Theirs is a time of harvest as the hedgerows and woodlands groan with nature’s veritable bounty. Sloes, damsons, blackberries, hawthorn, rowan berries, hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts, these are the contents of the larder that Mother Nature has filled. All round one can hear the sound of those hardy creatures who will over-winter in England scurrying hither and thither to lay up their stores against the privations of the cold.
The swifts and the swallows, the martins and the cuckoos, they are all long gone. Soon the fieldfares and redwings will come in to share the bounty and the Washes will play home to great flocks of yellow-beaked swans that have forsaken the tundra of Russia for the relative warmth of the Fens. Anyone who has stood in the East Wind on an embankment of the Forty Foot River in mid-February and felt Siberia is too close for comfort may look askance at the words ‘relative warmth’: but if you are a swan, that is what it is.
Stand in any part of the extant Royal Forest of Rockingham and you will soon become aware of just how busy it all is. To us it may be peaceful, but to the squirrel and the dormouse, to the fox and the deer, this is Piccadilly Circus. The oak, the crab apple, the blackthorn and the rowan, these are nature’s shops.
Around its edges you will find the Red Kites patrolling, waiting for the chance of carrion to fall their way. One of the great conservation success stories, it is now a possible to see as many as twenty different kites as you drive from Kettering to Peterborough cross-country. One day last year I saw no less than twenty-three in the sky at once at a roosting place not far from here and they say that as many as forty gather in mid-winter.
The nights are cold now, a time of wood fires and water bottles. The Truffle Hound finds her routine askew as she now gets chivvied from her warm bed at what she would normally think of as tea time. Still, she’s up for it at any time and would walk the whole day if I had a mind to take her. She watches the squirrels in the park as they scuttle about after the sweet chestnuts with the wary eye of the huntress that she is. But in reality she pays them no real mind for every time she has been near one they irritatingly climb a tree, which for her is not in the least bit sporting. As we near home once more the light is gone and there is wood-smoke in the air.
Then a mug of Earl Grey tea and day is done. The night shift begins and the Truffle Hound snores as I return to the tabula rasa that must soon be transmogrified into the next post. Outside a blackbird sings, bamboozled by the light from the streetlamp into thinking it is spring and that he must do his lusty best for all the maiden blackbirds round about. He does not know that this is but a terrible trick that we humans have played upon him and so he sings.
And the dormouse? The evidence may be found all around, if you know where to look in the purlieus, of nuts opened up like so many hard-boiled eggs and the contents sucked from within like the soft centre of a fine chocolate. Tucked up in a fine bed of moss in a cocoon of stripped honeysuckle bark, gorged and fattened on hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts and berries, winter means sleep, a long sleep: for him, life is good, yes, life is good.
Meanwhile, Boris has a delightful piece in today’s Telegraph which I commend to you for the sole purpose of bring a gentle smile to the face….