Waking at 5.55am on Sunday wasn’t the plan at all. Peeping through the curtains it was evident that a swirling mist had its arms wrapped around the cottage. Not much to see, so off I toddled downstairs for a very early morning cup of Earl Grey tea. My bedroom was bathed in brightness, despite the weather outside and, giving up to being wide awake, I propped myself up in bed with tea and book for half an hour before rising for the day once and for all.
Ten to ten! Ten to ten!! How on earth did that happen? One minute I was happy to be reading page after page and the next… ten to ten! At least I’d got my priorities right and finished my cup of tea before dozing off. Sunlight was now threading its way into the room and, still scratching my head, I wandered downstairs, for the second time, to make my second cup of tea of the day. I needed a kick up the backside to get going.
After a full English, complete with fried new potatoes, I shoved a chicken in the oven for a couple of hours (not a live one, you’ll understand but one minus its feathers.) Donning my boots and grabbing my camera I set off over the fields. Ten to ten… half the day was gone and there was so much I wanted to achieve today. I’d decided to walk a neighbour’s land, down towards the woodland. Out of respect to the farmer, I hugged the hedgerows as I rambled along across fields laden with buttercups, red clover and cuckoo plant, or ladies smock, as I know it. This particular field was covered in delicious, glowing, yellow buttercups as are many acres this year.
A turn to the right and I was making my way downhill towards the wood and its many treasures. I enjoy the feeling of walking across lush fields, which are awash with wild flowers. Each flower urges you to stop, inspect, identify and admire. I haven’t a clue what some of them are, but they will nod their heads as if to say ‘find out who I am’ and it’s hard to pass them by… and why should I? They are there to be discovered, to be enjoyed and to be known. How else will I pass my knowledge onto my children and grandchildren if I am clueless?
I stood at a gate where a flock of sheep and their growing lambs were grazing beyond. I looked at them and they at me. Across the rolling fields, a herd of Devon ruby-red cattle, with their calves, were traversing the greenness on a much walked pathway. They stood out against the backdrop with their distinctive red colour and I watched them amble along for a while before moving off again. I turned right again here towards a small, sturdy gate to cross the lane into yet another field. In my pathway was a dandelion clock which was almost perfectly formed. It seemed to be a lone specimen in amongst the other wild flowers but I knew that wouldn’t be so next year, once the tiny parachutes had launched themselves into the air with the help of a gust of wind. A dandelion, yes, but just as beautiful as any other wild flower.
An Exmoor beech hedgerow led me onto a narrow lane and, once crossed, I made my way over a sloping, stepped piece of land. Again, sheep grazed in the field but my eye was taken by a movement in the sky – a buzzard was preparing to land on a tree stump. The buzzard, once landed, stayed on the stump until a crow began to tease it. Before I could focus the camera on it, he was off, up and gone soaring into the blueness of the sky, away from the childish crow. From here I had a magnificent view of the valley below me and Exmoor stretched out far away towards the horizon in all its glory. Dry moorland, rich woodland, thriving pasture and the sound of the river, coursing its way toward the nearby village.
Crossing the field, which was a little scrubby with prickly thistles where I walked, I came to a five bar gate. On the other side is woodland made up mostly of pine trees. It became darker as I entered the wood as very little light filters through these towering trees. Downwards, the hedge line would lead to the river eventually and a newly excavated badger sett. Upwards, a lush grassy pathway would take me further into the wood and perhaps a sighting of some red deer. I chose to go up – it was chilly under the canopy of the trees and I needed warming up. I love to walk this route as it takes your feet between two woodland areas. Both are totally different from each other. One is tall, dark and eerie at times – the other is dense, knotted, gnarled and low compared to its neighbour.
It was in the low area that I expected to encounter the red deer. Tending to graze in the fields beyond the woodland, if disturbed, they will make their escape through the trees and out into the cover of the woods. Walking the woods made me feel very vulnerable – it’s a good job that I know them fairly well. Every tiny sound hit my ears like a thunder-clap: the snap of a twig, a wood pigeon’s wings clapping in the trees, the call of a pheasant in the undergrowth. With senses working overtime, I still wasn’t prepared for the sound of a hind barking out her warning call, and my feet left the woodland floor for a second. It happens every single time – I am aware that I may hear it but it never ceases to startle me. Hidden in the trees, away from prying eyes, the deer would have seen me first and were on their guard. I dropped down behind a fallen tree which crossed the path and waited for their silent approach. Large they may be but they move with such stealth when required. Then a dog barked in the background, not too far away – the deer may not be as silent as expected now. Obviously spooked, by not just me, a rush of bodies came toward me, the continuous empty, echoing sound of feet on damp but solid ground gave them away and there they were – eleven of them. One by one, they crossed the path in front of me some twenty feet away, bounded over fallen branches and began to filter down into the thick woodland below me. Standing on the tree, I watched their progress as far as I could see them until they blended with their surroundings and were gone. Always stunning to witness, never ever boring – the red deer of Exmoor.
Sometimes I take a pew in the woods, on a fallen tree such as the one I was stood on. I am a lover and a hugger of trees, which makes people smile but trees are of huge importance to us and have ancient stories to tell. Many have been standing for years and years, their roots embedded in the ground below us, holding them firm enough, grounded, until it’s their time to fall. I know that those same roots will take my troubles and stories on board, should I wish them to. Don’t be surprised if you find me with my back against a tree trunk, offloading my troubles to whichever tree wants to listen and also thanking them for what I am lucky enough to have in my life. My daughter still laughs at me when I tell her that I’ll go visit the man in the woods. She knows exactly what I mean!
It was a trudge up the hill from here but I did say that I wanted to keep warm – there was also a full English to work off. Just like anywhere else, on Exmoor if you go downhill then you’ll have to work your way back up again at some point, so I struck out at a fair pace. I was beginning to make my way back to the cottage again but was still a fair bit away. There was still a couple of uphill fields to cross, all quite pleasurable though and I would tarry awhile to take in my surroundings, as is usual for me. The fields are edged by beech trees, now sporting their full green summer outfits, and beneath the trees was a covering of newly unfurled ferns along with tall grasses. It’s shelter such as this that the deer calves will be hidden in when they’re born, safe from harm. Well hidden they are too as I’ve walked straight past a little one, only a foot away from my feet, and not seen it until it made a dash across the field, behind me. Fresh deer slots were evident along the hedgeline, where the ground was soft and muddy, so instead of taking my usual path back to the cottage, I entered the woodland again and followed a track that I knew would take me towards the lane and home. If there were any deer in the fields, then I didn’t need to disturb them any further. Who knows, we may just be witness to a tiny calf very soon and that really would be a sight for sore eyes.
It was so very tempting to make my way toward the river, which I could hear below me. A welcome perch on a boulder, surrounded by mini waterfalls and white-water patches would have cleared the cobwebs but I’d left the cottage with no prepared supplies and a chicken in the oven – it was, after all, ten to ten when I awoke this morning.
So, onwards I walked along a somewhat damp path with fields to my right and the wood to my left. The shrill birdsong of a robin, with that of a chaffinch came from the hedgerow and, although I couldn’t see them, they made it plain that they were there. The track was quite precarious as there were branches to dodge, both overhanging and on the floor and boggy patches to navigate through. It’s not a well-used route but I quite enjoy that aspect of a wander.
The smell of the rich, dark woodland floor was a welcome scent as I walked toward the lane home. The lane edges are a riot of colour covered in bluebells, now going over, red campion, buttercups, foxgloves and the white of cow parsley. I’m pleased to report that woundwort and jack-by-the-hedge are also in amongst these more popular flowers. I’ll be collecting some woundwort very soon to make into a cream for cuts and wounds ready for winter and next year so I’ve made a mental note of where to return to when the time is right.
I had no idea of the time but with the cottage in sight, I knew I’d soon find out. A welcome cup of coffee, a piece of spiced, sultana cake and my garden was calling me to walk a little faster and I’m sure I could smell my chicken cooking, but with such beauty around, I’m always being pulled in two different directions. But, where was the problem here? There was always this afternoon for another wander should the fancy take me.
Then I remembered that there may not be much of the day left… It was, after all, ten to ten when I woke this morning! 🙂