Babysitting, Birds, Badgers and Back Home

I’ve been away. Some would say ‘away with the fairies’ and, surprisingly, I wouldn’t argue with that. However, I’ve really been away,  from home, from Exmoor and for the whole of last week. It’s been bitter-sweet – I was  away because my daughter and little grandson needed me and, without a second’s thought, I was there for them both but time away from the cottage is always hard for me to deal with. My daughter understands the passion I have for the place where I live – she understands that my life here on Exmoor is entwined with the land outside my windows and the home that I am so much a part of. My excuse is that I’m a true Cancerian in every aspect – a family loving home-bird who hates change but I  am a mother figure personified, in every sense, so  I toddled off for a week on the Wirral…but now I’m back and, as the song goes, I’m feeling good!

Arriving home I had to beat a pathway to my back door through exploding weeds which had, once again, shot up in my absence.  Turn your back and all that… but I decided to deal with those later. My garden had exploded too… a mass of colour which looked quite professionally planned on first glance but to my trained eye 😉 it’s all very haphazard and chaotic – just the way I like it. My stone and slate steps up to the main garden were covered in lilac blossom and my fingers itched to take the broom and begin sweeping. I always have a broom outside the back door because when I sweep – I think. I find it’s good therapy and very relaxing to take a broom and rhythmically sweep away, not only whatever is on the ground, but my own troubles and thoughts too. You see I am away with the fairies more often than I let on.

However, the rain we’ve had this morning (and it’s been torrential) has flattened out the scented geranium clumps, assisted the taller foxgloves in falling to one side and has probably drowned and washed away the seeds I’d planted in my raised beds yesterday. It’s still going on now but it’s all quite promising for this afternoon so onwards and upwards we go! Having been woken this morning around 6.30am by the dulcet tones of a lone blackbird, I opened my eyes and felt utter contentment. Then without further ado the song turned into panic-stricken cluck-clucking as an emergency was declared by the soloist outside the bedroom window. The dastardly magpie had probably struck again and was after the blackbird’s eggs or young. Magpies are notoriously naughty for attacking birds in the garden. They’ll think nothing of taking out a blue tit or two and even took several leaves of a little gem lettuce from the bird table the day before yesterday. I’d only just put the leaves out thinking that the finches may have a peck or two from them. I turned my back to peg some washing on the line, came back down the steps and the leaves were gone! All of them… vanished into thin air. Needing to know who had taken them in such a short space of time, I replenished the bird table and sat by the kitchen window to watch. Down came the magpie and off went the lettuce, dangling from the magpie’s beak, like an extra wing. With no trouble at all, it took the lot – perhaps it had a nice three bean salad to go with it for lunch that day, who knows?

I was sat planting radish seeds yesterday when to my amazement the chattering of a swallow made me look up. It was very loud and very close by and I turned my head towards the sound.  Behind me, sitting perched on my bean poles, was a lone swallow. It was about four feet away and it continued to chitter away as I watched it, watching me. Swift as ever, the clever birds were diving for small insects as I turned over the earth and were working in close proximity to me, following me up the paddock as I worked in the beds. I must have been slacking in my work for this one to sit, waiting on my bean pole struts, for me to turn the soil once again. In that moment, it was  so good to be home.DSC00593

After planting out some of my home-grown herbs, filling gaps in my banked-up flower bed where I’d thinned out the lungwort, I thought I’d wander down across the fields towards the woodland. The sun was out, it wasn’t too warm as the breeze was chill but it would do me good to be upright instead of bent over on my knees tilling the earth. I’d grabbed some crackers and cheese, an apple and some fruit pastilles and was gone before anything could change my mind, like the housework, more weeding… ironing even.

Since I’d been home I’d already reaffirmed my connection with this special part of the world, so I’d already been walkabout. I needed to feel the ground beneath my feet, the air on my skin and the sun on my back. However, the most important job to be done was to cleanse my necklace, bracelet and rings in the clear waters of an Exmoor river and that couldn’t wait, hence the hurry to be out and about.

This wander would take me down to the woods where we know there to be a new badger sett. It’s at the bottom of a meadow-like field, on the edge of the wood and we’ve had our eye on it for some time. There has been excavation going on for some weeks and, little by little, the hole leading to under ground has become larger and wider. Now, around the entrance, there is a wonderful mound of earth with small stones and rocks that you’ll find anywhere if you dig around these parts. Even my garden is full of them and it’s a bane when you’re trying to plant something quickly. Northmoor Woods 2It was here that I was headed – not a long walk but long enough to appease my appetite for being out on the moor and to work up a foody appetite too.

The walk down to the woodland had always inspired me to stop awhile, take in the breathtaking view and revel in the fact that I live here and, unlike the unfortunate visitors to Exmoor who have to return home at the end of their stay, I simply have to walk (maybe trudge) back up the hill and there I be. I have never taken for granted the fact that I live here, because I know how blessed I am.Hinam Valley 3

Lush fields took my feet towards an ancient hedgerow where a makeshift stile helped me over the obstacle. A wren called out with its huge song as I stepped up and over into the next field but I still listened as I walked through a meadow of wild flowers and grasses. Yellow buttercups, cuckoo plant, blue speedwell and tufty balls of red clover all sang to me as I wandered the outskirts of this friendly expanse of green.

I could see the woods now – tall fir trees reaching to the blue sky above but flanked by old beech trees, full of leaf now and swaying in the breeze. They shushed and hushed in the gentle wind as I approached them. It’s a sound that fills my ears most days as my own garden is edged with beech trees. Without pulling back the curtains, I can usually tell what weather is waiting for me outside, simply by listening to what the trees are imparting with their voices.Barle River Misted

From here I could see the river, far below, meandering along. I knew that there would be walkers enjoying the pathway alongside it, yet they had no idea that I was up in the wood that day. I wanted the badgers to have no idea I was there either, if that was at all possible. I wanted to sit above, but downwind of the sett and this meant that I had to pass it via the woodland. I skirted wide through the trees, after using a sturdy, wooden gate to enter the woods. From my viewpoint I could see that the entrance to the sett had collapsed but on the other side of a low fence, another entrance had been dug. Again, there was a huge mound of the tell-tale earth, complete with small stones, outside the opening. I was pleased to see this as it showed the badgers hadn’t abandoned their home but had simply patched it up and made good of it. This must surely be a good place for them to make their home – woodland, fields and safety. There were trails to and from the sett, a gap in the fence where the ground had worn flat, giving them access to and from their home. All the signs were favourable and even if I didn’t see them today, then I knew they were in residence.

Back in the field once again and finding a good position, I lay belly down on the soft grass. With my camo coat on and a netting camo cover for my face, I was fairly well hidden. As nothing was about, I thought I’d eat my make-do lunch and settle down for an hour or so. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect to see anything that day but the temptation to sit for a while and bring my thoughts together had been too much of a lure. What better way than to spend a couple of hours, taking in the silence and the peacefulness of the countryside after a week away, looking at roof tops and dealing with clogged roads.

Sitting watching the sett with hope in your heart that a badger would appear was quite exciting! As I waited a cheeky jay bounced down onto a nearby fence post, bold as brass. I’d seen it before in this neck of the woods, several times but today its plumage was vibrant against the backdrop of dark fir trees. It bounded backwards and forwards from floor to post for several minutes and then was gone.

The sound of twigs snapping on the woodland floor hit my ears. In the stillness of the day, this simple sound could be heard loud, sharp and clear. No wonder the red deer can pick us out when we’re trying to creep about, thinking that we’re being the world’s best stalker! I wondered if it were red deer approaching to feast on the newly grown grass in the field – a usual spot for them to come and feed. Keeping my head down I waited and watched but nothing appeared from out of the trees – a pheasant then, perhaps, making my heart beat louder.image

A couple of evenings ago I’d made my way down here to sit and watch. It was barely dusk and I’d only come out for a quick wander with no intention to stay. But Exmoor does funny things to you and it urges you to wait a little while longer, then a little while longer still… until it’s time you were off and away and in your bed. Today, however, I needed the solace and was happy to stay and let the day pass me by. Raising my head a little to move  slightly, I noticed something move in the entrance to the sett. Holding my breath I strained my neck as far as I could without causing too much disturbance and, there, poking out of the expansive entrance was, not one but two badger heads. There truly wasn’t much to see and, to be exact, it was only half their head on view but I was mesmerised.

Glued to the spot I revelled in the fact that I’d seen them! Not that I hadn’t seen badgers before but these were special. Special to the land around the cottage and I’d witnessed their presence. I couldn’t tell whether they were adult or little ones but they didn’t venture any further out than what I’d seen. Waiting that hour and a half had been so worth it. It was all I needed and now I had the problem of creeping away, stealthily, backwards and uphill, so as not to scare them.

Having extricated myself successfully from my hidden position, I found myself smiling like a Cheshire cat all the way home on my return journey. I really did feel like the cat who’d got the cream! It’s as if I had a secret that nobody knew about and I really did feel like hugging myself tightly. It’s silly, I know, but it’s moments like that where Exmoor comes and wraps its own arms around you and makes you feel really, really special. How lucky am I to live here? How privileged am I to bear witness to such a simple pleasure?

But, as I always say, it’s a simple pleasure like this that brings me so many smiles and that’s what makes my day. You have to go out to see, go out to find – otherwise you’d miss moments like this. It made me think… maybe I should have ventured further afield, when I was away last week because everywhere holds special moments – if you take the time to look.

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