Bugwoman on Location – Somerset

IMG_2075Dear 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.

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Cuckoo pint

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Bush vetch

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Greater Stitchwort

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Bluebells, greater stitchwort and dandelions

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Rough Chervil. Or Cow Parsley. I should have checked the leaves….

A symphony in green

A symphony in green

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.

Mistletoe in one of the trees that have been allowed to grow in the hedge.

Mistletoe in one of the trees that have been allowed to grow in the hedge.

A tree that's been allowed to grow in the hedgerow - maybe a ploughing mark?

A tree that’s been allowed to grow in the hedgerow – maybe a ploughing mark?

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.

IMG_2197IMG_2189 (2)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.

IMG_2181Just next to the field is the stream. There is a corner of unspoilt meadow there, too small to grow anything on. It was a riot of forget-me-nots and cow parsley and wild garlic.

IMG_2144The 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.

IMG_2141I looked up and down the stream in the hope of seeing a kingfisher. It seemed like a perfect place for them, but today it was not to be. Maybe another day.

IMG_2140IMG_2142Now, the path enters the wood. Already, through the trees, I could see the distinctive nests of the rookery.

IMG_2167It 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.

A Somerset footpath. Look at all that wild garlic!

A Somerset footpath. Look at all that wild garlic!

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

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.

The darling buds of May

The darling buds of May

The unfurling of fern

The unfurling of fern

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.

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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.

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10 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Somerset

  1. Jill

    How evocative of a wet walk in the countryside! So much to see, smell and delight in. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Anna

    I occasionally spot rabbits on the Vale of Health, but they’re always good at hiding as soon as they’re aware of humans. When I was a kid there used to be rabbits in Holland Park, but mixamatosis did for them.

    Everyone else always seems to see wild garlic, but I never find it! (it probably doesn’t grow on Hampstead Heath…)

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I wonder where all the London rabbits have gone? There used to be a huge warren in Wanstead Park, but it suddenly disappeared, myxomatosis again I suppose. I can’t believe that there aren’t any in Richmond Park. Maybe I need to go and have a look ….

      Reply
  3. Laurin Lindsey

    Thank you for sharing your walk through the hedgerows and country paths. There is nothing quiet like a walk in the English country side. I first fell in love with the little lanes that separate the fields in Cornwall. The diversity of plants is amazing. I love watching wild rabbits. I have a friend staying here for a few days, who was born in London, she is showing her niece, who is visiting the states for the 1st time around Texas. We did talk a bit about how sad the election is. I agree we can never give up doing our part to save the planet from ourselves. I wish there was a way I could take politicians one by one and show them how amazing nature is! A few weeks back I was reading another blog that you might enjoy http://frustratedgardener.com/2015/04/16/wonder-walls/
    I would love to offer you a cup of tea!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Oh, thank you Laurin….a cup of tea would be most welcome if I’m ever in the US. I’m off to have a look at the blog you’ve linked to….

      Reply
  4. gailp955

    Dear Bug Woman, thank you again for another lovely piece. And I now know what the little white flower I see so much of is called (Greater Stitchwort) and why there are lone trees in the hedgerows. In my home part of Somerset, at the end of the Mendips between Wells and Shepton Mallet, we have more jackdaws than rooks. I love them, they gurgle down the chimney pot to me (as I choose to believe) when I’m sitting at the end of the cottage on my laptop. They are so mischievous. We have a kingfisher in the village, dippers and otters, although I haven’t yet been lucky enough to see an otter. Like you, I love rabbits and my day ends well when we see them in the late sunshine, walking the dogs up the back fields at the end of the day. Although there are many glorious and wonderful things about London, I’m very glad to have moved down here, where there is less ‘press’ and more time to see, value and learn about all the myriad things that make life what it is.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Gail….I am determined to catch up with a kingfisher one of these days. There is a breeding pair in Regent’s Park, of all places. I will need a lot of patience, I think. And the quietness and slower pace of the country is a very good thing, but, as a lifelong city person, I do wonder if I am permanently in need of the hectic pace and the overstimulation. Time will tell 🙂

      Reply

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