A hazy shade of spring here in Dorset

There’s a hazy shade of spring here in the village today, but still with a slight chill in the air.

Those wearing flip flops and shorts are pushing it. Although, on the sunny side of the street, it almost feels like summer. In fact, a small-boned girl on a low, fat pony has just ridden past in a short sleeved T-shirt.

Gangly teenage boys, whose voices are in the process of breaking, form a bundle on a trampoline in the garden of a holiday let, their voices going up and down, up and down and echoing around the village.

In the fields, there is a plenty of badgers’ muck, which the dog takes as an open invitation to roll in with great glee. She has never been so happy.

With dog safely on the lead, the sheep just bleat and baa as lambs go astray and then run back to mum, confident in the knowledge that they’d know her voice anywhere.

The rising sun shines on their backs, creating white outlines like silver linings on fluffy clouds. The horse chestnut leaves are big and brash, forming a perfect candelabra base for the emerging flowers.

There are bluebells in the hedgerows and on the hills, glossy celandines (a precursor to their more sophisticated sisters, the buttercups), emerging cow parsley (in my Somerset farming family we always called it gypsy lace), campions about to burst open, violets hiding in the hedgerows and the wonderful cuckoo flower marching across the meadow.

Leaves on the trees are beginning to stir, but they’re still not quite ready. The best is yet to come.

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Let the sunshine in

Mothering Sunday was like Easters of old.

Warm sunshine, a slightly cold breeze and Dorset’s beaches packed to the gunnels. They say that on the seafront at Lyme Regis it hit 17 degrees.

In the hinterland, our beautiful hinterland, it wasn’t quite so busy. You could escape the masses by shooting off up a footpath and being alone with your thoughts and with your dog. Or I could, anyway.

Twice a day I walk past The Sleepy Hollow tree, with roots which have wound their way into real life via an Arthur Rackham painting and a film by Tim Burton. It’s bursting to come alive.

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In the gardens, the daffodils are making way for tulips, peeping out of tubs, pots and borders. Wallflowers begin their glorious ascent into the most wonderful flower in the whole wide world, with a perfume like no other.

The grass in the fields is looking glossy, spring lambs are looking wary and the kiosks down at West Bay are looking to spruce themselves up in time for the season. It won’t be long now until the boats go into the harbour and men mess about in them.

Hope. It’s what comes this time each year. And it’s what we need right now.

 

Spring is here

After a muddy start, with moody, grey skies in a Devon seaside resort for a weekend break, spring is here.

My neighbour’s just fired up the lawnmower. Spring is here.

There’s a jackdaw nesting in the ash tree on the other side of the wall. Ravens are croaking, cawing a love call. Spring is here.

In the gardens and in Lidls, there are daffodils a-plenty, polyanthus in yellow, red, cerise and bright pink. Very gaudy. But it’s okay. Spring is here.

My wallflowers are out and the hellebore looks a picture. A picture of spring. Spring is here.

I can’t believe it. Blue sky in Somerset. A vivid colour in stark contrast to a yellow wall. Spring is here. Horses are racing, although the going is heavy. Isn’t it always? Not when spring is here.

There are bees and even butterflies. A few gnats buzzing above a farm gate.

Open-topped sports cars, small children without coats (their teenage siblings and cousins discarded them long ago. That’s kids for you) and fresh badger’s droppings for the dog to roll in. Spring is here.

It’s definitely here.

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A walk through Wordsworths’ Dorset

img_0555No sooner had February slushed its way in to West Dorset, the skies brightened to a glorious blue, the birds began to sing, and snowdrops, primula and daffodils woke up to say hello.

Even my wallflowers have started to spring open.

In the village, trees are being topped before birds have their wicked way with one another and decide to nest in the branches. There are sheep a-plenty in the fields and it won’t be long now before little lambs are skipping around, full of the joys of spring.

Up on Lewesdon Hill, Dorset’s highest point, the weekend brings out walkers with children and dogs and flasks of tea, or something stronger.

Mud clogs the gateways and there’s a strip of treacherous greensand that you mustn’t go near, unless you want to end up knee to waist-deep and lose your wellies in the process.

From Lewesdon you can see Pilsdon Pen, the cow to Lewesdon’s calf, despite Ordnance Survey insisting the former is the tallest at 279m compared with the latter’s 277m. Locals still don’t believe it. Why would you doubt what your parents had told you all those years ago? And who are those faceless people at Ordnance Survey with their new-fangled machinery anyway?

From from 1795 to 1797, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived in Pilsdon Pen’s shadow at Racedown. She loved it here.

“We have hills, which, seen from a distance, almost take on the character of mountains, some cultivated almost to their summits, others in their wild state, covered with furze and broom. These delight me the most, as they remind me of our native wilds.”

Of Broadwindsor, she wrote: “The place dearest to my recollection in the whole surface of the island.”

I’m with you there, Dorothy.

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February – what is it good for?

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February swished in with rain and slushy mud, closely followed by a cold snap which even included a light dusting of snow.

But, sadly, it didn’t last long. No opportunities for tobogganing down the field. Shame, that.

Rain on the plain in Spain has meant iceberg lettuces being rationed and small loans being taken out to pay for courgettes. What is Europe coming to?

In the faraway worlds of Tinseltown and La La Land (aren’t they the same place?), award winners and nominees are slagging off Trump as if he were the country’s worst-ever president. I couldn’t possibly comment.

The countryside of Dorset, meanwhile, remains constant, with the sheep safely grazing in the cold, old fields and the church bells pealing rather joyfully on Sundays and practice nights.

Planning for a big breakfast to raise money for the village hall is well underway and the search is on for a replacement for the village shop manager, who has been head-hunted to run the shop of a garage near Dorchester.

Agas puff away, chimneys belch out an aromatic smoke which reminds us of our primeval past and the streams and rivers ebb and flow with the tug-of-war rains, which are on one minute and off the next. Piles of cow dung steam in turnip field and a tree stump rises like a countryside totem pole in the hedge.

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The sun also rises.

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Roll on spring. But for Valentine’s Day, what on earth is February for?

The sun still rises in the east

Trump’s been sworn in and the reverberations are being felt all over the world. It’s as if Alderaan has just been obliterated. God help us. Although if the speech is anything to go by, He might be exclusively on America’s side. So we might as well invoke the Force for all the good it will do us.

Here in Dorset, the sun rises and then sets, as it does everywhere else in the world. For now at least.

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There is a real beauty in these crisp, winter mornings. Glorious skies, aeroplane vapour trails like firework rockets trailing through blue and grey skies and my shadow walking through the trees.

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There is drama in nature and drama in the village. Thieves target parked cars in the dead of night, stealing loose change along with more valuable items from garages. They return a few days later for another go.

A yellow helicopter circles overhead. It’s not the Air Ambulance or the coastguard or the police. It’s the electricity board. No wonder bills are so high.

A pair of jackdaws chase a third, which has a chunk of bread in its mouth from our bird table. They fly one behind the other, swooping and spinning, until they are joined by a seagull, far from its shoreline home. The orderly line falls into chaos, the first bird drops the bread and the jackdaws retire to the branches next door’s ash tree to regroup. The seagull yells its melancholy call and heads for the ocean.

The chip van chugs by to the next village and then returns an hour or so later as the people come out of their homes, pied piper-like, into the cold, pulled by the invisible string that is the smell of salt and vinegar, freshly-cooked batter and sausages.

Tonight it’s Spice and Rice night at the local pub. Time to drown our Inauguration Day sorrows with a pint of cider and a plate of curry.

Snow, the moon, the hunt meet and fly-tipping

As we enter the third week of the new year, the snow we were promised (or threatened, depending on your view of the white stuff) barely materialised.

It was a shame really, because a big old moon lit the morning sky, like a 1960s lampshade in the bedroom of a cool teenager. A dusting of thick snow would have really completed the scene. At one point during my morning walk, the moon was caught in the telephone wires.

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It tried to hide in the trees as the sky in the east turned pink.

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It wasn’t the only strange thing I saw in the sky. Two flights of seagulls flew high overhead in separate V-formations. I know my chiffchaff from my chaffinch, but I didn’t know seagulls ever flew like this.

In days gone by, I’m told the the field here used to be full of lapwings. Now it’s a common haunt of croaking ravens.

Just a few fields away, the hedge became the temporary resting place of a whole pile of junk. Fly-tippers. Don’t you just hate them?15826632_10154026190460974_4107117204907996619_n

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A local farmer discovered among the rubbish an invoice made out to man from Wiltshire. So our rural detective rang the man, whose car was being resprayed in a garage in Weymouth. The garage owner claimed scrap men had taken the rubbish the previous night but he didn’t have any contact details for them.

Then the rubbish disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. When the farmer rang the garage again, the owner said he’d offered his mechanics £10 to find and collect the rubbish. They did well in discovering it, bearing in mind the farmer hadn’t said where in the village it was.

Still, the maximum fine for fly-tipping is £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment, so a £10 incentive was money well spent by the garage owner.

Meanwhile, down in the village, the local hunt was welcomed with the stirrup cup and sausage rolls. But not before the horses had to make way for the bus to Yeovil doing its usual U-turn in the Square.

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