Walking with Edward Elgar

Walk Five - Bringsty Common

The image at the top of the page shows Bringsty Common and the Malvern Hills backdrop where Elgar would walk with George Bernard Shaw.

The stage for Three Maestroes

Falco Subbuteo is the strangely apt scientific name of the elegant Hobby. Surveying the 285 acres of Bringsty Common from his old crow's nest, this moustached marauder catches dragonflies with his feet before transferring them to his beak. Because he floats, accelerates and swoops on small birds, John Dryden's 17th century verse "Larks lie dared to shun the Hobby's flight" betrays the skylark's special dread. Even a caged bird is prey to a dash through an open window.
The Hobby's favourite perch is probably a tall conifer rather than the mighty oak 40 paces away from the start of this easy family walk. The Gospel Oak marks the meeting of Linton and Whitbourne parishes, and passages of the bible were read here during the Rogationtide ceremony of "Beating the bounds". Headed by the vicar, perambulations around other landmarks such as 'liberty' stones and public houses, might involve ducking children or bouts of drinking for their parents to help them memorise the borderlines.

The back room of Gospel Oak Cottage was sometimes used for church services, but in fine weather they were conducted under the tree itself.

There used to be a lot more trees on Bringsty Common overall, and the perquisite of 'pannage' gave people the right to pasture swine in the forest; by eating beech-mast and acorns, the pigs would keep the woodland open by clearing the undergrowth.
No doubt all this would have been imparted by Sir Edward Elgar to his friend George Bernard Shaw, the playwright and former music critic, on one of their strolls around the common.

Shaw, humble in the company of the English gentleman whose "art was greater than his", remarked that he could "talk about every unmusical subject on earth, from Elizabethan literature to pigs".

Elgar’s Enigma Variations took Shaw's breath away” and he was "the greatest composer of a symphony since Beethoven”. Indeed, it was through Shaw's inspiration and encouragement that Elgar completed Pomp And Circumstance March No.5; it was also Shaw who persuaded the BBC to commission the Third Symphony in 1932 - eventually completed by Anthony Payne in 1998 (!)

Elgar’s The Severn Suite is dedicated to Shaw and he was a great champion of the playwright’s work produced at Malvern in his later years.

Better known for cycling aboard "Mr Phoebus" in his tweed suit, Elgar was nevertheless a keen walker. Life in the countryside and the backdrop of the Malverns were innate companions. British Camp is the setting for the cantata Caractacus (see Walk Five), and sitting on the bank of his beloved Teme beneath Ankerdine Hill, somewhere over to the right from our point 2, he orchestrated his oratorio The Dream Of Gerontius.

Our delightful walk takes us past the two-storey wing which was added to picturesque Longlands (at 3) in about 1700 and the farm, with its medieval ponds, was purchased by Edward Bickerton Evans in 1860.

Evans had made a fortune in vinegar and orchestrated the building of Whitbourne Hall as his family seat. Based on the style of the Greek Erechtheum, it can be seen from several points on the route.
Back up on the common, a Branded Demoiselle dragonfly has been recorded in splendid isolation, three miles away from its and Edward Elgar's favourite habitat on the river Teme. The spot is potentially a perilous one if encountering the habitué of the area with both a moustache and a beak.

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