8 Apr 2016

8th April 2016 All walks are not equal!


Friday 8th 41-46F, 5-8C, variable wind, mostly overcast with showers forecast. Blowing to 25mph later. I walked by another way today, along an apparently unknown, and unmarked, public foot path. After a climb up the smelly lane, passing the magical portal between the trees in the hedge, the grassy track starts off on the level. Bending twice at right angles between high mixed hedges, it is often too puddled for other than proper, walking boots.

I try to avoid going there too often because it leads close past a solitary, former farmhouse with two large dogs. Not that I fear the dogs particularly, but one doesn't want to wear out their noisy welcome. Fortunately there was no sign of activity today and I could relax in my peaceful surroundings.  I even paused to capture the shed and the small farm pond. The house itself offers little of interest from the public facade nestled beyond the opening between shed and barn. The shed has mellowed wonderfully over the years, belying its fairly modern construction of corrugated fiber-cement roof and modern ship-lap boarding for the walls. The vines and moss add their own cosmetic charm to an otherwise mundane structure. I cannot say I approve of shocking white for the doors but taste is strictly in the eye of the beholder and who am I to judge?

The wildlife enjoys the peace and absolute rarity of walkers. In fact I have never seen footprints on the muddy track on the few occasions I have ventured along there.  At least the birds have plenty of cover until the hunters with their guns arrive.

There is something almost enchanting about the farm's isolation on a tree-sheltered plateau with splendid views all around. One does not even see the farmhouse until the final bend in the hedge. With its show-off chaffinches shouting down at me and shrieking blackbirds dashing away in fright at my unexpected approach.

After passing the farmhouse, with its typical square of barns and sheds around an enclosed yard, there is a very steep descent down to the village. The track is so deeply incised into the landscape that it might even be medieval given a fertile enough imagination. Who is there to ask? The narrow track requires great care here when it is frosty. As springs or run-off can easily form icy sheets. Though not today, in very mild conditions under a largely overcast sky, with only fleeting sunshine. Before making the descent I stop to snap some pictures of the village below and to peruse the foreshortened but familiar views through my binoculars. A narrow strip of brightly shining sea is just visible, far off to the west, from this uniquely high viewpoint with its wind-sculpted, leaning trees.

Reaching the bottom of the track brings the walker down to a quiet, gently sloping lane. With former farmhouses and the small lake fronted by a strangely distorted, half-timbered cottage with lawns leading down to the water's edge. Ducks rest on the banks in the unfenced garden and can easily plop back into the water if they feel threatened. The lake is shielded on three sides by trees and a tight tangle of bushes and dense undergrowth.  I was lucky enough to see a Moorhen today as it skulked in the overhanging willows which line the bank. Moorhens are not at all commonplace on my extensive rural travels. Several brightly coloured Shelducks cruised quietly across the lake as Mallards moved busily around the edges of the water. A smartly dressed hen plodded and prodded the neatly cut grass in the foreground. Rushing forwards to examine something which had briefly caught its eye.

The huge pig farm opposite the lake was quiet too, without the usual unpleasant smells or noise. I searched in vain for a Chiff-chaff, after hearing its familiar song, but there were far too many branches and it was well hidden and moving away. Coots interrupted the quiet with their short, abrupt call. Followed by uproarious laughter from the Mallards. Crows, rooks and magpies plied their way on important errands. Or simply stopped to survey the scene. While Blackbirds practiced their burglar alarm calls as I slowly progressed up the lane to the village proper. With frequent stops trying to capture the hill from which I had just escaped.

After several sharp bends in the lane, more former farmhouses and smaller houses are packed closely around the old church on its even older hump. Requiring a short, steep climb and later descent to take the shortcut past the main door guarded by the old, iron gate.  A Jackdaw explored an empty niche above the church door and settled in, oblivious to my amused curiosity. The grave tenders and grass cutters were not in evidence today.

Even the main road was fairly quiet as I headed gently uphill for home past the fairly recently planted, mixed species, roadside hedge. So many roadside hedges have been depleted it is a rare treat to see one actually planted from scratch. Though it will take a few years more before it becomes truly dense it is already a fine perch for many small songbirds.

Talking of which: You can safely ignore all my descriptions of Robins as being shy birds in this part of the world. A Robin was singing its little heart out from the topmost twig of our 10m, 30' high birch tree as I put on my boots and gaiters. It was still there, still singing away, on my return an hour and a half later. I think we had better add "contrary" to this particular rare and shy bird.

Now I have been fully wound up on coffee and rolls I shall head obediently for the shops like a good, clockwork, toy soldier on his shiny tricycle. False alarm. I have been reprieved until after lunch. A fierce wintry shower has just pretended to be rain, hail, sleet and snow all at the same time. I could easily have been out in that! The fields and tracks were wet enough already with countless puddles. The local farmers ought to grow rice if it ever gets warm enough. 

Left after lunch into a strong, gusty and changeable crosswind. Going well at first with 20-23mph showing at intervals. The partially finished roadworks between two popular shopping villages has grown two more long lengths of raised cycle paths/pavements. All well protected behind granite kerbs though a bit muddy in places from the continuing landscaping work on the verges. The multipurpose project is expected to be completed some time next year. Lots still to do with steep banks needing to be formed and firmed against future erosion. When it is all finished there will be an almost continuous cycle path on both sides of the road by the look of it. Which is a great improvement on the cyclist's former vulnerability with high speed traffic roaring past. There aren't/weren't even road marking to protect cyclists.

There does seem to be a lot going on in the area at the moment. One shopping village has had the cycle lanes machine swept for the first time in years. Optimistic archeologists and paleontologists were following on behind the machine in the hope that something interesting might turn up. I half expected to see a 'dig' being roped off but nothing yet.

All joking aside the clearing of the cycling "gutter" allows ordinary cyclist to use the de-marked cycle lane instead of being forced out into the traffic lane. There was so much mud, sand and gravel in places that the cycle lane was unusable except by experienced MTBers.

I even saw a police car parked opposite the school the other day. That was a first in living memory and an excellent bit of high profile policing. Hopefully a warning to the countless sociopaths who race between the busy supermarket entrances and past the Junior school. Timing is everything and there were still immature nutters racing past as I loaded the trike outside the three different shops today. Legs a bit achy again on the way back but at least the weather stayed dry. 15 miles.

Click on any image for an enlargement.


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