Trodden Ground

Sometimes I like to mooch about outdoors.  Lately it occurs to me to occasionally write about what I see there.  So- most recent first…

hill fort totem

Hill Fort

Past the lone rowan and through the field of fresh unfurling ferns; mistle thrush prodding about in the turf between them. Battle of Britain swallows above, hurling themselves reckless about the sky with delicate twitches of wingtip, shrill with the sheer cool thrill of impossible vectors. Below – on the promontory above the scarp of patient oak that masks the confluence of two minor rivers deemed strategic in the iron age – the low, concentric double ramparts of the hill fort. Three thousand years it’s been here; so it probably justifies the modest weathered wooden sign that schedules it both ancient and monumental.  

Gossamer traps in the grass and herb tangle at the bottom of the steep banked ditch. Some kind of ambush spiders in them, poised for a chance to kill.

Eroded bank; herringbone drystone spine exposed. A few feet of manual labour that once passed someone’s ancient day. You’d feel the work was good. Matching rock to rock.  Building the bugger solid. With the palisade to go on top and the killing ditch beyond it. To keep your own secure- make those filthy bastards pay if they have the bollocks to try it.

Except for the dry hiss of wind in birch it’s quiet in the inner compound. No birdsong. No bees among the gaudy dapple of flowers. No crow croak of ill omen. No lofty keening buzzard. The ambiance not sinister, just peculiarly silent.

There’s a roundhouse against the bank on the other side of the compound. Old man inside it waking up, cocking ear to incongruous sound. War dogs yawping up the scarp? Rattle of enemy weapons? Will he get his father’s old iron sword down from the thatch again and wet it? Will this time be the last time?

Or is it just some sweaty hi-vis Lycra prat on a fancy bike, with two panting and snapping pedigree mutts galloping unruly beside him out of the treeline?  The old man stares cold and disappointed- dismisses the rude invaders with a vulgar gesture. They take the hint and a wide diversion around the outer fortification.

A woman weaves a totem to avert reinforcements.

Meanwhile in the Anarchy, someone builds a motte and bailey on top of the vanished roundhouse. They might have been King Stephen’s lads, or maybe Queen Matilda’s.  There may have been more blood shed.

Today there is peace, though – now that the dogs are gone – like most days have been and will be. But that’s the beauty of a hill fort; it’s there for the odd hour when you might need it.

Delano—May 2016  All rights reserved

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Pillboxes heel and sink into the standing wave of shingle between beach and inland; it’s breached by a winter storm a couple of decades ago. Coastal defences undermined. Green and pleasant pasture overrun by insurgent tides, reduced to bitter saltmarsh.

A path of trodden cobbles beneath the ridge; sea slopping slack beyond it. Brambles bind the pebbles. And flowers: white ones, yellow ones; orange, red, and blue ones- sharp, in vivid contrast to the jaded intermingling of old plastic flotsam. A tideline of twigs and straw; and a hundred thousand tiny crab cadavers marking the climax of a marine spring offensive. Alien avant garde: bridge too far; expended; abandoned to raucous avine evisceration; weird armoured limbs dismembered and scattered. 

Hot today. Sky with nothing but occasional birds in. Haze stealing definition from the wooded steeps beyond mire and field and village. Sun-crazed silt pans. Creeks wedging between mud banks forested with fresh green samphire. A bleached coppice of skeletal trees. Silver driftwood twisting.

A vague gurgle as the tide turns; more to be sensed than heard. A slow draining. Egrets and heron active. Blackbacks restless- yelling and launching sporadic test flights. How long before they find the dogfish cut-off in that tide pool? Its dorsal fin just cutting the surface as it circles, appreciating its peril as the mud pushes up under its belly, knowing evolution’s too slow to save it.

Curlew; redshank; shelduck. Some kind of pipit. Skylark burbling shrill and stratospheric.  

Humans. Dogs running and splashing crazy; sniffing curious, excited; predatory and vicious. 

Middle-aged woman with arm in a cast; she’s complaining her male companion misleads her as to the length and duration of their outing. 

Mum waiting with infant in pushchair on stone path; she looks grateful for the interlude provided by her chap’s capable endeavor in recovering their reckless lad’s trainers from the deceptive ooze which snatches them off him. 

Two pale men in black, pro-cameras ready in plump hands and trailing gusts of expensive perfume across the boardwalk causeway.

A springy path of wiry grass behind a low embankment. A pale tree-corpse reduced to honeycomb by some kind of large boring larvae.

At the end of the grass path – in a shady corner against the high hedge at the back of the marsh, with pale little butterflies coming and going, preserved within a fenced enclosure – the memorial to the crew of the Liberator B-24 that clips the hill one foggy 1942 night on its way back from hunting U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. And then splashes down hard in the marsh just over there outside the village. Twelve tired Americans splash down with it: Williams, Simpson, Lewis; Sorrell, Riess, Uffleman; DeMuzio and Prekel; DeMaroney, Purdy and Odell all die there. Thorpe’s the one that doesn’t.

Crows flap ragged down a ghostly flight  path. The skylark stays high and keeps singing.

A wren cocks its head and looks sharp with its beak full of insects.  Back at the pool the gulls find the dogfish.

Delano—May 2016  All rights reserved

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