Almanac: Fallow deer, uncurling ferns and foxgloves

Barely a drop of rain has been felt for over eight weeks. My 12 year old son and I have decided to make the most of this last day of sunshine, before the much-longed for storm arrives tomorrow. If we take the footpath that winds through the fields, to the north of our village, it gently meanders its way to the deer park.

A gentle breeze ripples through the meadows and the scent of fresh grass and blossom is heavy in the air. We breathe deeply, filling our lungs. Newly sown crops form neat little lines.

The parched ground is cracked and covered in stone chips. We hold tight to the wooden rail, smooth with years of use, as we skid down the final steep slope and enter the park. Hand gel is hastily applied, a pandemic ritual that now feels normal. As the path dips, the cooling breeze disappears and it is stiflingly hot. Our destination is the monument on the distant hill.

The riverside is busy with both deer and tourists. Who could resist being here on such a glorious day? Some people have set up tents. Others are encouraging their children to offer picnic snacks to the wildlife. Wardens arrive in a jeep, firmly advising enthusiastic visitors that the deer are not quite as docile as they look. My arm around my son’s shoulder, we keep our distance. It is a culture shock to see all this bustle after months of staying closer to home. Quickly leaving the cheery crowds and the heat of the valley behind, we begin our ascent to the War Memorial.

My son relaxes now we are alone again and are no longer measuring the space between ourselves and others. He runs, dashes, climbs; darting from one outcrop to another. This year’s bracken is already knee-height and unfurling upwards in search of the sun.

The air is filled with the sound of bees buzzing and the constant clicking thrum of grasshoppers. The marshy pools look a sorry sight; shallow waters greening over with choking algae. Tomorrow’s rain will heal them. Foxgloves spike up amongst the mass of fern.

At the crest of the hill, I gasp in awe. We have greeted the sunrise here on a crisp Christmas morning and never had such far-reaching views. We can see the city of Leicester glimmering in the distance, usually shrouded in a heavy haze. The several month lockdown of both traffic and industry has given nature time to breathe.

We make our descent through cool, shady trees. The quiet is only occasionally broken by piercing, sudden bursts of birdsong. A young buck stalks through the ferns; we stand very still and let him pass.

You can perhaps spot him to the left of centre.

Leaving the parkland, we cross a road and find the half-hidden footpath that leads us back to the fields on the western side of our village. Honeysuckle escapes neighbouring gardens to ramble over the hedgerows.

We skirt our little woodland by taking the buttercup lined path that leads to the dairy farm. The meadows beyond are freshly mown; a tractor noisily gathers up the hay.

Our thoughts turn to our garden as we draw nearer to home. With storms predicted for at least a week, there is a lot of work to be done this afternoon in our vegplot. Talk of which seeds to plant next lasts us all the way back to our front door and waiting family.

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Almanac: Finding the Sleeper Bridge

It strikes me that being the youngest of four boys is a tricky thing.  You get swept up along with the rest of the family from the moment you arrive.  So every few days, I like to take our youngest for a walk, just the two of us, and see where he chooses to go.  It’s not always a wilderness walk (the other week he just led me straight to the village bakery) – but today he chose the fields.



These fields lead away from our home towards the main roads and the city.  You start to hear the sound of traffic in the distance … but there are still hidden places to discover.

At one point he calls “over here!” and points at a gap in a hedge.  I follow him as he pushes through the branches, over a stile and past a very old footpath way marker.   We find an odd rudamentary bridge, where a long time ago, someone has used a railway sleeper and some wooden planks to make a crossing over a stream – completely overgrown and unused, because a better path now runs the other side of the hedge.  The water runs through a gully underneath the hedgerow; it’s really pretty, but I never would have known it was there.

We find the path doesn’t lead anywhere, however we pause to look at the hawthorne blossoms, and watch the sparrows darting in and out of the brambles, before we retrace our steps.

Our way home takes us across a bridge made of paving slabs and industrial iron tubes and girders – not picture-postcard pretty, however when my little one makes another sudden turn off just before we cross, following a little robin as it hops along the bank, I turn back and see that, from the right angle, it’s beautiful.

After an hour, it’s almost dinnertime, and starting to lightly rain.  It’s time for him to set a course straight for home.

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