Sunday, 27 September 2009

Escape to the woods Sep 27

I had forgotten how deadlines suck time away like a black hole. It is too easy to get mired down in work and let the day disappear. As it was a working weekend, my outings have been fairly short and on Sunday it was a mere jaunt to the woods, before everyone was up and about. We appear to be having a bit of a drought; the winter wheat is poking its head up, but the earth is dust and stones.
The heart of these woodlands is where I find total peace; they are the remnants of ancient woodlands which used to stretch over the county until they were gradually cleared to harvest timber and make room for roads and agricultural land.
With the gradual onset of autumn, they are tangled and wild; there is witchiness in the air as I quietly tread the little footpaths. The morning is getting older, and from the outskirts of the trees I spy a village basking in the sun.
Knowing I have a workload to get through, I keep my walk short and find the grassy lane which leads me home.
Ahead I can just spot the exit from this magical place, which will take me back to the fields.
Somewhere in the bushes, his rusty wheels perfectly camouflaged against the autumnal hedges, lies Hercules and in the distance I hear the timeless chiming of church bells.
We rattle back to the village, pleased to have avoided meeting too many people and even more pleased to find the honesty table laid out. I buy a large cauliflower which is destined for something cheesy and hot, and drop my payment in the box.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Quick pootle Sep 25

The weather here is behaving like a remorseful friend who knows they have let you down badly and wants to make amends. After another poor summer and losing our tomatos to blight for the third year running, we are enjoying some blissfully warm sunshine. Despite having enough work to keep me busy all day, I am still making time first thing in the morning to take Hercules out for our regular spin. One of the prettiest spots is the old orchard on the corner of a road.

If this were ours, there would be no apples on the tree, they would have been harvested long ago. As I took these shots, the sheep on the other side of the road came bleating up to the gate, surprisingly bold and curious.

High point - watching three buzzards lazily surf the thermals, circling high over the woods.

Low point - rude SUV drivers. Please slow down and indicate if you are turning off; I break easily.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Hailes Abbey walk Sep 15

We have been having a holiday from home and indulging in some serious exploring and walking. Tuesday found us across the border to an area near Cheltenham called
Hailes Abbey. Though the abbey itself lies in ruins, what remains is preserved by English Heritage, and has a rich history. Our interests lay rather more prosaically in the five mile round walk we had planned. The weather was grey and grim, a blustery wind ripping the warmth from our cheeks, but there were still swallows bravely swooping low over the ploughed fields. We plodded along field footpaths, past a sleepy village, past two dead sheep and through a cluster of cottages which led us to the bottom of our goal.

The hill. It is a big hill. It is also part of the
Cotswold Way, a popular walking route which takes in many historic sites. Once we had left the path, seen below to the left, it was steep clambering up the grassy slope, stopping every so often to turn round and admire the views.
Even on a dull day, the Malvern Hills - the pale strips in the distance - can be clearly seen.

Nearer the top and along the route, a gorgeous old pile of a farmhouse, settled into the rolling fields with sheep grazing nearby.

Someone has cleverly sunk a little swimming pool into the side of the hill, and one can only imagine what it must be like to float about on a hot day, with the abundant views.
It was a trek and a half. At last I looked up to see Andy comfortably perched on the bench at the top and I blessed the person who had placed it there; it was dedicated to 'Pinky Dickins, who lived here for 26 happy years with her family and her horses'.
We gulped down watery hot chocolate from a thermos and cold sausage rolls, nosying at the doll's house sized country pile below, with it's black Labrador guarding the drive.

We enjoyed more views. I sighed for a wide angle lens.

Now we were back on the flat, walking along the top of our hill. Down a mercifully easy track...

...past a jumble of farm buildings, this hut traditionally held up by stone 'mushrooms' more properly known as
staddle stones, keeping water and rats out.

The lane leads to a wide series of fields, across which the wind whips fiercely; here are earthworks and a surprise - a newly planted avenue of trees. They march all the way from a lake at
Stanway House, just visible, a tiny grey block mid-distance...

...and they continued their parade up to the very field we were stood in, disappearing over the horizon. I was torn between admiration for such an ambitious project, and regretful that the bleak, bare beauty of Beckbury Camp had been interrupted and would one day be divided.

Past the earthworks, jutting up from the ground like the backbone of a long dead prehistoric

...and on to the copse of steely grey beech trees, locally known as 'Cromwell's Clump'. from where
Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with Oliver Cromwell) is rumoured to have watched the dismantling - or destruction - of Hailes Abbey. In a nutshell, Cromwell had compiled a report for Henry the Eighth, observing that the monastries, of which there were many in England at the time, were doing very well for themselves; maybe some of them could be closed, their lands and wealth seized and liberated to the benefit of the crown. Hence the Dissolution of the Monastries. Or state theft, as it might be regarded today.

Gusting winds have torn one of these old giants to the ground and whipped the trunks into contorted, outsized candy canes.

Overlooking Hailes Abbey and Malvern - wait for me, Andy!

The fields led to a little wooded track running along the side of a fruit farm, which would eventually lead us back to our starting point in Hailes.

Growing along the hedgerow we found, to our foraging joy, many plum trees laden with fruit. A few brisk shakes brought down showers of ripe plums, now simmering away to make pots of sweet, fruity chutney in time for Christmas.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cycle & walk Sep 12

Friday saw me winkled out of the Cotswolds and whisked to London, on a business trip. It was a very successful trip and the journey there and back could not have been more efficient; within 2 hours of leaving my meeting and travelling via tube/train/minibus, I was standing back in the village, breathing in lungfuls of clean air. As soon as I woke the next morning, I knew I had to get out and cycle the dirt from my lungs. Even at 8 in the morning, the village green was still deserted.
Now autumn is upon us and although we are blessed with a little
indian summer, the nights are chillier. We have heavy dews and low lying mists which burn off as the sun rises.
I cycled my usual 9 mile round trip to pick up the Saturday Times, and on the way back discovered a yard sale. I tried to resist, but Hercules turned his wheels and we investigated, coming away with £3.70 worth of treasures (which are catalogued here on 'Middle of Nowhere'). Later, after lunch, it was almost a summer's day and we headed across the county boundary to a
nearby estate, owned by the National Trust. We had a quick look at the old Ewepen barn, and the surrounding outhouses.

Cotswold stone loves the hot sun; it seems to soak it up and glow, with the famous warm 'honey' coloured effect. The little low stone sheds seemed dark, cool and empty...

...but there was Someone at home...

This is a broad, generous estate, and the footpaths
glide lazily alongside drystone walls and tilled fields.

Turning into a section of cool woodland, we found a hole-in-the-ground wasp's nest, its inhabitants busy whirring in and out on errands.

They were feeding on the juicy berries on this old yew tree; we were more interested in the pretty but sturdy bench which ran round the trunk. It was silent, except for the industrious hum of insects and the drowsy cooing of a dove. I briefly fell asleep sitting up.

It was a wrench to leave, but onwards we went. Autumn butterflies were out, having a last hurrah; Speckled Woods, Red Admirals and a gaudy Peacock.

Coming out of the woods, into the sweetly pretty village, we decided to extend our walk and make the most of the day. Here is the little Post Office, with its red letterbox in the wall and trim wisteria -

- and here some of the less grand cottages, still lived in, thankfully, by 'normal' Cotswolders; the blight of second home owners and holiday cottages will not reach here, protected as it is by the National Trust. To the best of my knowledge, the estate owns most of the housing and it is rented, not owned, ensuring that locals do not get priced out of the housing market by richer city folk desiring a weekend rural bolthole.

Past the village and over the bridge, where brown trout hide under the stone bridge, in shallow waters.
Trudging in the heat up a steep hill and turning into another footpath; curious young cattle grazing in the shade of spreading trees.
They were insatiably curious, and, harmless though they may be, I was very glad of the stout stone wall between us.
In the vast blueness, a buzzard cried its pweeling call.

By now we were wishing we'd brought more water and chosen a shorter route; beautiful though our walk was, my earlier cycle ride was creeping up on me and I was on my last legs.
The final part of our ramble was on the road, Andy speeding on ahead, as is his wont, disappearing into the distance. I hobbled along behind with my camera.

Sometimes things appear just when you need them. Hot, thirsty and out of energy, I found a yellow plum in the lane. Looking up, there was a wild plum tree, tantalisingly high up, with heavy, ripe fruit dangling far out of reach. The plum was dusty and had been chewed by a wasp. Nonetheless, it was manna. I picked off the waspy bit and enjoyed the rest of it, bursting with sun warmed, sugary juices and sucking the stone.

Further up the road, I chucked the stone into the hedgerow, hoping that maybe one day, in thirty years time, another plum tree would provide a tired walker with summer fruit.

High points - falling asleep for a few minutes and the plum.

Low points - being parched and too hot. But, mustn't grumble.
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