A Woman Paid My Fare

A full moon illuminated the kitchen at 3.30 a.m. this morning. Baby blackbird and tits Somewhat later, but still too early for the sun to have turned the corner, a large fat baby blackbird monopolised the dish on the bird feeder, repelling all other boarders.  It confused us by attacking an adult blackbird that had at first been feeding it.  Was this the case of a tyro turning on its tutor?   Or just an ungrateful child?  Later, when it descended onto the lawn, and began calling for food that the parent provided from the dish, we realised it was the latter.

BerryOak 3I spent this morning on an ancient tree hunt (see 1st May) with Berry.  My friend was very excited because we found and recorded twelve suitable trees in a little under four hours. oak 4 Berry and AlderWalking under the Castle Malwood Farm underpass, we zigzagged across the forest in the vague direction of Sir Walter Tyrrell.  So fruitful was the trip that we didn’t quite reach the Rufus Stone car park before turning back for home.

Oak 5Oak 11Most of the trees were large oaks, some, like one that was a bit knackered, more notable than ancient.  Notable is acceptable.  An interesting rarity which almost caused Berry to get her feet wet, was, we think, an alder.  Growing by the stream, it proved quite difficult for Berry to get a tape round to measure its girth.

I, of course, did manage to get my feet well and truly wet, not by putting them in the stream, but by falling foul of a quagmire.  Jackie, who cleaned up my kit afterwards, had an opportunity to remember the time, during our first incarnation, when she had given my rugby kit similar treatment.

Perhaps the most fascinating example was found in a group of trees that had fallen in a storm. Berry at oak 10 A huge oak branch, at first looking like a whole tree, had brought a beech down with it when it snapped away from the trunk that was more than five metres in girth.  My task was to produce photographs for the Woodland Trust website.

So rich were our finds that we began to get a bit blasé, and say things like ‘we’ll do that one another time’, or ‘not really notable’.

There were an unusual number of other walkers about today.  In my previous excursions this way I have never seen another person.

After a late lunch we drove to The Firs for a gardening session.  Mum had come as well, and Elizabeth was already into weeding when we arrived.  Elizabeth and Jackie’s main task was extracting the weeds, and mine was mowing the lawn.  Danni helped all three of us in different ways.  Mum and lawnBefore mowing the lawns the edging had to be trimmed, and all encumbrances, like tables, chairs, gardening tools, and Mum, need to be moved out of the way.

Naturally, all were reinstated when I had finished.

Tree peonyOf all the plants which are now re-emerging in the garden, Elizabeth is possibly most pleased with the tree peony which, like others, has benefitted from the soil improvement undertaken last year.

Elizabeth produced an excellent roast chicken dinner for us all, followed by apple crumble. Jackie, as usual, drank Hoegaarden; Mum passed; and the rest of us enjoyed Prestige de Calvet Bordeaux 2011.

As always, when we are all together, reminiscing was embarked upon.  Mum reminded me of how Chris and I had collected wasps, drunk on the fruit of our grandparents’ trees, and stuffed them in a matchbox which we buried and kept unearthing to see if they were still alive.  This, naturally, led to the tale of the bees (see 29th May 2012).  In relating this, now, for the first time I remembered how I had completed the bus journey without any money.  A woman in the seat opposite had paid my fare.

They Do Pick Their Moments

Unerringly, this morning, I picked my way from the farm underpass to the Sir Walter Tyrrell and back, using a different route each time.  Almost.

I was on a mission to measure the oak I had found recently.  Berry had replied to my e-mail by asking me how many hugs it was.  A hug is apparently a metre, give or take a bit of wingspan.  So off I went and, in full view of anyone who happened to pass, ignoring the bramble growing up the trunk, tenderly grasped the bark.  Untangling myself each time, I did this three and a bit times before reaching the point at which I had begun.  Unfortunately this means I have not found my first ancient tree.  An oak, to qualify, must be 4.5 metres in girth, and my arms are not long enough for three and a bit hugs to stretch to that.  My one consolation is that there were no witnesses to my act of dendrolatry.

Fallen tree bridging stream

Fallen tree signpostOn my outward journey I was less confident than I expected to be on the way back, because I have not made the trip in that direction before, and even fallen trees and streams, which I am beginning to try to use as markers, look rather different the other way round. Actually, enough of one or two of the dead trees remain upright to serve as rather good milestones.

The day was changeable, the occasional sun brightening the view. Muddy shoes The recent rain, however, has made everything soggy again.  I set off on clay, which meant it was still hard underfoot, pitted with small round cups of water pressed into the surface by the feet of ponies.  I could step on the rims.   Where there was no clay, I was soon sinking halfway up my shins in shoe-snatching mud.  Sometimes I could skirt round these patches, but that wasn’t always possible.

Forest en route to Sir Walter Tyrrell

Every now and then I fancied I heard a chuckling in the woods. If I peered through the trees I would see shadowy light brown figures dart across the way, and on one occasion a still, erect, creature that gazed in my direction, then, with all the stateliness of the high-stepping horses of the guardsmen of two days ago, strode off with its entourage in tow. My mockers were an enormous mottled white stag and three dingy little does.  Maybe they weren’t making fun of me.  Maybe they were just rustling the leaves.

Fallen tree roots

Taking a diversion around a fallen tree, an unmoving flash of colour caught my eye, and I went to investigate what turned out to be possible remnants of an orgy.  Discarded clothesSeveral sets of discarded clothing were arrayed on another prone trunk.  Perhaps some optimists had hung them out to dry, and couldn’t get back through the surrounding quagmire tio retrieve them.

Now I have to explain the one word second sentence of this post, that flouts all the rules of grammar.  I did not mean to indicate that I didn’t quite manage the walk.  Far from it. It was extended a wee bit.  This is because what I do mean is my return trip wasn’t exactly totally devoid of error.

Forest scene near Rufus Stone

Stream and woodlandSaufiene picked a rather less than convenient moment to telephone me from France.  I have to answer my mobile within three rings.  This was rather difficult when it was in my jacket pocket and I had one foot in the water and the other half way up the bank of the stream I was intent on crossing.  I did manage to answer the call and fortunately the Frenchman didn’t ask me where I was.  I mention this here because I would like to blame him for what happened next.  Yes, he did distract me, but it wasn’t his fault that once across the stream I forgot I had forded it and followed it dutifully, according to my newly discovered rule of thumb.  In the wrong direction.  It wasn’t until I glimpsed through the trees the cottages on the outskirts of the village of Brook that I realised my slight mistake.  So back I went along the brook, seeking the ford by Castle Malwood Farm.  The truth is, I cannot pretend Sofiene put me off.  I’d have gone the wrong way anyway.

Now it is all very well following a stream until you come to a fork in it that you don’t recall having seen before. Fork in stream It is especially inadvisable to take the wrong fork, which is of course what I did.  I never did find the ford, but I found the roar of the A31 an increasingly friendly sound.  I was soon walking under it and up the steep climb to home.  Elizabeth chose to present me with the second inconveniently timed call of the morning as I was ascending the almost perpendicular stretch of this.

Lyndhurst’s Passage to India provided our evening meal with which Jackie and I both drank Kingfisher.  We had to drive out there and sit down in the restaurant of course.

Meetings With Remarkable Trees

As I prepared our morning coffee in the kitchen, watching the early nuthatch enjoying his breakfast, ‘The Red Baron’ swooped, like a kamikaze pilot, with deadly aim.  The robin’s beak would have been buried in the side of his enemy, had not the milder creature taken off sharpish.

A baby rabbit sat on the grass outside the kitchen door, contemplating Jackie’s new planting, scuttling under the robin’s hedge at the sight of her, probably having thought she was Mr. McGregor.  This means we will need to put netting over the anti-deer railings, buried, according to Matthew, to a depth of six inches.  Later in the day Jackie dismantled her elegant railing structure, lifted the bricks at the bottom, and disturbed half a dozen ants’ nests.  Which, especially as that meant a trip to buy ant powder, was dispiriting.  After going off for the deterrent, she didn’t much feel like starting on the reinforcement today, which, as I would have to do the digging, didn’t exactly fill me with dismay.  So I put everything back as it was, well dusted with powder, ready for the job to be done tomorrow.

In ‘Our Shrinking World’, published on 28th April, I wrongly attributed a picture taken by Elizabeth about ten years ago.  Today I corrected this and took the opportunity to amend the text.

Berry measuring oak tree

On this glorious morning I went on a Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Hunt expedition with Berry.  When she asked me the date, and I replied that it was the first of May, she cried ‘rabbits’,  so I told her what Jackie had seen earlier.  All within half a mile of our homes we plotted five oak trees and a beech, all of which Berry will submit to the Trust for verification.  I took most of the photographs which will accompany details of Berry’s discoveries. Beech tree Oak tree 3Three oaks were within a stone’s throw of each other in the approach to Castle Malwood Farm, on the other side of the underpass.  Two more were at Seamans Corner. The beech was alongside our Upper Drive.

To qualify for this national collection trees must be of a certain age, assessed by their girth; or have some other remarkable feature.  One, for example, that we didn’t have time for today, is an oak tree growing out of a beech.  There is no hurry, for it is not going anywhere.

Oak tree 5We have to plot a precise grid reference; measure the girth of the tree at the lowest point; and indicate the height at which the measurement was taken.  The tree has to be named, and described in some detail.  There are terms such as ‘maiden’ or ‘pollard’ which aficionados recognise as descriptive of the treatment or otherwise of the growth.  I’m not quite sure I have grasped their true significance.  Details of the condition of the trunk and branches, such as any dead wood on or beneath the tree, or any holes therein.  Moss, lichen, ivy, fungi, and honeysuckle were all noted; as were any particular points of interest,Oak tree 5 (2) such as the beauty of the shape of the oak outside Eugenia Cottage.  The tree does of course have to be named, and we need to say whether it is alive or dead, standing or fallen.

Pipes and gravelBerry was amused at my tendency to go off on a tangent and take photographs of such as a couple of pipes lying on gravel because I liked the symphonic colour.  This diversion tended to puzzle John Turpin when we were taking the pictures for ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

Near the farm, the cry of a buzzard alerted us to the sight of two crows chasing it off.

Today’s title has been borrowed from the BBC television series and Thomas Pakenham’s book of photographs.

Our dinner was Jackie’s liver and bacon casserole, complemented, in my case, by Piccini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo riserva 2010.  The meal was completed by sticky toffee pudding with custard for me, and cream for Jackie.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

This morning we visited Berry who lives on the other side of the house.  She had invited us for coffee and an introduction to her ancient tree mapping activity.  An amazing array of birds were enjoying her feeders; several different kinds of tit and a woodpecker were recognisable.  I am fascinated by the tree spotting.  The Woodland Trust operate a national system for pinpointing ancient or interesting trees.  Anyone can send in photographs, measurements and grid references of likely subjects.  A qualified verifier then examines the prospect, and, if successful, this is added to nationwide records.  We were shown old and modern maps, all on line in great detail.  I am excited that Berry intends to take me on her next identification session.  She also put me out of my misery over Stoney Cross.  I have several times, for example on 21st February, puzzled over where it was.  In fact it never was a village, rather a crossroads that was stoney.

On another cold day Jackie drove us to the Redcliffe Nurseries at Bashley where she used to take tea with her mother.  I set off for a walk, to meet her back there afterwards.  Right along Bashley Road; left at the Rising Sun; along Holmsley Road to the A35; left alongside Beckley Common; and eventually back to Bashley and the nursery.  The walk took rather longer than anticipated.  The nursery had closed by the time I arrived so Jackie had to wait in a layby across the road.

Car dump, Bashley (2) 2.13Car dump, Bashley 2.13A piece of land just by Bashley Road seemed to be a dumping ground for car wrecks.

Horse trough, Wootton Heath (2) 2.13On Wootton Heath, not far from The Rising Sun public house, stands a horse trough.  I have mentioned one which still stands at the top of Wimbledon Hill, and there are others throughout London.  Nowadays all they contain is flowers.  This one, however, is clearly in regular use for which it was originally intended.  Currently ponies and cattle can be seen drinking from the numerous pools which cover the forest, but there must be other times when they are most grateful for the clear water this receptacle contained.Horse trough, Wootton Heath 2.13

Brownhills, near the junction of Holmsley Road and the A35, contained a string of ponies as we arrived in the car, as I walked past it later, and as we drove home.  None of them can have covered more than a few yards in three hours.

As we arrived at Bashley the sun, which had not emerged for a couple of days, began to put in an appearance.  The Rising Sun was an appropriate milestone. Ponies, Brownhills 2.13 By the time I reached the ponies, shadows were lengthening.

The stretch of the A35 was long enough for me to resort to consulting the Ordnance Survey map to see how far I had to go before reaching the road to Beckley.  Walking along the grass verge doing this, I was aware of a car with its left hand indicator lit, standing in a side road.  As I passed in front of it the shrill blast of its horn made me jump.  The elderly driver wound down his window and asked me where I wanted to get to.  I told him.  He looked rather concerned as it was a long way.  He had seen me consulting the map, so very helpfully asked to look at it so he could put me right.  He then had to fish for his specs so he could read it.  This enabled him to direct me to a short cut which was the one I was aiming for anyway.  This took some time.  He then offered to drive me there.  I explained that I was walking for pleasure.  Eventually I was free to continue.  What I hope this gentleman had not noticed was that, with my legs crossed, I was hopping from foot to foot.  It’s quite difficult to do, but absolutely necessary when all you really want to do is be allowed to get on so you can dive into the nearest bush.

The Beckley Common stretch was really beautiful in the evening sun.  The shadows mentioned earlier were now even longer. Chickens, snowdrops, shadow 2.13 As I was contemplating mine, a familiar farmyard fowl crossed the road in front of me, thus providing a definitive answer to the proverbial conundrum. Chickens, snowdrops, 2.13 This chicken crossed the road to pick snowdrops.

Having driven us home, Jackie produced a delicious ensemble of delicate  flavours consisting of smoked haddock; mashed swede and potato, and cauliflower cheese with mustard.  We finished the Montpierre cabernet sauvignon and had a glass of Sancere 2011 which I liked, but Jackie didn’t.  This was a shame because she would have enjoyed my glass of Montpierre more.

Episode 4 of ‘Call the Midwife’ provided our nightcap.