Bluebells on Lewesdon Hill

It’s that time of year again up on Lewesdon.

You can see why I call it Bluebell Hill.

We’re up bright and early. The sun already seems high in the sky but, still, the curtains are closed. Children are in a deep sleep before getting up for school although the cockerel has been crowing for some time inside his shed, shrieking: ‘Let me out, let me out.’

The grass is lush and long, enjoying its last days of freedom before the farmer comes along and cuts it for animal feed. There are ravens in the middle wood and curious cattle grazing in the morning sunshine.

Up on the hill, there’s no-one about but us, the beech trees and the bluebells. We crunch through paths of last year’s leaves and beech nuts, under natural arches – nature’s own cathedral – and glimpses of stained-glass views through the branches.

It’s a special spot. Especially now that May is here.

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Hark, is that winter tugging at my sleeves?

The breeze whips into my cheekbones and threatens to pull my face apart.

It’s cold up here on the hill.

Yesterday, in the top part of the village, there was a furious flurry of snow, which lasted all of twenty seconds. In the middle of the village it was sleet. Down here, where I live, it was rain.

After weeks of sunshine and warm weather, we’re going through a bit of a cold snap. It’s come as shock to those of us who have swapped boots for flip-flops and daps (that’s the West Country word for plimsolls, in case you didn’t know).

We need the rain, it’s true, but the cold? Brrr. No, thank you very much.

The air is rich with the smell of cow dung – a lovely aroma for a country girl like me who used to play on the dried-out dung heap in the yard when I was a child. The dung is flung (rather joyously, I always think) on the fields, far and wide. In our village at certain times of the year, you can’t go out of your front door without breathing in that unmistakable smell of rural life. Lovely.

On verges and banks, the bluebells are out in full battle dress. Up on the hill, the highest point in Dorset, there’s a few days of cooking still to be done before the flowers display their finery in that shy way bluebells have. Although, with this cold snap, who knows when they’ll appear.

It doesn’t stop parties of ramblers, families with flasks and old couples with dogs scurrying up the slopes, though, in the hope of seeing the flowers for which this hill is famous.

You can’t blame them, although every time I see an article or television programme waxing lyrical about this part of Dorset, I just want to scream and go and live in a Hobbit Hole.

West Bay is teeming with visitors, now that Broadchurch has finished its run. And the hidden spot where I had a birthday picnic a few years ago is now known far and wide as the place where Trish Winterman was raped. It’s a gorgeous place, Bridehead, and only those in the know (up until now) were in on the fact that parts of this secret garden next to the lake were open to the public.

Still, I’m as guilty as the next person in shouting out my adoration for this corner of the county. It’s hard to keep quiet about beauty such as this.

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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?