Along the Lane and Over

With a lull in the weather and a pretty clear day ahead, a wander somewhere off the beaten track seemed to be the order of the day. So, with lunch and a small flask already packed up and stowed away, we set off across the fields above Dulverton. Being lucky enough to have the freedom of the surrounding fields, we’ve found innumerable places to rest, watch and ponder. Today, our feet have taken us along the damp, shiny tarmac to a gateway that creaks desperately when it’s opened. It’s always made such a noise and it seemed an intrusion into the quiet of the countryside as we closed it behind us.

Through the gateway and across a rutted track with beech hedgerows lining each side, we take a glance to the left and right. If we’re quick, we’re usually able to see around 10 or so rabbits grazing close to the hedgerow.  If they’ve hopped off before we set eyes on them, the tell tale movement of the longer grasses let us know they’d been there. Over the muddy track we come to yet another gate. Now this gate has been here forever; it is wooden, misshapen, and has been repaired on more than one occasion. It functions well though and does the job it is there to do, namely keeping the lambing sheep from wandering the lanes. In the summer months this particular field is full of wild flowers and grasses, being free of sheep. Swallows will dive and dart low above the growth during this time; they are amazing to watch as they make their high pitched call to one another. They are nigh on impossible to photograph with our limited equipment. Today, though, the grass is being grazed by the ewes and their offspring.

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We skirted the field alongside a line of tall beech trees accompanied by one or two rabbits, which were brave enough to venture out during the late morning hours. They scampered and hopped away as we approached, waiting until their patch was no longer being trampled on by strangers. Through the beech trees to our right, there sits another field, adjoined to its neighbour at the top and bottom. It is a haven for bird life and we’ve sat for many hours in a top corner, waiting and watching the many birds as they go about their daily feeding rituals. A favourite to spot is the little olive brown chiffchaff. We can always hear it with its unmistakable ‘chiffchaff’ call, but it’s never quite that easy to see as it flits from branch to branch. Today there was the continuous, warbling, trill of the skylark to be heard high above us as we wandered. Skylarks will always evoke childhood memories for me, as I remember walking carefully across fields with my brother, eyes on the ground, looking to avoid the closely concealed nests with my little feet. Alternately, my head would be thrown back, gazing into a cloudless sky, trying with all my might to spot the soaring little brown bird, as it reached us with its song.

Coming to the bottom of the field, we climbed a secured gate, overgrown with brambles and ivy. Deciding to take a path to the left, we walked diagonally through a scrubby, patchy field using tracks which criss-crossed through thistles and tussocks of grass.  The muddy, narrow tracks made by the many wandering sheep over the years, made our crossing easy.  However, today, this patch of land was sheep-free and empty. We weren’t harming anything by using the track and it saw us making our way downhill towards a gap in yet another line of beech trees, atop an ancient hedgerow. This has to be one of our favourite places to stand and take in the view before us before we moved off again. Wide open rolling fields and pasture land, woodland, combes, far-reaching farmsteads and the wildlife. We were looking towards Dulverton and a main thoroughfare in the distance and there is always so much to look at. Over the years we’ve seen the same view change with the seasons – taking on a life of its own as it blends spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter back to spring. It’s a view that we never tire of whether we’ve stopped for a quick rest leaning on a gate or have settled down for our al fresco lunch. To see and to feel the openness of the ever changing countryside before you, the wide open skies, whether blue or grey, above you, is a feeling that is so good to experience. Up here, the smallest sound is amplified and it does your soul good to sit and listen for a short while. To listen to the tiniest sound of the wildlife inhabitants around you, the song of a wren, the mew of a buzzard soaring high above, but to also listen to the silence that punctuates the noises of the countryside.

Filling our lungs with Exmoor air, we wandered further down having crossed through the gap and into another lush field. At the bottom we reached an ancient banked hedgerow where the gnarled, twisted trees were covered with emerald green moss.  Along this bank is an extremely handy stretch, free of trees and hedging. We’d really been strolling along taking our time and this was our lunchtime viewing point, with hot tea from the flask and our ham and mustard rolls making an appearance. As we sat, with the best view in the house stretching out as far as we could see, we chatted about how we always return to the same spots and how fortunate we were to be able to do so. Away from the  lanes, and away from the usual walking routes.

With an apple to see us on our way, we followed the edge of the field and walked for half a mile or so dipping downwards on a muddy track. We have horses above us, rugged up against the weather and curious sheep to the right. Following a small brook through yellow gorse covered land we eventually crossed the tumbling water and turned right. In the very near distance we spied a stunning looking fox that didn’t look that perturbed to see us. It was perched on a mossy, cushion of grass, looking this way and that but fixed his eyes on us as we approached him. Without a trace of hurry about him, he left his position, his magnificent brush with its white tip following on behind. Making his way down the sloping field towards cover, he was gone. We, on the other hand, had begun a tricky traverse through a spattering of trees before reaching a gradual, sloping field. This saw us trudging upwards towards the road, boots now heavy with mud. From here, we could look back from whence we came. The undulating ground that took us to the heights for our lunch, then down and back up again for the homeward bound journey

Turning left and making our way back towards the lane, we could see that spring was well on its way, as new growth was making a bid for life in the hedgerows. Daffodils with their sunny, yellow heads waved in the breeze, having been planted randomly, but thoughtfully, along the road side to bring a smile to the face of anyone passing by.  Spring was definitely poking its head out for all to see and we were pleased to see that the recent snow hadn’t put paid to the tentative beginnings of spring. But, surely, the flora of Exmoor is tougher than that? We can only hope so.

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Despite the trudge uphill in muddy conditions, we were now on the lane. As a celebration of any of our wanders, we always treat ourselves to a stick of chocolate fudge on our return journey. So, as we made our way up the slow incline to the road home, I produced said sweets from my pocket with a flourish, giving the rambling stroll a cherry-on-top feeling.

Given the choice – the walk or the celebratory stick of fudge? Hmmm, no contest really – the walk every time but, sometimes, you just can’t have one without the other. 🙂

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