Monday, 25 June 2018

For going out, I found, was really going in…

Yesterday – coupled with a developing desire to prove my brittle body once more able – the weather beckoned me far beyond the longing windows of home: with the high-cloud-shrouded sun at my back, and a sluggish breeze easing its surging heat. My first thought upon fastening the garden gate was of the church as objective; but primal instinct pushed me further – to revisit last year’s iterative ascent through Tysoe Hangings, and onwards to Upton House. With every initially uncertain step taken with conscious pain and caution, I crossed the main road close to Church Farm Court; eased my rucksacked self through the metal gate; and prayed that my body (and resolve) would be resilient enough. All I could do was walk, and discover if I could also achieve my heart’s desire….

Where, last year, there had been wheat, was now linseed (and where there was linseed – on the plateau beyond Sugarswell Cottages – I would find wheat): a four- to five-year rotation that seems increasingly fashionable and profitable. Sandy soil under this brilliant cobalt crop was beginning to fissure, though; and the meadow’s margins were dune-like in their desiccation. (Even in so sparse a crop, skylarks nested: their sweet purling such a soothing soundtrack.)

As I began to gain height, a kestrel sliced the air above me: its twin scything wings propelling it in a flight signalling, perhaps, some emergency, such was its rapidity. A buzzard materialized from the trees: its mournful call – as always – welcoming me and soothing my soul; reminding me of the many months of this enthralling natural world that I had missed.

I took the trail cautiously through the Hangings: one slow step after another easing my legs and lungs. Even here – where torrents usually flow – the surface was quite solid; and hard enough to have fossilized the delicate treads of muntjac and badger. That there was moisture yet below, though, was evidenced by the passage of uncertain horses: their skittish skids breaking through the supportive crust.

It was in the plateau’d field of oats beyond the Hangings that I first espied a male keeled skimmer, Orthetrum coerulescens – away from its usual damp habitat – leading me along the smooth brick-coloured pathway thoughtfully inscribed into the crop. Settling, waiting, then rising again at my approaching footfall, it was only at the intersection of the tractor’s cross-trail, just before Sugarswell Lane, that – bobbing and flitting above the seed-heads – this dazzling dragonfly left me to my own devices.

Across the road, another clear track; the blue-green riffling wheat good camouflage for a repeated relay of pruinose-blue-bodied guides. Only once did I spot a female (almost the exact colour of the compacted red soil); and only then because she tempted my latest escort away into the ripening stalks.

As has been revealed repeatedly on my rambles (and those of The Good Lady Bard), so many of the rights of way surrounding the village are currently overgrown: as unloved and unworn as Christmas-gifted socks. And yet the farm-workers of Upton Estate have gone out of their way to clear the pathways through their crops with the greatest of care – as here – even though it seems so few people take advantage of them (well, as anything but canine conveniences…).

The thoughtful replacement of a familiar stile (above Blackwell Wood) was also welcome – although many a time had I perched on its topmost timber (having arrived too early for Upton’s opening) to munch on a muesli bar and gulp down some well-needed water. Part of me therefore mourned its absence, despite the ease of access the new kissing gate offers to this creaky old walker and his supportive stick!

Just before reaching Upton House, a small herd of short-cropped ewes, panting in the heat, lay bundled against the openworked gate to catch the cooling breeze. They would still be there on my return: their lassitude then broken by a deep and distant bleating cry, muezzin-like, beckoning them to prayer (or to at least raise their ears momentarily).

Instead, this summons brought the growing wasp-like speck and sound of the Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance: soon hovering above me in its hunt for a safe landing. Eventually, a swarm of spiralling red soil-dust marked its safe descent. All I could do was wish that all would be well….

Passing Upton’s Home Farm, I upped a soporific raven from beneath an ash tree – its guttural, repeated bark of a laugh surprising me equally in return. I then descended via Spring Hill – the only tree-less crown of the Edgehill ridge, as seen from the Stratford-Banbury road; and therefore the provider, for me, of the most perfect panorama. In places, the familiar way faded beneath deep tussocks of grass (and flocks of marbled white butterflies). Even where a meadow (filled with eponymous browns) had recently been mown, any preceding boot-prints had faded to naught; the two further gates both overgrown with nettle and thorn. (My fingers still tingle where I failed to properly clear my way through… – a pleasant reminder, though, of a successful venture!)

Here, again, a buzzard rose: this one in a silent spire above me.

Beyond, a ridge-and-furrowed field of interwoven grasses – bearing all the hallmarks of having been trampled by careless cattle. It was hard not to trip over the warp and weft they had left: my weary legs now troubled more with the descent than the climb.

Returning through the linseed – noting how fortunate I was to catch this evanescent crop at its most glorious – I was circled by swallows reaping their rich sunlit harvest of insects; my presence no deterrence to their eager orbits. (The larks, though, were now silent.) St Mary’s bright wedding decorations also raised a smile; as did the closeness to home: no matter how hard and hurting each step became.

I knew I had walked too far for such a first long climb: my legs and neck screaming like the swifts above me. But achievement is a heady medicine (especially if lightly underwritten with opioids); as is the muzzled greeting and welcoming call of a somnolent feline.

My (perhaps foolish) desire fulfilled, I would rest: satisfaction flooding my limbs, and friend Felix bundled tight against my side, dreaming of pigeon pie….

No comments: