December

We decided to explore more footpaths this month, as there were still several on the map that we hadn’t walked. The idea has always been to walk from the house and not use the car and it is surprising how much latitude this gives. The first of December was a lovely sunny day, ideal for rambling and we decided to head in the direction of Lukyns, a large mansion on the edge of the parish. To get there we followed a route that was very familiar, up to the badger wood at Gull’s Isle and then along to Radnor Place Farm. There is always something new to see in these woods and I noticed some enormous bracket fungi growing on the fallen trunk of a silver birch tree, one of these looked remarkably like a Cornish pasty, though I doubt it would be as tasty. The nearest match I can get in the guide book is Laetioporus sulphurous, which loses its yellow colour as it ages and looks a similar shape. The other bracket was white and I think was Piptoporus betulinus (Birch Polpore), which, as its name suggests, is commonly found on Birch trees. This is not edible but has been used in various ways; it is an effective razor strop, though few men use the type of razor that is sharpened in this manner today, it is also good as tinder and can be utilised as an absorbent or for polishing.

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A Changing Season.

The weather in November is unpredictable. It started with gales and heavy rain; after the storm, as I walked through Sayer’s Croft and Canfold Wood, I was thinking of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner when he complains, ‘Water, water, everywhere,’ for it seemed that rainwater had found out every crevice, ditch and channel to run down. The marshy area near Sayers Croft Farm had been transformed into a small lake and the adjacent fields were flooded. There are many moles in the field and I wondered what happened to them when their tunnels are saturated by heavy rain. We know that moles dig deeper tunnels in the winter because the warmer soil lower down means that worms are still plentiful and also the moles find protection from freezing temperatures. There has, however, been little research, as far as I can tell, on what they do when their tunnels are flooded. The only mention of this in Kenneth Mellanby’s monograph on moles states that they find other drier tunnels. In the heavy clay of Ewhurst waterlogging must be a perennial problem and yet it does not deter a large population of these animals flourishing in the region.

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November

John Lewis-Stempel writes in his book Meadowlands:


November is one of my favourite months, with its faded afternoons of cemetery eerines, and its churchy smell of damp moulding leaves.

John Lewis-Stempel

The clocks have gone back and the evening comes early, the sun setting in late afternoon, creating the gloomy half light so characteristic of this month. It is a month that starts with a commemoration of the dead, as 2nd November is All Souls Day when in some countries church bells toll to comfort the dead and candles are lit in remembrance of them. The traditions also include the giving of soul cakes to children who come to sing or pray for loved one’s souls.

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Late October.

I often think about the Bronte sisters at this time of the year, as they loved wild weather and their haunted literature summons the elements in a primal way that deeply inspires me. The word “wuthering” means a strong wind or place where there is a strong wind, coming from old Norse, the word is picked up in Yorkshire dialect. It sounds a blustery, feral word and Emily Bronte chose it to name the hostile place at the heart of her only novel. At the beginning of the story, it is a gale that traps Lockwood for the night at Wuthering Heights, where he witnesses the extraordinary visitation of Catherine Linton:

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October.

A wood in autumn can be like a place of burial, the leaves closing in as they fall and the mulch of leaf decay beneath one’s feet. The feeling that dusk is getting nearer as time passes. A melancholy, yet varied landscape filled with experience of a turning year. The Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote of the bitter-sweet sensuality of the season in a letter to Cezanne:

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September

As I look at the sky at the beginning of September I notice something special in its light, a clear blue freshness.There is a new clarity in the air, which is in tune with the turning of the season and the slight chill in the early morning and at twilight. At sunset it is almost as if the golden light has been captured by the trees and clings to them, radiating a warm, weird glory. A couple of days after Keats composed his ode To Autumn he wrote a letter to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds:

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Late August

Mid-way through August we had rain, torrential rain and the persecuting temperatures fell dramatically. This was good news for wildlife and it is always fascinating to observe how quickly nature recovers itself. Within hours the streams were filled with water again and the grass was showing a verdant, fresh green. It is true that most of the wild flowers were over by now and the drought and heat had finished all but the most hardy of the late summer species. Survivors include various members of the thistle family, knapweed, mallow, common fleabane, mayweed and plantain. These plants can endure dry field conditions and tend to live in relatively poor, infertile soils. Plants like the Rayless Mayweed (commonly named the Pineapple Weed ) or the Plantain could be described as the down-trodden flowers of the countryside, overlooked because of their dowdy appearance, they grow on waste ground, the edges of fields and footpaths and people take them for granted. Yet these plants form part of the ecological fabric in otherwise inhospitable habitats and serve insects, for example, when other flowers are not available.

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Cobbler’s Brook, August

The first half of August saw temperatures reaching 35 degrees centigrade, weather which had been preceded by a long period of very low rainfall. Farmers across the country were concerned that drought was affecting their crops and the stress on the countryside was visible, with plants wilting and trees losing their leaves prematurely. Locally there was a fire on Holmbury Hill and wild fires were reported on heathland in other areas of Surrey; luckily all of these were contained but the damage to wildlife is clear. Water courses were also suffering and ponds and streams were drying up.

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August

It is very still as the hottest temperatures of the year are reached and the long drought continues. The beginning of August is marked by Lammas, Loaf Mass Day celebrating the harvest of the first grain. Bread was brought into the churches to be blessed and thanks offered for the bounty of the earth. The same date is also the Celtic festival of  Lughnassadh, Lugh is the Sun King and God of Light and  August is his sacred month. School children enjoy their summer holiday at this time and later in life many of us nostalgically recall the long, hot days of freedom in the summer-time. Lugh’s beneficence as light-giver is touched with melancholy as his powers lie on the cusp and his influence on the wane. So August is full of signs of nature’s bounty but also hints of the year’s turn are in the air.

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Hedgehog Envy

I am envious of people who have hedgehogs visiting their gardens; it is a very long time since we saw one in our garden and despite offering every inducement to them, including a rather cosy hedgehog house and a passageway in our fence, we have drawn a blank. I have a friend who boasts about the variety of birds that visit her garden and I find myself drawn into a fruitless competition with her: ”Red Kites always visit my garden and eat the meat I leave out for them”

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