‘I’m looking forward to your blog about today’, said Mrs Turnstone, so I’d best get on and write it.
Mrs T’s walking club take turns to offer their colleagues a country ramble. Hers is due in a fortnight, which means taking a trial run to be sure it’s suitable. This was a walk we had followed one summer’s day when Carine Sorgho was with us, to give her a taste of the long-settled English countryside to take back to France and Burkina Faso. But November is not July, and would I go with Mrs T to check it would be passable in winter. ‘Your company would be much appreciated’ is one of her three-line whips, so I made sure my waterproofs were handy.
When I got up it was raining. It was raining when Mrs T left her bed, raining when we set out, but the wipers had just stopped when we reached the car park at Doddington Church. They once had the stone upon which John the Baptist’s head was severed, though it was lost hundreds of years ago. We did not step inside as the builders were at work, but sent a greeting to the Prophet and his Cousin from across the churchyard, praying that the rain, having ceased, would stay away. It did for as long as we were walking, starting again as we reached the car at the walk’s end. We even saw the sun, twice, if fleetingly.
Off we went through woods and along muddy paths till we reached a succession of old country houses with fantastically trimmed topiary peering over their walls. Somewhere on the way we found an apple orchard where we rescued windfalls, pollinators, undersized and left-behind fruit, till pockets bulged and could take no more. And so to the cherry orchards.
The oldest of these are still run the old fashioned way, with tall standard trees branching from above head height, so that ladders are needed to harvest them – and much more labour than modern trees. At this time of year these orchards are undergrazed by sheep, who ignored us and got on with their work of mowing and fertilizing the sward.
The path led uphill and down, offering views across downs and valleys, steaming up mist in the gentle warmth. We found ourselves following hedges, including one recently planted, with hawthorn and wild rose most prominent. That was good to see.
Finally we came back to Doddington and to Doughty’s, the village butchers’ shop, (see http://swdoughty.co.uk/ ) which we visit whenever we are passing. ‘I know where every beast comes from: the lamb is from just up the road, the beef from a mile away.’
Doughty’s homemade pork and leek sausages, served with mashed potatoes and a rich onion and scrumped apple gravy, with a local red cabbage on the side; we felt we’d earned a good dinner.
Some of the less presentable apples were chopped up small as the starting point for this year’s mincemeat, ready for the Christmas season. As NAIB2 would tell you, mincemeat should be made on All Saints’ Day, but we were travelling then.
Another gift of a day.