I love reading books about the British countryside of the past. Well known studies by Richard Jefferies, Edward Thomas, Winifred Foley and the like, although written many years ago even then they despaired at the changes to the countryside they found so precious. I would like to go and see the same places they describe in such detail. Not easy with Edward Thomas, as he rarely named a place in his prose or poems, apart from this one, and then he was just passing through on a train.....
Richard Jefferies lived on a farm in Coates, near Swindon, and roamed the surrounding downs. The farm is now a museum dedicated to the man, who was thought a bit of an oddball at the time. I am going to visit it later this year.
So a bit of a visit to my own past on this wonderful sunny day. I have lived on the Isle of Wight for over 20 years, but it was my grandparents who first came to live here, and as a young child I came down with the rest of the family on school holidays to visit. My grandparents lived on the eastern side of the Island, ie the 'touristy' side. My father felt obliged to spend many hours painting, gardening and generally doing work around the bungalow that his elderly in-laws could not cope with, but we always managed to escape to the West Wight for a day. One of the favourite places to drive to and explore was Brighstone Downs. Dad would park the car in the car park and we would walk up to the top of the Downs, admire the spectacular view over Brighstone and the surrounding farmland, turn off at a footpath that took us to the Longstone, then an uphill walk back to the car park at the top of Strawberry Lane.
The same car park is a short drive from my home. How strange things work out in life. I did this walk with my parents and brother and sister every year until we siblings became too old to want to go on family holidays, preferring to stay at home in the Midlands. I can just about remember the last time I did it as part of our family holiday. My brother was with us, being two years younger than me, but my older sister had stayed at home.
I never used to view the staggeringly beautiful surroundings with any sort of urge to live here, but I do remember thinking an isolated old barn would make a very nice place to live! I never for an instance thought that one day I would live a five minute drive away.
The barn's still there, exactly the same, some 40 years later. You can just see the roof in the photo above, hidden behind the hedge on the left.
If we were feeling very energetic, we would walk on along the Tennyson trail, which goes all the way to Freshwater, where Tennyson had a house that is now a hotel.
Above, the track to the Longstone. The old barn is on the right. The bird song along here was amazing. I saw two green woodpeckers and a hunting stoat, all too quick for the camera! I only passed two other walkers until I reached the top of the Downs.
The Longstone, a neolithic monument. There are burial mounds all over this area too.
When we walked around here there were tall trees. They had succumbed to disease, and the National Trust are transforming the area to heathland, as it was before the trees were planted.
Brighstone Village viewed from the top of the Downs
Strawberry Lane. How lucky I am to re-step the walks of my childhood, and to be able to describe it to my parents, who are now too old to travel down here from their Leicestershire home.
One of our swallows has returned, and is waiting for it's partner. They have nested in the barn every year. Last year they had a very successful brood of six, and spent the last weeks of summer chitter-chattering as they flew through the air over our heads. Now there is just the one, sitting on the telephone wire, waiting. It has been five days now. It is frequently joined by an inquisitive house sparrow.
Of course, the ever-expanding flock of sparrows have been here all winter and well fed they are, too! Now they are building their nests up in the elderberry bushes, the hole in the roof of an empty holiday chalet, and the hole in the telegraph pole that was occupied by a pair of spotted woodpeckers two summers ago.
I wish the swallows could stay here all year, then i wouldn't get so sad when they gather together, ready to leave in the Autumn, or anxious when one returns alone in the Spring.
My other half thinks I am far too sentimental.