As the lockdown continues the value of ventures outdoors continues to rise. Social contact through meeting our immediate neighbours, while maintaining physical distancing, adds to it all. The national park have posted notices by footpaths and stiles everywhere reminding us all of the new countryside etiquette, a supplement to the standard country code.
Garden escapes like daffodils and primroses lighten the verges while dandelions are everywhere switching on their bright yellows amidst sprouting nettles and cow parsley fronds. Where road crosses stream clusters of butterbur thrive. A wonderful early source of nectar in composite flowerheads for bees to plunder. This tough little coloniser of cool damp places gets its name from the leaves (small now but soon to grow huge) traditionally used to wrap blocks of butter. Of all the plants we see I have a particular soft spot for that common weed of roadside and garden; wavy bittercress. Its low clusters of tiny four petal flowers are beautiful en masse, viewed close to.
Ambling up the road to the forest on Saturday, enjoying the peace of these upland spaces we’re serenaded by curlews and skylarks under the biggest of blue skies, although the keen eastern winds cool the temperature. We’re stopped in our tracks by the sight of three huge letters on the fellside. N, H and S cut by tractor with topper through fern, gorse and rough grazing, tilted skyward in thanks for all on earth to see and second.
Walking past Oldstead and North farm yesterday, following the long distance national trail, we stop to admire the mass of new planting that’s gone on here in the hidden valley of the north burn. Native deciduous trees – oak, ash, birch, willow and rowan – are edged with whips of hawthorn, blackthorn etc; some 8,000 in total. The new woodlands are secured by miles of quality stock proof fencing with traditional wooden five bar gates. This is the living legacy of the retired landowner at East farm who now rents out his fields for our other neighbours to work. Farmers all want to leave their holdings a better place than they found them and for our elderly neighbour his financial investment in landscape restoration is restoring equilibrium with nature, resulting in environmental diversity for future landworkers to profit by, in the broadest sense of the word. The old countryman’s gift of good husbandry will be quietly enriching the everyday experience of residents and long distance walkers for many years to come.