22nd July – A Village Ride.
As with all of my diary entries this one will begin with a mention of the weather – today is beautifully sunny and warm, a light breeze that gently rustles the leaves and a sky that is a mixture of cornflower blue and fluffy, banked, snowy fleece clouds on the hilly horizon. In the garden so many butterflies are dancing and fluttering from flower to flower in a frenzy of nectar feeding. The Buddleia is awash with Red Admirals, Peacocks and Cabbage Whites all flitting from one tiny flower to another as they work their way along the pointed purple panicles. The lavender is alive with bees and butterflies – the buzzing breaks into the silence with its busyness and urgency. A blackbird has found one of the dropped apples on the lawn and is feasting on the juicy flesh, throwing the remains of the fruit across the grass in his eagerness to get the most he can. Peeking and peeking he is oblivious to me watching him. Eventually he has had his fill and flies low across the lawn to the bushes beside the field. The pigeons continue cooing incessantly in the trees and only yesterday I realised that they have subtly different calls – some gentler and more delicate while others are somewhat raucous and harsh. The magpies have been conspicuous in their absence – perhaps the magpie feathers I found on the lawn have taught them a lesson and they are now more circumspect in their visits to the garden. The corn in the field is now a truly golden colour in the sunshine and the ears are bowed down as though in prayer. Like an immense field of worshippers the stalks stand erect and still in a silent gathering that stretches across the marsh to the distant trees that mark the ditch and field boundary. When I was in the garden earlier this morning there was a strange sighing sound that came from the field. Like a giant, fast asleep, breathing slowly and gently but with a plaintive sigh as he dreamed. It was nothing so fanciful or fairy tale like however. This was not a sound that would inspire a children’s story. The sigh was followed by a whooshing noise as a flock of sparrows rose from the wheat field and flew en masse into the garden bushes. There they twittered and cheeped until they again descended into the wheat. This tarantella of a formation dance was repeated over and over again to some pattern and purpose that only the sparrows knew.
The other day I needed to post a letter and I had missed the early morning post from the box in the village, and so I decided to ride my trusty old bike around the village to take my July photographs and combine this with a ride along the lanes to another post box where the collection is much later in the day. The village is gradually, as with many other places, returning to something that resembles normal. Down the lane that leads to a farm the sheep were quietly grazing the seeding grass, the occasional bleat echoed across the marsh lands; a sound that has echoed through the ages to past generations long gone who walked these lanes and worked this land. Those who lambed the sheep in spring, saw that the sheep were shorn in summer, “lookered” them to make sure they were safe in autumn, and sheltered and fed them in snow and ice, and bitter north eastern winds in winter. This summer’s day no human sounds, apart from the occasional clank from my bike, broke into the natural rhythms of birds and sheep. Across the wheat field the line of the canal was marked by trees, dark and foliage covered. The castle topped escarpment rose above the platter flat marsh like the rim of a bowl extending in a mighty arc around the landward side of this ancient land. As far as the eye could see the grass lands and wheat fields, in a patchwork of golds and greens, extended to the horizon of those blue distant hills of another county. I peddled away to the western edge of the village, past the houses in front of the church, stopping to have a quick chat with an elderly couple weeding their front garden in a kind of unison that only comes with that familiarity that marks a long relationship in which words are not needed. They chatted to me about the ivy that they were determined to dig out and their life of seclusion that had become a norm and that they were truly enjoying – they had no desire to return to a more hustled and bustled life. The fields opposite their home are wide and expansive, dotted with sheep and to one side a willow had fallen in some long ago storm and lay, somewhat picturesquely, across the grass gently losing its few leaves and no doubt providing a home to birds and insects. Nobody will remove it, nobody will “tidy it up”, it will stay there, gradually decaying in a natural way, and in the mean time it provides a pleasing focus and framing for one of my photographs.
Back on the bike, pictures taken, I head this time out of the village towards the sea. The lane out of the village is edged by deep marsh ditches, hereabouts called dykes. In these the reeds have grown tall and blue/green with the darkest chocolate plumes of feathery flowers that are just unfurling like flags that hang, ragged and droopy, waiting for a stiff breeze to fly free. In amongst them, standing tall, the red campion is topped with swathes of small cerise pink flowers. Soldiers buttons is the name my mother gave to these but it was, and still is, a mystery to me why they should be called this when the buttons on a soldier’s tunic were always metal coloured, not pinky red. Convolvuous, or Greater Bind Weed, and the bane of my life in the garden, is twining around the stems of the reeds, its arrow head shaped leaves an acid green and along the stems the purest of white trumpet flowers stand proud among the greenery of the ditch growth. Brambles stretch their sharp, spiked, trailing stems across from the field edges as though they are clutching and groping for a hand hold to bridge the ditch and chance to anchor themselves in the verge grass. Along their length the palest of mauve flowers in clusters, constantly visited by bees, promise a good crop of blackberries if only I can reach them. Around the corner and into the lane that leads me to the post box. Called Donkey Street – it has no Donkeys and it is far from being a ‘street’ in any modern sense of the word – it winds its way around right angled corners, between deep ditches and past fields of wheat, meadow and pasture, and most prevalently this year, field beans. I am annoyed with myself that all through ‘lockdown’ I didn’t take time to ride the bike this way for if I had I would have smelt the distinctive and fabulous aroma of the field beans in bloom. In the early evening, on a warm sunny day, the smell is heady and glorious, peppery but sweet and above all one of the most nostalgic of smells that can transport me back to my much younger days. But I have missed it and the beans stand drying in the sun. The verge, where it is lined by hedgerow, is a awash with potentially fruiting bramble. In other places the ditches are a mirror image of those that meander through the village; reed thick. Here too, the sounds of humanity are not invading the natural silence. Only the whispering rustle of the reeds, the cheeping and twittering of tiny birds hidden in the undergrowth, and the occasional croak of a frog are my companions. I am tempted to follow the lane for a while and see if I can take some pictures of the cattle that have appeared in one of the fields. Cows and calves, a striking white, and I suspect only there for a while, but that is a trip for another day. Once the post box has been reached and the letter duly posted I head for home. A slow progress because now I am stopping to take pictures of the distant views of the village and across, seawards, to the lone tree that stands sentinel in a mown meadow. Along this side of the road the verge is festooned with hogweed, docks, cow parsley and dandelions that have all gone to seed. The colours and structures of each and every one contrasts and blends in a pleasing whole. The rounded black/brown many seeded heads of hogweed stands tall and almost menacing above the more delicate umbelliferous cow parsley heads. The docks are a vibrant rusty red, spiky, and beaded with tiny shiny strings of seeds attached to minutely corrugated stems. A pernicious weed in the garden, here a beautiful highlight in a sea of green. Meanwhile the dandelion clocks are gossamer fine, ephemeral and short lived but magic in their delicate splendour. I have to stop beside the field that has been mown for hay. Firstly to take the last of my scheduled pictures to make up the last of the four views I photograph each month, but more especially because I want to take a little time to drink in the smell of the drying grass. That sweet, slightly dusty, grassy scent that is summer. That scent that brings back childhood memories of picnics in the hay field when we and my mother would take sandwiches and tea to my father and then sit among the grass and eat the food that tasted so much better than if we were eating it indoors at home.
Now I am homeward bound. A few more pictures – a view of my home and the church that I have never seen before and is only viewable now because the cottage on the corner has had its hedges removed. I can’t resist, it is so picturesque but not in a chocolate boxy way, rather it is quintessentially the Marsh and a typical Marsh village. Riding back into the village I know that things are getting back to a normal I am not sure I like in all of its manifestations. Motorbikes roar past me, a four track heads into the village taking up much of the road, and the constant sound of mowers, a distant airplane, and the noise of builders destroys the natural peace and calm that I have come to enjoy.