villages in southern England with similar details, it’s still interesting that I’d take pictures of these things while feeling the vague sense that I was looking for something familiar.
The first possible coincidence is in the names of churches. In East Coker, there is a St. Michael’s church. While it looks different, there is a St. Michael and All Angels Church in Lyndhurst. All Saints Church in Minstead looks vaguely similar to St. Michael’s East Coker with its squarer bell tower (at least, it’s the closest thing in the general area).
Now here’s an interesting one. In East Coker, the cemetery has this peaked wooden lychgate in front. On the road to Minstead, I passed a similar lychgate. But the real twist is in the dedication: “Lest we forget: 1914-1918.” An interesting coincidence indeed, though these types of gates are extremely common as are monuments to the first world war.
Of course, thatched roofs, while sort of rare, are most common in southern England, so it should come as no surprise that a well-preserved village like East Coker has them. And being a tourist, it should come as no surprise that I took photos of thatched roofs I saw on the road to Minstead.
Then, of course, it should also come as no surprise that the narrow tracks leading to East Coker are similar to those leading to Minstead.
Still, I’m left wondering if these places I gravitated toward- without the benefit of a Fodor’s Guide or anything more than vague guesses as to where to find whatever it was I was looking for- were really part of some subconscious memory of a childhood in an English village, or just luck that I stumbled on a few villages that had a similar feel.
This isn’t the extent of coincidences in the photos I took in England. For example, a photo from 2003 which I haven’t scanned yet shows this monument in Richmond Upon Thames (not my photo) outside St. Mary Magdalene’s church, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Boer War Memorial in Hereford, where I believe I saw Lord Kitchener’s famous poster. And once again, this is a common style of civic architecture so the fact that I photographed one like it doesn’t prove anything. Interesting to note, though, that the monument in Richmond was only a few yards from the tiny, old-fashioned shop which served as our de-facto campus book store, so I passed it regularly, just as I might have passed a similar monument in Hereford.
It’s all so vague and circumstantial, but I can’t shake the feeling that I really did know what I was looking for the whole time I was in England, and I was always very close to finding it but never did quite manage. I want desperately to go back now, actually travel to these places I missed last time I was there, and see if I get anything more than the looming, at times overbearing sense of deja vu I get from clicking through Google Street View or from traveling to similar places.
“Maybe if I was actually there…”, I keep telling myself. Maybe if I was actually there…