John Bunyan's Slough of Despond 2002


My new local town of Bedford was home to John Bunyan. The landscape of Pilgrim's Progress was drawn from his memories of walks in the area. We took a Sunday walk through the countryside up to Houghton House, now a ruin but once the "House Beautiful' of that book, the aim being to look down over Marston Vale, which Bunyan termed the Slough of Despond.

The vale now features a site of special scientific interest, the guidebooks and waysigns promise 'unimproved' (ie still beautiful) meadows. James, who has given most of his life to battling as a lawyer on behalf of the planet, was excited at the prospect. The path was well signposted. We followed it between a vast hedgerow - and came to a standstill.

The pathway was blocked by a trench ten foot deep and seven foot wide. A vast plastic pipe miles long was waiting to be dropped into it, while a service road has been cut along its side to service the process. Our walk was stopped. We were stuck in the 'slough of despond'. Bunyan was something of a prophet but I doubt he ever saw this happening to his valley. It was funny it its way.

And also sad. James took this moment to tell me something he had suddenly come to accept over the previous week. He sees the planet as headed for destruction and now believes that mankind will not take the requisite, drastic and immediate measures necessary to prevent it. This runs counter to everything his life has been about. The decision leaves him somewhat 'jaunty' though, he says ... it removes the need to take life so seriously. He compared it to coming to terms with terminal cancer after a diagnosis, rather than fighting it and hoping for a cure. The trick, I suppose, in the slough of despond, is to recognize the fact then aim to appreciate whatever beauty is around.

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