|Fine Horse Portraits||
living simply in the South downs
|Fine Horse Portraits||
living simply in the South downs
As a Pointer, Molly's instinct is to hunt pretty much anything small that moves in the undergrowth.
Sometimes, she'll spot a squirrel out in the open, who's left the safety of the trees to rummage for food. She is alas, no match for these cheeky little creatures with their feather-soft, highlighted tails.
Sciurus by name and scurrious by nature, they dart for the nearest tree, run around the back of it and then straight up the trunk.
Molly in hot pursuit, follows as fast as she can around the tree, only to find the squirrel 'gone'. The same every time, she looks quizzically this way and that, "Where'd it go?". The confounding squirrels then give the game away as they leap across the canopy with their scolding chatter. But she never learns.
The country lane on which I live has a steep incline a few hundred yards further down the hill, as it climbs up the side of the valley. This, I should reckon, would be a disincentive for cyclists to choose Forestside as a route to progress further on into the downs.
However, the numerous colourfully-clad peddlers in their obligatory lycra gear keep proving me wrong - they contentiously seem to relish it. Come rain or shine, they puff and heave past the cottage, straining like steam engines desperately trying to maintain momentum.
As I grew up, the only concession to cycle wear was to stuff our flares into our socks to stop them getting caught in the chain.
I've never managed to count just how many different little ditties the song thrush has, but he sings his heart out with this repertoire atop a large ash tree just outside the veg garden, every morning and evening.
The trouble is... this ash is due for the chop. It's top is full of bare, bony fingers sticking out of the remaining greenery. The death sentence of ash dieback.
As one of a group of eight or more ash, all sprayed with the forester's brightly coloured spots - it is marked for removal.
The field maples, sycamores, hazels and yews will all remain.
Not only am I to lose my beautiful wind gauges, but will I also lose my thrush? Will he mourn the loss of his high top singing post, and move on, or will he settle for the smaller maple perhaps? I can hear him now, at my desk, even with both window and door shut. If I could just let him know how much I love to hear his song, he may decide to stay.
Behind the cottage is a large arable and beef farm, with large areas of woodland alongside the pastures and crop fields. The woods are full of ash trees - everywhere you look.
And Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) has taken hold. They are condemned to die from their water transport system becoming blocked.
The farmer has taken the decision to remove all the ash adjacent to footpaths and bridleways, and who could argue. He's mortified at the necessary destruction, but what else is to be done?
Where the foresters have started their work, it is... devastating. The giant cutting machine rumbles through on it's tank tracks, grabbing each tree with a vice-like grip and severs the trunk from it's base. Leaving a scene something akin to Paul Nash's 'We are making a new world'.
Common spotted orchids, anemones, celandine; all crushed into oblivion by the severed trunks dropped by the one-arm machine into neat rows. Biodiversity reduced.
However... walking along one particular track where these trees are no more, and putting aside the shock of the change, I realised the vistas have all changed, and for the better. Several new views have opened up to see more of the surrounding landscape. And many fine, individual trees that remain now have their own space to grow into their fullness, and be appreciated all anew. Large, mature oaks, and fine beech, that were previously hidden. The chance to replant with a wider variety of tree species, increasing biodiversity.
How many of us are still mourning the loss of the elm? We must move on. And even so, I hear the elms are returning.
Today is Elderflower wine production day.
Set off with a suitable bag first thing and collect a pint's worth of flowers from the elders that grow on the steep slope down near the old gamekeeper's cottage. The usually scrappy shrubbery is at this time of year, smothered in numerous mopheads of the most fragrant flowers. A burst of brightness in the surrounding greenery. The elderberries that follow in Autumn are another wine makers resource. A task for another day.
Back in the kitchen, along with a few other simple ingredients, it all gets mixed together into a brewing bucket, ready for the first stage of fermentation. A heady and intoxicating aroma fills the room. Ten days of frothing & foaming to go, before it will be strained and transferred into a demijohn. Six to seven weeks in the demijohn. Rack off into another - wait for six months, before bottling. Leave to condition and mature for another two to three months.
Country wine making is a game of planning and patience.
1 pint of elderflower heads
1 gallon of water
1 kg sugar
1/4 tsp of yeast extract
Juice of two lemons
1/2 cup of strong tea
Approximately £2's worth of ingredients, making six bottles of wine = 33p /bottle.
No additives of any sort - time does all the work needed.
A good dozen or more birds feeding in the meadow above Woods Copse. Silhouetted against the low sun, wings flashing as they fly up from the grass in unison, to the safety of the trees. Definitely not blackbirds. They all have the same chirring call as they land in the trees. Starlings? Must check that out - I need a closer view.
Goodwood Airfield must have re-opened its doors. The light aircraft have returned to the skies with a vengeance. Toys for the wealthy, droning across our space.
Courting wood pigeons flapping about in the branches, sounding like sails in the wind at a mariner. Looking for all the world like they're about to fall out of the tree.
Dog rose, herb robert and buttercups all on show in the hedge banks.
Molly and I head out. Lambs aplenty in the big field alongside Shortleys Copse. 'Maaah' 'Maaah' they bleat, waiting for the deeper echo from the ewes. Some still waking up to the new morning, sniffing the air like a dog on the scent.
Walk into the meadow above Woods Copse. Silhouetted against the low sun, bird's wings flash as they fly up from the grass in unison, to the safety of the trees. 15 or more - too many to be blackbirds. Starlings maybe?
Jenni's turn to walk Molly. This time there's a fox chasing some of the lambs and ewes - no it's not - it's a bloody dog! Chases it off. Sees the owner, an old man, and challenges him. "Not my dog. He wouldn't chase sheep" Old man walks off, with same dog. Farmer's have guns.
Dog owners are well known for "She's very friendly", and I am no exception. However, my 4-year-old English Pointer really is... very friendly indeed. She loves absolutely everyone, whether they want her to or not.
This was no comfort to a walker we came across whose fellow traveller asked me to "put a lead on it" as her (adult) companion was scared of dogs. I wasn't able to oblige as my intended route included no roads, and therefore no need for a lead. So I called Molly to heel and assured it was safe to pass by.
As surprising as it was to see an adult so in fear of dogs, it instantly made me recall how as a young boy, I was similarly petrified of them. My highly developed canine radar would enable me to take just about any diversion necessary, in order to avoid an encounter. Facing your fears is surely the only way forward.
Fresh cowpats in the pasture smell sweet, and dare I say, even quite pleasant. Largely composed of chewed, undigested grass, and deposited back on the same soil which in turn, with all their valuable nitrogen, phosphate, and potash fertilise more grass growth.
Why then do bags of 'Farm manure' from garden centres smell really quite so bad?
Creeping Cinquefoil and climbing Honeysuckle in flower, and Black Bryony's tiny sprays with its promise of translucent red berry necklaces to come.
Late sun shadows through the breeze-blown climbing hydrangea flicker on the flagstones like an old black 'n' white movie.
Chives in flower outside the back door - drawing the bumblebees and their gentle hum, bobbing each head as they alight.
Clear blue sky. 25 degrees celsius and a very light breeze.
Climbed onto the roof to check out the chimney pot that takes the flue of the woodburner. With any length of heavy rain (forward planning), there's a pit pat pit pat of drips falling down onto the flue plate. Something is amiss. But on inspection, there's no damage to the mortar around the pot. Maybe the cowling strapped on top of the pot has insufficient overhang?
There is apparently, an art to caramalising onions - to which I am not entrusted. Though I am required to prep the veg!
Open doors brings fresh air and birdsong... and bluebottles. Closed doors - bluebottle-free. Such dilemmas.
It's that time of year: the elder is in blossom, with its large umbelliferae-like clusters of the sweetest fragrant flowers. In anticipation, I've re-stocked with fresh yeast and dug out a demijohn from the garage in readiness to produce a few bottles of this delicious wine. Of all the white country wines, elderflower is my favourite brew - even if it does take a whole year before I can drink it.
I readily approve of the consistent, high quality grape wines available from the supermarket, but the satisfaction of creating your own, with just a few simple ingredients has its own reward, over and above the undoubtedly fine taste.
There's a small, mixed copse that runs along the valley floor, at the front of the cottage. The footpath that meanders through is poorly maintained, with overhanging shrubbery, and being a 'give me space' kind of person, I find this irritating at best.
However, on this occasion, I wouldn't have wanted it to be anything other - as I walked through early in the morning, I heard a group of birds fluttering overhead, and so paused to look up. At least 10 or more long-tailed tits then swooped down all around me, twittering away, hopping from branch to branch, just inches away. Now still as a statue, I was mesmerised for a good couple of minutes, until they gradually started flitting away. I glowed all day!