I am sitting on a hillside in deepest Worcestershire hoping for a quiet evening after a busy day researching my book. The sheep in the fields around me have other thoughts and are ‘baaing’ everywhere. This hasn’t been helped by a farmer arriving to inspect his flock and, as a result, they all seem agitated. In the stillness of the air their calls are echoing around the small valley with quite an intense volume. Gradually they seem to be settling down and getting back to their grazing. Not that there is much to eat. The field that I am in was knee high with grass back in the spring and now it is a pale yellow-green; very dry with deep wide cracks in the drought affected clay soil. This particular field is too undulating to be cut for hay so the grass must have been filling sheep stomachs over the past few months. It is almost becoming hard to tell from a distance which fields are corn and which are grass as everywhere is so yellow. Potato and maize crops still look as though they are able to draw upon enough deeply buried water to maintain their foliage looking still quite healthy.
The nearby cider orchards in which I am camping for a couple of nights feel a different world. The deep pink/terracotta clay soil is still cracked dry, but the rows of trees and grass in look surprisingly luscious. I took a barefoot walk earlier between the trees and it was like walking on a soft cool carpet. The grass had not been mown for a while and wasn’t dry as elsewhere. The trees looked green and healthy too with a reasonable crop of apples forming. There must be more dampness deep down in the earth here with the trees helping to shade the soil. Nevertheless, they must still be drawing up a lot of water for fruit formation.
The two lines of poplars my father planted seem incongruous in the landscape. Two long rows of maybe fifty trees each are a deep dark green against the yellow pasture. Their job was to shelter the apple trees which were erased from the landscape long ago are now only a distant memory for certain people.
I’m back in the car now, refreshed after a cup of coffee and a few chocolate biscuits. I had to have quite a few because they had all stuck together in the heat of the sun on the car. The sun is setting over the hills directly in front of me and there is a clump of midges flying nearby. Apart from the sheep there is total quiet. Oh, there might be an occasional distant dog, pigeon cooing, tractor, bird… otherwise nothing.
Had a good walk, here are some highlights:
* Found myself explaining why I was walking right past someone’s house not knowing that the footpath had been closed. Had friendly chat with owner
* Following a footpath sign that led right into an eight foot high impenetrable hedge.
* Discovering an enormous tree in the middle of nowhere which at first I though was a mature oak. Then I saw fruit growing on it. No idea what it was. Possibly a pear
* Walking barefoot in the apple orchards
* Walking though a field of 6ft tall thistles
* Noting down all the wild flowers, butterflies and birds I saw
* Finding several intriguing natural things that would be useful inspiration for my book
* Seeing dragonflies in the orchards
* Crossing a rather unstable wooden bridge with a 12ft drop below
* Wondering why a farmer had ploughed along the edge of a field of oats in, what seemed to me, to be an unusual way. Why go down one way, the come back the other so as to form a ridge of soil?
* Seeing what looked like two peregrine falcons
* Walking through a old unimproved pasture on the side of a hill, too steep to cultivate, and admiring the wealth of grasses, flowers, butterflies and grasshoppers.
The sun has set, beautiful salmon coloured clouds. A breeze has got up. Will not sleep on grass tonight, will stay in shelter of car. A hare has just walked across the grass in front of me.