A walk in the woods

Winter sunset across the pond: I just love the reflection, the trees looking like lace.

Winter sunset across the pond: I just love the reflection, the trees looking like lace.

IT takes a certain determination to overlook the grey skies and rain and try to have a busy day. The Happy Moonraker’s first thought is to curl up under the duvet and forget trying to do anything useful.

Tilly the terrier doesn’t seem to notice weather. One day is like any other to her: food, walk, run, food, walk, run, doze, bark, sleep, and then more of the same.

If we’ve managed to pick a time when it is not raining, we have had more lovely walks in the beech woods.

Tilly and the two dogs she knows best, Budleigh and Rosie, know exactly where to go. Tilly ignores them both and refuses to play but the others romp and run and make sure they get as muddy as possible.

Budleigh is an enthusiastic Labrador and Rosie is a high-speed lurcher.

A female roe deer suddenly saw us as we turned a corner on the edge of the wood. Then she was off, through the young crop of oilseed rape.

A female roe deer suddenly saw us as we turned a corner on the edge of the wood. Then she was off, through the young crop of oilseed rape.

Tilly investigates quietly, sniffing and sometimes digging, but she is never far from me. Everything changes, though, if she spots a squirrel. Then all hell breaks loose. That’s when she sounds like a pack of feral terriers.

These pretty fungi (see below) were in the beech woods, just by the path.

These pretty fungi (see below) were in the beech woods, just by the path.

I did well to photograph the little red mushrooms without Tilly’s snout dominating the shot. She was fascinated. According to an identification website, they are called Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha coccinea) and are quite common, although I have never seen them before. They are described as edible but I think I’ll give them a miss.

 

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Better days ahead?

Tilly on a beech tree, listening to chattering jays.

Tilly on a beech tree, listening to chattering jays.

Tilly the terrier hopes that her many fans enjoy 2017, and that they receive plenty of cheesy treats throughout the year.

The Happy Moonraker also hopes that the year improves for everyone after a depressing start.

With too many people in positions of power espousing the most loathsome beliefs, the omens are not good. It is up to the moderates to make our feelings known, wherever we are. We can’t look round when some appalling decisions have been implemented and say: “But how did that happen?”

Dog-walkers of the world unite. We have more power than you think.

There are also signs of spring all around, in spite of days of heavy frosts, dreary grey skies, and gardens boasting little but brown sticks. A careful look reveals snowdrops, catkins, and buds waiting to burst open.

We have had some lovely walks. Yes, there has been rather too much mud but you have to expect it at this time of year, and beech woods are always interesting and mood-lifting as we wade through puddles and thick carpets of brown leaves.

At home, when the ground isn’t too hard, the Happy Moonraker can always go out and dig up a couple of leeks. Granted, they are not everyone’s favourite vegetable, but I have devised one or two ways of preparing them which make them acceptable to just about everyone.

Strings attached

Ford gate wi string etc

MOST of us are in favour of repairing and recycling before replacing. However, this gate near Salisbury is perhaps a classic example of creative repair that has gone too far.

The Happy Moonraker would not like responsibility for actually trying to close it; any self-respecting sheep would soon get through, leading the rest of the flock behind it.

 

Choosing friends carefully

Tilly out for a walk with her good friend Willoughby.

Tilly out for a walk with her good friend Willoughby.

TILLY would be the first to admit that she is slow to make friends. Whether it’s a new human or a dog, she likes to take time to get to know them.

She doesn’t always make friends with the obvious candidates either. Another Jack Russell of similar size and markings was totally ignored by Tilly even though they lived almost next door to each other for more than four years. Obviously the vibes were wrong.

An unexpected friendship has blossomed between Tilly and a bearded collie called Willoughby. Who could have foreseen that such an unlikely pair would hit it off? Leggy, bouncy, outgoing Willoughby and short, quiet, reserved Tilly make an unusual sight as they trot along together in the woods, firm friends wherever they go. Whether following an interesting scent in the undergrowth or just leading their humans along the path, there is a definite bond between them.

However, their size is not the only difference between them: Tilly can swim but Willoughby can’t. Not yet anyway.

 

Signs of spring in Grovely Wood and elsewhere

These sheep were busily eating up their greens on the way into the wood.

These sheep were busily eating up their greens on the way into the wood.

IF there is one thing that keeps The Happy Moonraker going through the winter it is the thought of spring. It is so heartening now to see signs of spring all around.

In Grovely Wood near Salisbury at the weekend I saw bluebell leaves through the brown beech leaves underfoot. In sheltered spots there are daffodils that have been around for at least a month, and snowdrops are still shaking their little white heads in the chilly breeze. Catkins adorn the naked branches of hazel bushes and there are plenty of hellebores in gardens and parks.

A river of mauve crocuses outside Salisbury Museum is now past its best but more will be flowering in exposed rural areas.

A puffball at Grovely.

A puffball at Grovely.

Fungus well established on the stump of a beech tree.

Fungus well established on the stump of a beech tree.

A beech tree with a troubled past.

A beech tree with a troubled past.

Tilly is not bothered by signs of spring: she decided to dig to Australia when she was in Grovely Wood.

Tilly is not bothered by signs of spring: she decided to dig to Australia when she was in Grovely Wood.

Snowdrops on a roadside verge in the Woodford Valley near Salisbury.

Snowdrops on a roadside verge in the Woodford Valley near Salisbury.

Padstow to Fowey on foot: two sisters on a family pilgrimage in the rain

Rain on Helman Tor

Rain on Helman Tor

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. Sadly, every item of waterproof clothing was tested to its limit when my sister and I decided to go on a walking pilgrimage. If the sun did show itself for a few minutes, it was a bonus and the reason for a modest cheer. There’s nothing quite like a Cornish landscape, but when it is so misty and damp, or the rain is horizontal and there is a gale blowing, you just concentrate on not slipping in the mud as you clamber over one more stile.

Not that I’m complaining. We loved every minute of our expedition, even if I did spend two days walking with a wet foot. My ten-year-old walking boots chose day two on which to give up. The rubber welt on the left boot came away from the upper so that was that. Even the old trick of putting my foot inside a plastic bag before putting on the boot made no difference. Never mind. We have amazing memories of the whole enterprise. We’ve succeeded in almost forgetting a couple of uncomfortable beds, a slightly less-than warm welcome at the final bed & breakfast and one or two unintended temporary diversions from the route.

Among the many highlights were spotting wild strawberries in a hedgerow. There they were, like jewels nestling among the leaves, just waiting to be eaten. There were countless beautiful flowers – wild foxgloves standing like sentinels beside the path, honeysuckle, red campion, bramble flowers – along with flitting wrens, robins, finches, mewing buzzards. Even a butterfly or two appeared in time with the occasional flash of sunshine.

The reason for undertaking the 30-mile walk was to mark what would have been our late father’s 100th birthday. We chose to walk the Saints Way, between Padstow on the north coast, across the centre of Cornwall to Fowey on the south coast, and we planned it so we would arrive at our destination on Father’s Day.

We wanted to walk in Cornwall because we’d spent part of our childhood there, and Fowey had to be on the itinerary because our father had known the pretty little port with its beautiful harbour from boyhood. The Saints Way has become well known nowadays as the likely route taken by pilgrims making their way from Ireland to the Continent. However, we met few others on the way, which we felt was a good thing.

Never having done anything like this together before, we discovered that we still enjoyed each other’s company and liked our silences as much as the chatting, whether we were discussing the map we were meant to be following, or setting the world to rights.

It is important to stress at this point that we were not trying to do the impossible and carry heavy packs on our backs: we weren’t. Neither were we camping. We stayed at pre-booked b&bs each night, and our bags were taken to the next one after we’d set off each morning.

In spite of wet gear, a few doubts about the right way to go (which I have to admit had nothing to do with the excellent instructions with which we had been provided) and having to decide where to eat each evening, the most tricky decision every morning turned out to be what to bring with us in our light daypacks and what to leave behind to be delivered for us to find at the next b&b

You really would think that two grown women who’d brought up families and travelled the world could decide, on the basis of maps, weather forecasts and practical experience, how many spare pairs of socks, sticking plasters, which reading material, extra jerseys, waterproofs and so on to bring. By the second morning we realised that the post-breakfast “bag faffing” as we called it was beginning to spoil what should have been a smooth departure.

Once we’d got going we just had to exist for six or eight hours with what we had with us. Had there been an emergency we were armed with all the right telephone numbers. Happily, there were no serious problems. As we headed across hillsides, down into valleys, through soggy woods, up Helman Tor, and down into farmyards and hamlets, we came across wonderful road signs with names like St Wenn, Withiel Goose and Retire; we browsed in ancient churches, studied gravestones and were mesmerised by the sight of wind turbines in action.

We felt that Dad might have been quite proud of us, his girls, a couple of oldies now, proving that a bit of rain and wind needn’t divert us from our pilgrimage. Needless to say, I have invested in a new pair of walking boots and we are looking forward to the next trip.

Withiel church embroidered wall hanging

Withiel church embroidered wall hanging

Water trough with Green Man near Lanivet

Water trough with Green Man near Lanivet

River Fowey at Lostwithiel

River Fowey at Lostwithiel

Rain-lashed foxgloves below Helman Tor

Rain-lashed foxgloves below Helman Tor

St Sampson's church, Golant

St Sampson’s church, Golant