Photo: Andrew Kötting
By MICHAEL CAINES
"on the third day I satisfied my hunger by eating the grass by the road side which seemed to taste something like bread . . . I remember passing through Buckden and going a length of road afterwards but I dont reccolect the name of any place untill I came to Stilton where I was compleatly foot foundered and broken down . . ."
John Clare, when he wrote these words, was recalling a time when he had been between ayslums. That was in the summer of 1841. Escaping from High Beach, the private asylum in Epping Forest to which he had gone voluntarily a few years earlier, he had headed north, in the belief that Mary Joyce – his "phantom bride", Iain Sinclair has called her, "already buried in Glinton churchyard" – was waiting for him.