Tag Archives: Kent

1.1.17: Ditches

 

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As I walked out on the last day of the year, I noticed the hazel bushes. Some were already shaking their tails, but others were still not quite ready to open up, biding their time.

This was plucked from a bush beside a ditch – a running ditch after all the recent rain. The vase came from a ditch as well, one running beside a windmill next to a canal in Belgium where we had a cycling holiday on February. It reminds me of Victorian school ink bottles, but since the top is broken, all we know is that the miller cast it in the ditch, to be treasured many years later by a family of foreigners. It suits a single stem very well.

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Lift up your eyes to the hills …

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There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.

Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt  and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.

 

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I walk this way nearly every day,  eyes averted.

Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.

There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon. This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

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But what struck me the other day as I walked home?

A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!

The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.

 

The Lady of the Woods

 

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We are always talking about looking and seeing, here at Will Turnstone. When we took Abel out to the woods yesterday we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.

Here is something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up. This one is good enough to accompany this passage from Nan Shepherd’sThe Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience.  I was reading to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains or come home: the birch. Here is Shepherd on p53:

Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.

It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.

We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.

Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.

Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.

Steals on the ear…

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Rainbow weather this morning: the birds seem to sing more clearly in the rain.

When we were in Rome at the beginning of last month, Mrs T rejoiced to hear a cuckoo in the Botanical Gardens; I was uplifted by the sight and sound of a patrol of swifts, screaming along the Via Aurelia.

It was a month before I saw and heard the swifts in Canterbury, and only this morning, at six o’clock, did I hear the cuckoo. He may have been some distance away, as even with the back door open I could not hear him an hour and a half later.

But he was there, insistently, when the city was quiet. Perhaps he did not care to compete with the Cathedral’s great bell Dunstan, calling the faithful to prayer!

Just a moment!

There are moments – split seconds – worth recording in memory that one could never on camera. One such was given to me yesterday, walking home from church alongside a hedgerow. Up to the surface popped what some call a dunnock but I still think of as a hedge-sparrow. All resplendent in best spring plumage, it had in its bill a down feather from a pigeon.

And then we parted.

Those eggs will be cosy, the chicks warm and snug till they grow their own feathers, then off and away!

Steve Childshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/steve_childs/8665114609/

 

 

Wayside

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Some lover of nature, humanity, God or all three has set a clump of snowdrops between the fast Eurostar line to France and the old mainline from Ashford to Folkestone. Just a glimpse as we speed by, most will not notice, I too often miss them – but there they are, and beautiful they are, even from a distance. A promise that will be kept.

These, with their rubbish, were at Aylesham station, not far away.