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Spring arrives

March 8, 2014

The arrival of Spring in Brampton was heralded by the emerging display in the church yard. The first to appear were the Snowdrops. These were following in a somewhat unseemly rush by the Aconites and the first Daffodils. In the railway cutting the last of a once much larger population of Primroses cling on to the lower slopes.  A few warm days this week and the Wild Cherries are all in blossom as the Snowdrop petals slowly senesce.

Native birds are making the most of the brief period before the Summer visitors arrive. At the old Stag-headed Oak at the top of the hill past our cottage, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drums on the highest resonant dead limbs. His rapid morse code answered by a rival on another old tree. Blue Tits are paired up and nestbuilding and a Collared Dove is sitting precariously but tight on a ramshackle nest of sticks in the garden Birch. The grass is growing.

A crystal clear starlit night gives way to the morning garden etched by frost. The air feels fresh and welcoming as we walk out with the dogs. A Woodpecker’s rhythmic drumming resonates from the old oak at the top of the hill. This creates the feeling of anticipation – Spring may be some way off, but it is expected. Territories have to be established, defended and trumpeted. At this time of the year there is little noise to compete with the intermittent rattle that Woodpeckers can generate – at times there appears to be an echo, another bird drums it’s answer. The two birds swap percussion until one flies off in that curious bounding way to another tree, another territory.

Two Sundays before Christmas. Food in the hedgerows is in short supply. I hear news that a hungry fox has cleared out a hen house at Spratt’s Green. It is certainly at this point in time that the thrushes turn to the Hawthorn berries. Until now they have studiously avoided the bitter red pippy berry, but as we walk along the railway line we follow a cloud of Fieldfares and other thrushes as they work the hedge. They chatter and chortle as we arrive. Then move away as a flock, circle in our wake and settle to their task. Goldfinches and Linnets concentrate upon whatever they can glean along the margins.   Survival has become the key as the period of plenty has ended.

Now the breeze is northerly. The branches sway at the change in direction and Birch leaves rain gently down on the garden with every gust. The village lanes are strewn with the leaves of Sycamore. Hazel and Wych Elm. The Field Maples, which have taken on a glowing chrome yellow, are slowly losing their fight to keep their leaves. On the railway line the Poplars are already bare, their wind note has changed in pitch and the sweet smell of leaf decay scents the air.

As I stack wood – the most Autumnal of tasks – a ragged skein of geese head towards the coast; at least one hundred strong. I watch and listen for a minute or two. The cut logs give off their scent of sap and resin. Indoors, the plaintive notes of French Horn from a Britten Pastoral adds to the Autumnal feel.

Wind blow to history

January 7, 2012

Strong winds on Wednesday almost erased another little-noticed piece of Brampton’s history. An apple tree, rotten of trunk and with no crown to speak of, displays what must be a terminal split. Structurally unsound, but still just standing, it seems unlikely that it will survive for much longer. It’s significance being that it’s origins seem likely to be domestic; planted at the end of a garden or small holding in an area which seems today to be just farmland. I mentioned the site in an earlier piece (6th November 2011) and I have yet to establish the real recent history of this site.
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The ancient history of the site is much easier to identify. For the old apple tree marks the edge of ancient track which leads to what seems to have been a wharf or loading area on the original shore of the Bure. This was not the Bure as we know now, but the Roman waterway, bustling with shallow drafted sailing vessels collecting the amphorae and other pottery from the nearby industrial town with its many kiln. Within yards the astute observer can cast from the site of a rural dwelling of the nineteenth century to the fourth century AD.

The musical call of a skein of wild geese heralded the morning of Christmas Eve in Brampton. The wonderful sound of their calls, which evokes the music of a pack of hounds, echoed from the woods at Oxnead. Some call them Gabriel’s Hounds in an effort to sum up the magic of their calls. This is considered in some parts of the country as being the sound of the diabolical wild hunt, but I think our geese were much more benign – and probably off in search of sugar beet tops.

Bure Mute Swans in November

November 26, 2011

Mute Swans in late November are planning ahead. Walking along the Bure this morning, I noticed a lot of swan activity. Bow-waving Cobs chase one another to defend a stretch a river; with wings raised, neck arched in sprung strength and with the chest thrust forward the dominant male makes short work of his younger rival.

Above Burgh Mill, a younger pair seem totally engrossed as they face one other in mid-stream, their mirrored necks forming a perfect lyre shape. They pay little heed to our passing. The scene is repeated by another pair beside the little footbridge over the Mermaid.

With these scenes of ritual choreography it is so clear why they are the inspiration for human dance.

Elsewhere the dullness of the day is emphasised by the tap of falling leaves. The trees will be bare soon.