The Wonderful Ridgeway: On the Oldest Road in Britain
By Elizabeth Owens
A ten minute drive from our cottage to the Ridgeway
Roy and I took a ten minute drive from our cottage to a ridgeway that we had previously intended to seek out, before the winter weather descended upon us. Now that spring is here, the decision was made to explore this beautiful area. The gently sloping uphill terrain took us through fields where sheep and lambs had recently grazed contentedly in the soft clean air. Keeping to the Country Code, Roy ensured that every gate was closed securely behind us, as we passed through, intent on enjoying the wonderful panorama set beneath us.
The lower fields were warm and sheltered by sturdy old Hawthorne hedges, with a planting of Beech saplings spaced along the boundary hedge. On maturation these hardy Beech trees would be home to the birds and shelter for both man and sheep with their new born lambs. As we ambled uphill, the wind became stronger, the trees bearing witness to such boisterous weather, by their posture, bent gracefully away from the onslaught, as it must be truly wild here, in the winter.
Looking left and downhill, there was a panoramic view, like an illustration from a child’s book. The patchwork fields unlike a quilt of the same name, were of every shape and size imaginable. They seemed to follow the contours of the land, hugging the changing levels, sometimes a gentle gradient and at others, a dramatic scarp. There was every shade of green, interspersed with the red Devon soil. The texture of the pieces of patchwork were dependent on the height and size of the crop.
We spread our rug on a carpet of daisies and settled down to enjoy our picnic.
We saw a “Matchbox Toy” tractor, making its leisurely way backwards and forwards as it ploughed a “tiny” field in readiness for planting. A crowd of seagulls could be seen in the wake of the tractor, white dots from this distance, enjoying a meal of worms, far more nutritious than their cousins fayre of chips and ice cream, seized from unsuspecting holiday makers on the coast. Continuing upwards, and hot, as the sun was, the wind was strong and cold, reminding me of a children’s story, describing how the sun and the wind had a competition to see which one of them was strong enough to remove a man’s coat.
On the crest of the hill, we spread our rug on a carpet of daisies, in a sheltered spot by a hedge of May and settled down to enjoy our picnic. It was warm and peaceful and as we relaxed awhile, the breeze scattered May blossom over us, like confetti. Stretching ahead of us in the valley, was a map, spread before us with ribbons for roads, tiny “doll’s houses” scattered around and an occasional barn roof could be seen. We spied the distinctive chimneys of a Manor House, after scanning the area, and a small pile of stone cottages beyond, we knew that some were thatched , but the distance made it impossible to distinguish individual features.
The sky above the scene was pale and misty on the horizon, becoming deeper, ranging from azure, morphing through graduating shades, until overhead, it was the deep and clear blue that we know as Limousin blue. This shade of blue is much loved by us from our many sojourns in rural France. Enjoying the peace, the only sound was of the wind, soughing through the firs, standing fair and square to the wind with the cones firmly attached despite the efforts of the wind. One ancient Pine, standing tall, alone, and very distinctive, age and the forces of nature had fashioned the boughs into the shape of a parrot. As it is such a tall tree, atop a high hill, this “Parrot Tree” as we call it, can be seen for miles around and acts as a trig point for us.
And sheep still in their “winter woolies”
Homeward bound, we found some sheep, still wearing their “winter woollies”, sheltering from the heat, under the spreading boughs of a tree. Further down, the sheep were happy to be in the fields, cropping the grass to a smooth, green carpet, no need for a mower here!
Watching these sturdy sheep coping with the lie of the land, my thoughts went to the sheep on the Welsh mountains. Those Welsh sheep are, much trimmer, more athletic and very sure footed from living on the sides of mountains in very difficult terrain. From the distance they appear to have two legs shorter than the other two, but it’s just a case of Trompe L’Oeil, caused by the steep gradient! When I think of sheep, I invariably consider the blind sheep in Patagonia, living under a hole in the ozone layer according to a book written by Ranulph Fiennes that I read some time ago. It seems sad, but maybe they are just happy to be together eating grass.
Suddenly my eye was caught by a mirage, for a brief moment I couldn’t believe my eyes, as my attention was drawn to a lake, the water gently moving and shining in the sunshine. I blinked and saw that it was a field of verdant vegetation, swaying in the breeze and moving gently in the light of the sun. A few steps further on, stood a large tree with it’s roots bared by the erosion of the soil, forming what appeared to be dwelling places for little creatures.
My memory took me back to The Tales of Peter Rabbit, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, who loved the countryside and small animals. Her books that grew from letters that she had written to a friend’s invalid son, gave pleasure to generations of children. So, another day out in the countryside, seeing and enjoying the spread of the earth from a different perspective. Everything was beautiful in it’s own way.
Click here to go on another walk in Devon with Elizabeth Owens: A Love that Extends to Everything on this Planet
Elizabeth Owens – through the eyes of her husband who has known her for 58 years.
Elizabeth is a devout Christian and by definition is a person full of love and caring for her fellow humans. She is full of empathy and truly listens to other people’s joys, woes and opinions. This love extends to everything on our planet, Earth. She loves the countryside, plants and animals, and the sea, and all the creatures whose environment is being polluted by us. Sadly, we are putting them and ourselves in grave danger. Dogs, in particular, recognise this love as when they all come in contact with her. They immediately respond with their tactile nature as if she was their ‘mummy’. I am blessed to be her husband.
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