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.

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