Thursday, September 25, 2008

Once more unto the breach...

Today was another warm sunny and almost perfect day in the centre of England. I wanted to savour the sun and the life around me today, so I did not hurry. The walk itself was not long but I took almost an hour to complete the circuit shown on the aerial photograph taken from Google Earth.

The first part of the walk is across the village football (‘soccer’ for my American readers) pitch. You might just be able to make out the white goalposts at one end. The very large building with three pitched roofs is a derelict warehouse. Originally it was served by the railway, which you can see running alongside it. The site of the village railway station lies just to the east. No road serves the warehouse, so it was left stranded when the railway closed.

My perfect day today was, rather paradoxically, punctuated by thoughts of war. The warehouse is now empty for a number of years after the railway was shut, it was used by the Ministry of Defence as a long-term store of emergency supplies for use in the event of a nuclear war (or so it was rumoured). When the cold war ended in the early 1990s (just after we moved to the village), the warehouse was emptied. In addition to this, the peace of the countryside was also disturbed about once every 10 minutes throughout the hour, as giant Hercules transporters, flew low over the field on their approach to landing at a nearby RAF station. The station is one of the most important air bases in the UK for transporting goods and troops to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is strange to consider how directly world events can affect such a tiny rural community.

The late sun of autumn has awakened the insect community alongside the track. The gloomy, wet summer was not ideal for our cold-blooded neighbours, so this late sun is welcome. Most butterflies completed their lifecycles long ago, over-wintering now as pupae buried in the soil or undergrowth. Some butterflies hibernate as adults and they will keep flying as long as the air is warm enough. However, flowers are scarce, so refuelling is difficult. The only butterflies I saw today were Speckled Woods. These delicate insects are only ever found in the sorts of habitats that suit their camouflage. The lighter speckles on the wings look like dappled sunlight and that is where you will find them, forest glades and overgrown paths where shafts of sun are filtered through the trees.

I continued up the section of track marked on the photo and then emerged out onto a stubbly field. Crossing over this, I then entered the pasture that I described in an earlier blog post ('Ancient and modern'). You can clearly see the ancient 'ridge and furrow' from the air and I always try and imagine the teams of oxen ploughing this land once a year, maybe 700 years ago. I suspect the ploughmen then were almost entirely unaware of the world events and politics of the Middle Ages. Back when these fields were shaped, the war between France and England raged for 116 years and the battle of Agincourt was fought and won. The village would have been very remote indeed from the events that shaped the day, except perhaps paying the taxes to fund a war that was not theirs.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Treading carefully

I have made the decision to widen my net a little for this blog and start to include other walks around the village, not just the railway track. The land around here is criss-crossed with public footpaths that run along what used to be farm tracks wide enough for a horse and carriage. Many of these tracks would have been the commute to work for the people who lived and worked here 50 or more years ago.

As I write now, the weather has closed in and we have returned to typical British grey drizzle. This morning when I walked, it was glorious autumn sunshine and for a few moments, the world was a simpler and wonderfully peaceful place.

My aim today was to get a little closer to the pair of Buzzards that inhabit a large old oak tree that sits about a half mile from our house, up a gentle slope. From our front garden you can easily make out these magnificent birds as they perch on a protruding dead branch. They have raised chicks here before, but I fear not this summer.

The red circle on the aerial photograph locates the Buzzard tree.

I approached the field from the east (right of the map). The broad band of small trees on the photograph must have been planted around 30 years ago, perhaps as shelter to nurture pheasants. I ventured into this dense vegetation with the aim of finding a short cut across. I quickly realised that this was a bad plan and emerged unsuccessfully 15 minutes later, scratched all over by hanging brambles. I did, however, find many deer prints in the mud in there and also the skull of a badger (blue dot on the photo).

Badgers are omnivorous (eating fruit, seeds as well as meat), which is reflected in their general purpose teeth. The large canine teeth are missing from my skull (original photo to follow) but otherwise it is almost perfect, if a little smelly. The large crest of bone on top of the skull marks the main difference from the skull of a red fox which is also a little more slender and dainty. There are a lot of badger setts around here and I will aim to cover them in a future blog entry.

When I retraced my steps and found a new route to the Buzzard tree. The bird obviously spotted me, or heard me, long before I saw him. By the time I emerged around a hedgerow I was just in time to see him take off and wheel around before flapping out of sight to the north. Time to hone my tracking skills a little more I suspect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First steps

Over the last three years I have not only failed to update this blog but I have failed to walk this path. That is shameful and short-sighted of me. The natural world and the changing seasons are what keep me sane, balanced and centred, and I need to keep reminding myself of that.
I was unsure how passable the track would be now with so few people using it, so I looped round and came onto it from the far end. The weak autumn sunshine shone this morning and the air was warm. However, after a summer of little sunshine and plenty of rain, the ground was very wet indeed underfoot.

The summer buzz had now gone and the walk was quiet. Harvest is just over and the landscape is changing fast as winter approaches.
The hedgerows are crowded with blackberries, haws, sloes and rosehips. I will remember to bring bags next time and return with some plump, succulent treasure for supper.

The track was over grown but as you can see from the picture below it is just passable if you can ignore the nettles and prickly bramble overhanging.

This morning was a first step. As I walk I know that my senses will start to sharpen once more and I will be able to describe the life around me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Returning and restarting

I am now back after a three-year gap. I intend to restart this blog soon, partly to finish what I started and partly to try and rediscover the sense of peace I achieved when I began in 2005.