Dear Readers, when I was in Somerset last weekend, I decided to go for a walk along the hedgerow in Broadway, a village close to Ilminster. I have always been intrigued by these country paths – they hold such a mixture of plants and animals, and there is a kind of peace about them, a sense of their posterity. In this lane, for example, the level of the field is a good six feet above the level of the path, giving some idea of how it has been worn away over the years. The plant community at the base of the hedge is a splendid mixture of cow parsley and bluebell, bush vetch and stitchwort, cuckoo pint and nettle.
The hedge is hawthorn on one side, hornbeam on the other. It is tangled with honeysuckle and guelder rose. A tree has been allowed to grow at some points – this was largely as a reference point, for the days when people ploughed by horse. One of the trees is full of mistletoe.
As I got to the bottom of the lane, the path passes a small cottage. This, my aunt Hilary tells me, is where the village cobbler used to live. The road was named ‘Paul’s Lane’ after him.
I climb a dozen steps to look into the field beside the hedgerow. Here I see some creatures that I’m fairly sure don’t live in my half-mile territory back in East Finchley.
When I was a child, I visited Wanstead Park with my little brother and parents. While we were walking through the wood, there was a rustling in the undergrowth. I stooped down to see a rabbit looking back at me. And right there and then I fell in love, not just with rabbits but with a world that has such creatures in it. It never occurred to me that a humble city child would be able to see such an animal, in the wild. Blessings on my parents’ heads for taking me out into the few unspoilt places that were available in East London.
I still feel a little excited at the sight of a rabbit, even now.
The stream is a temperamental creature. At this time of year, she trickles along, bothering nobody. In a wet winter, the lower concrete part of the road is covered, and you have to use the upper bridge. Sometimes, even that is perilously close to being swamped.
It was raining now. I tramped on, wiping the raindrops from my camera, though not altogether successfully as you’ll see from the film. The sound of the rooks was loud in the still air, and there was a constant traffic of birds flying in and out. One bird stole a stick from an unoccupied nest, and headed off to his or her own. I wondered how long the rookery had been in place? In John Lister-Kaye’s recent book ‘Gods of the Morning’ (which I recommend), he tells of how the rookery on his land has been in constant use since at least the 1860’s. It will be here until some developer decides that the land is ripe for a crop of new houses, though the risk of flooding is maybe what has protected this little patch of ancient woodland so far.
I walk past the rookery, remembering my very first visit to Broadway fifteen years ago. I walked along this path with my husband-to-be and was amazed by the smell of green garlic. It was a warm day, and the scent seemed to rise like mist from the plants on either side. I had truly never noticed Wild Garlic (or Ransons as they are sometimes known), but I could not avoid their presence here. Today, they are in full flower. I wish they would invent a way of putting smells on the internet, so that I could share it with you. And what a boon it would be to recipe websites! But I digress. For now, we’ll just have to look.
The rain is coming harder now, so I head for home. It’s interesting the things that you notice when you reverse your direction. The first hawthorn flowers are bursting from bud in the hedgerow, and the ferns are unfurling.
As the rain patters on the hood of my raincoat, I find myself looking forward to a cup of tea, and an hour’s knitting. And, as I walk into the garden, I see one last rabbit, amongst the forget-me-nots. What a great way to end my expedition.
Dear Readers, since I took this walk in the lanes of Somerset, we have had a General Election. I believe that the party now in power is the most antithetical to the natural world that we have ever had . But this is no time to despair, for there is too much at stake. We will need to be vigilant, and vocal, and brave in defence of our communities, both human and non-human. We will need to work together, to learn from one another, and to listen. I do not know what our particular challenges will be, but I do know that we will need to be ready. Our rookeries, our rivers, our hedgerows, our ancient woodlands, our city greenspaces and our little patches of wild flowers, our badgers, our foxes, our rare spiders and our dragonflies will not protect themselves.