Friday was a beautiful, mild autumn day. I’d got my quota of words done by noon and had worked up an appetite that was only going to be sated by a plate of sausages; so I decided to take a walk across the fields to buy some meat from our local butcher. He has a farm about a mile away, perhaps a little further.
The weather here was topsy-turvy while I was away in the States - a hot early spring, followed by a cool, wet summer. We are getting used to this - or rather we are getting used to the unexpected. Very few years seem to conform to the patterns we thought we recognised years ago. Last year, for example, we had an accumulation of 22 inches of snow in November, with record low temperatures. We’d never had weather that severe, that early, in my entire lifetime. I do recall a huge snowstorm and bitter frosts in mid-December 1981 (which arrived just after I’d ripped out our heating system and had yet to install a new one), but November? Never. Anyway, one of the results of this year’s odd pattern is the behaviour of our ash trees. They are usually the last to come into leaf - I knew one high up in the Lincolnshire Wolds that waited until 18 June one year - and one of the last to shed. Not this year, hence the bare branches in the foreground of this shot, which looks across the fields I walk past en route to the farm shop.
I’ve been reading in the paper that people are remarking on the heavy crop of berries this year. Usually they roust out some old codger who puffs on his pipe and says that it’s a sure sign of a hard winter; but old codgers with a weather-forecasting bent seem less thick on the ground these days. Nevertheless, I was struck by the crop of haws on this thorn bush, and can only regret that I came home too late for the blackberries.
The farmer whose meat we buy has a number of sidelines. Part of his land lies on what was one of the many coal-mines that once dotted this area. Scarred it, you might say. He’s filled three or four hollows with water, stocked them with fish and has a thriving business. Anglers seem happy to pay for the privilege of fishing there. He also sells them equipment and has recently opened a café to cater for them. The thicket to the left of this picture is one of two large fields in which he has planted willow, which is due to be harvested shortly. It goes off to feed one of the power stations. He was remarking that since he planted it, three or four years ago, he’s seen just about every species of bird that might be expected to frequent these parts, including little owls. When I asked him what would happen after the trees were cut, and in the year or two before they re-grow, he said he’s thinking of leaving a strip uncut along the side of each field. Let’s hope he does.
Many of us Brits complain, long and loud, about our climate. But one of the great things about it is that the moisture and the general mildness allows for plant activity more or less throughout the year. It gives me great pleasure, this late in the season, to see four different plants within a few feet of each other, all in bloom:
Buttercup, may-weed, clover and dead-nettle.
My little jaunt was a splendid way of getting an hour’s exercise. I came home with a back-pack full of pork and leek sausages, sirloin steaks, and two huge marrow-bones which will be boiled up to make stock. The sausages? They never stood a chance.
I’m going to try and put up another posting shortly, an account of my first walk in the hills since I left Nebraska.