Wednesday 26 July 2017

There and back again

The Hobbit or there and back again is the title of a road trip by the eponymous hobbit and a LOT of dwarfs called Boing, Going and Doing, Bash and Clash, Winky, Tinky, Ditsy, Lala and Poo . . . I forget the details. I seem to remember they came back with a lot of treasure; maybe they found a lotto ticket along the way? Yesterday The Beloved and I went on a similar epic journey to the top of Solsbury Hill with a team of short people; Gdau.I aka Hawkeye; Gdau.I's pal Daisy aka Dog-girl; Gdau.II aka The Ballast; The Blob aka Pathfinder Worm-eater; the Beloved aka Freeman Jim.  I'm not sure how I got demoted from the wily and dependable navigator to some sort of mole. The main thing I got from the journey was a sheep tick Ixodes ricinus [prev] which Hawkeye was canny enough to spot before it got embedded in my arm and thus could be easily pinched off.

Solsbury Hill is 600m due North and about 140m higher than where the Gdaus live, so we thought we were quite heroic to make it to the top with an enormous hamper of food, drinks, parasols and picnic rugs. Our sense of epic achievement deflated pffffffff quite a bit when a dozen preschoolers topped the summit with their trainers / minders / teachers. Turned out that the parasol - which I had thought was a wildly extravagant, and not very Scott-of-the-Antarctic, indulgence - was a handy melanoma-preventer because when we emerged from the scrubby trees the Sun was broiling. Almost exactly 40 years ago Peter Gabriel had a life-changing experience while climbing Solsbury Hill and wrote a song about it. He heard an eagle; we just heard a very angry sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus casting up and down the hedgerow as we walked down towards civilisation. Well I (crap at ornithology) thought it was a sparrowhawk. Gdau.I (beginner ornithologist) stoutly maintains it was golden, and so more likely a kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

The previous day, Gdau.I and I had gone for another walk to her school through the fields [ref: To School Through the Fields: An Irish Country Childhood by Alice Taylor is available for 0.01c]. England is covered in a network of Public Footpaths access to which is zealously defended by ramblers and dog-walkers. These folks maintain that, since time immemorial, the plain people of England have had The Right to walk across other people's land to get to church or to work or to take the dog, or the grand-daughter,  for a walk.  And a very edible walk we had too. Along a mere 1500 m [and back again] through woods and along field edges we found: early black-berries Rubus spp.; fat filberts / cobs / hazel-nuts Corylus avellana not yet ripe; small juicy yellow plums Prunus domestica; several varieties of apple Malum pumila and blackthorn Prunus spinosa bushes covered in sloes. Of course, the sloes aren't going to be ready to eat [or more likely add to a bottle of cheap gin] until they have been bletted by the first frost. Throw in some young dandelion Taraxacum leaves and unopened leaf buds from hawthorn Crategus monogyna and you can breakfast heartily, including greens, on the way to school. Children are no longer generally allowed to walk to school by themselves anymore in case they get scooped up and eaten by a marauding band of orcs. Which is a shame really. And it doesn't have to be like that - even in cities.

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