Yes, that is actual blue sky!
It is quite possibly the first of its kind seen around here since July last year (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration there – but not much of one).
Of course, if it’s hot and sunny, the obvious thing to do is to take off to somewhere quiet and peaceful and far from the madding crowd – somewhere like Stratford-upon-Avon on a Bank Holiday Monday!
Stratford-upon-Avon is, of course, birthplace to the most famous writer who ever lived – old Shakey whose prodigious biro penned many a sonnet and balcony scene, and whose venerable status draws tourists aplenty to this little market town.
A procession of vintage cars glided along the street for the annual classic showpiece with some splendid old models being shined and waxed.
But this was not a day for looking at classic cars or for traipsing around museums and old houses, but a day in which a pub with a decent beer garden was to hold sway.
Soon we were meeting up with old friends – matey old beer and chummy cider mainly!
Nature Notes Warning:
Although Ynys-hir in Wales is one of the best places in the country with its fabulous ancient oak woodlands (and Ice Cream – I’m talking to you, Rum ‘n’ Raisin…), the West Midland Bird Club’s aim was to clock the Western Woodland Trio of Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart – a summer visiting threesome that favours the woodlands of the west for their breeding grounds.
Woodies and Pied were quite obliging but the elusive Redstart remained out of reach for most of us.
However, Ynys-hir offered much more – a Red Kite soared past, its forked tail effortlessly steering the bird over our heads. A pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers faffed around their nesting hole, the flycatchers were flitting around everywhere, and a medley of songsters were giving it full throttle: Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff.
A Cuckoo perched up atop a low, bendy sapling – no doubt browsing for some poor sap to offload its parenting duties to. According to folklore, the cuckoo is also a good omen for marriage – should you wish to know whom you will marry, take off your shoe when you first hear the cuckoo and you will find a hair the same colour as that of your future spouse.
In his poem ‘The Shepherd’s Week,’ John Gay wrote:
Upon a rising bank I sat adown,
Then doffed my shoe, and by my troth, I swear,
Therein I spied this yellow frizzled hair
(he then copped off with Robert Redford…)
It wasn’t all about the birds – bluebells, bees and butterflies abounded too. Damselflies and Dragonflies, including a Four-spotted Chaser (thank you Mr Bug Expert), could be seen zipping all over the reserve, with Brimstones leading a charge of butterflies throughout the woods.
Mid-week, and Craig was headlining at the Barnet Street Bar in Leamington Spa so it was off to the royal town for some first rate comedy and some royal drinking amid the Regency architecture and broad boulevards (OK, just in a bar or two…)
With the good weather threatening to last almost a week, it was a good omen for the weekend’s walk around Herefordshire.
Here’s Jane with a comprehensive guide:
Bosbury – Map: OS Explorer 190
Start: Meet up at Ledbury – car park is just off the main street (near to the market square) in Bye Street (HR8 2AA).
Pub lunch at the Bell Inn in Bosbury – it’s a nice dog friendly pub that serves baguettes as well as a carvery on Sunday (also notable for the poor waitress tripping over when delivering a cheese baguette and sprawling on the lawn. The dogs appreciated the baguette).
Ledbury – Wellington Heath – Bosbury (about half way round) – Oyster Hill – Frith Wood – back to Ledbury
There were several interesting little churches along the way – one at Wellington Heath, another at Coddington, and there was a 12th century church tower stumped in Bosbury itself.
The route cut through Coddington Vineyard, one of the smallest commercial vineyards in the UK.
The dizzy prospect of Ledbury’s church spire during the final descent from the cool Herefordshire Trail was worth the walk alone.
Most interesting of all was the scenery, elevated views taking in great swathes of the green and the pleasant variety, seeping along with the Malvern Hills often in view, edging along deciduous woodland, through pastures, hop-fields and orchards.
A short climb up Oyster Hill presented a panoramic view from the distant Black Mountains to the Malvern Hills. The descent along the edge of a wide, flower-strewn valley took us past Hope End House, the childhood home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which was corralled behind a walled garden.
Elizabeth was a frail, poorly woman who struggled with a lifelong illness but was strong-willed and fiercely opposed the slavery on which her family’s fortune was founded.
Although her most famous poem was ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’ (that enduring staple of wedding speeches everywhere) Lizzy BB also penned a line or two about the Herefordshire countryside in her epic poem Aurora Leigh:
The Herefordshire Landscape
I dared to rest, or wander, – like a rest
Made sweeter for the step upon the grass, –
And view the ground’s most gentle dimplement,
(As if God’s finger touched but did not press
In making England!) such an up and down
Of verdure, – nothing too much up or down
A ripple of land; such little hills, the sky
Can stoop to tenderly and the wheatfields climb;
Such nooks of valleys, lined with orchises,
Fed full of noises by invisible streams;
And open pastures, where you scarcely tell
White daisies from white dew, – at intervals
The mythic oaks and elm-trees standing out
Self-poised upon their prodigy of shade, –
I thought my father’s land was worthy too
Of being my Shakespeare’s…
Then the thrushes sang,
And shook my pulses and the elms’ new leaves…
I flattered all the beauteous country round,
As poets use; the skies, the clouds, the fields,
The happy violets hiding from the roads
The primroses run down to, carrying gold, –
The tangled hedgerows, where the cows push out
Impatient horns and tolerant churning mouths
‘Twixt dripping ash-boughs, – hedgerows all alive
With birds and gnats and large white butterflies
Which look as if the May-flower had caught life
And palpitated forth upon the wind, –
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farm, granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
I think a line or two about a hair-filled shoe would have enhanced this enormously.
This month’s Flat Disc Society prepared itself for the World Cup in Russia.
First up was an episode of Look at Life: Behind the World Cup, about the benefits of holding the World Cup in Britain in 1966.
Next was a short feature, Vita di Giacomo – with Giacomo struggling with his faith as he becomes a priest during the summer of 2006 at the time of the World Cup.
The main feature Offside tells the story of a Iranian girl who disguises herself as a boy to see a qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain prior to the 2006 World Cup.
In Iran, female football fans were not allowed into stadiums in case violence or verbal abuse was directed against them.
Despite these films, I wasn’t so over-dosed on celluloid that I could afford to miss the latest Marvel blockbuster:
A fine ramble along our regular Lapworth route was enhanced by glorious sunshine after a misty start. With all manner of rail network disruption going on, it necessitated a taxi being commissioned from Dorridge but it all worked out well in the end…
World Cup Finally – a cartoon with a footy theme to round things off – back of the net!