On the forest strip alongside our Upper Drive, as I set off to walk via Furzey Gardens road; the ford; and the footpath to All Saints church, I met the unusual sight of four foraging ponies. Their sunlit-dappled coats blended in so well with the trees that it was only the swish of a rebounding, suddenly released, holly breakfast branch that alerted me to the presence of a brown one that could have been a trunk or a shrub, or both. Because the church footpath would require the use of wellies I was suitably attired to venture into the mud and heaps of soggy leaves to wander among the animals who actively ignored me, simply getting on with their meal. Just as the ponies’ camouflaged coats reflected the strong sunshine, the steaming swirls of their breath were demonstrative of the temperature. It is amazing to me that three rain-free, sunny, days have been enough to dry their fur and enable them to shake off the mud that matted it. Some pools nevertheless still contained cracked ice.
At the top of its hill the churchyard basked in sunshine, although its carpet of spring flowers was frosted. I wandered among the memorial stones, noticing that many were now so worn as to be illegible. The more recent ones told a story. It took Sarah Woodhouse, for example, exactly twenty years, to lie again alongside the contemporary husband, James, who had accompanied her in life. Long widowhoods seems the lot of so many women.
A rosary is reflected in the brass plate attached to the wooden cross still marking the grave of Louisa Wells who died just four months ago. A sheet of paper attached to the reverse asks that the myriad of pots of flowers should not be removed as the writer will keep it tidy. A well-stocked vase on the recent grave alongside this one had toppled over. I picked it up, rearranged it for balance, and wedged it in the loose soil. I was struck by the number of vases of flowers that marked this cemetery.
As I approached the lych gate to let myself out of the churchyard, I noticed a gentleman down the lane leading up to it, photographing something directly into the sun. Rather intrigued by this I walked to his viewpoint. Silhouetted against the bright blue sky, with the sun providing a glaring corona, was a familiar skeletal arboreal creature displaying long nobbly fingers, and signs of amputation of large lower limbs. I greeted the very friendly and cheerful elderly photographer. Despite his hearing aid it was clear that he needed to lip-read me. He and his wife, who remained in the car, had spent weekends and worshipped here for many years. They had now to attend services in another church which had a Loop system for people who are hard of hearing. Without that benefit he cannot hear what is going on.
It soon became clear why he was photographing the oak tree. ‘Do you know that tree is 700 years old?’, he asked. The penny then dropped, for I too had read the descriptive brochure supplied in the porch. ‘Is this the one mentioned in the leaflet?’, I tactfully enquired. ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘the one by the lych gate.’ Pointing out that there was another tree the other side of the gate, which I thought was more likely to be the correct one, I asked what information the leaflet had provided. ‘It is a yew tree’, was the answer. ‘Well, that is a yew tree and it has fallen down and been regenerated’, said I, helpfully. ‘Do you know?, he responded, indicating the oak, ‘I thought that wasn’t a yew tree’. We both went back into the churchyard and photographed the correct tree, in context. My companion, who certainly had all his marbles even if he didn’t know his trees, was most grateful. He said I had saved him much embarrassment from family and friends, who, when shown the original picture, would have said: ‘That’s not a yew tree’.
Rounding the Trusty Servant Inn I returned home and accompanied Jackie back to the pub, where we enjoyed the monthly village lunch. My choice was fish and chips and Doom Bar ale; Jackie’s was lasagne and Peroni. Given that we are told that this sunshine will soon come to an end, we decided to make hay and took a trip across the sun-streaked forest and hazy heathland to Fordingbridge. We had a mooch around there, bought a few books, and a top for Jackie, and returned the way we had come. Lots of donkeys joined the ponies in shaving the forest floor.
For our evening meal Jackie produced an all-in-one pie of left over beef stew and mashed potato including some fresh vegetables. As long as no-one is going to imagine the meat is pony, I think this should be called verderer’s pie. It was jolly good whatever it is called. This was followed by mini Co-op syrup puddings which were perfectly acceptable. The drink distribution was the usual Hoegaarden and red wine, in this instance Carta Roja gran reserva 2005.
We finished the day by watching, on BBC i-Player, episode 1 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’. This is intriguing, exciting, and nostalgic entertainment.