I have lived in the Blackmore Vale for sixteen years but know there is still undiscovered territories to behold. Determined to leave my car at home, I walk up through the town, over the bridge, past the cemetery towards Broad Oak and on up the lane beside Piddles Wood. It’s a bright, squally day with bouts of black cloud interspersed with intense sunlight that lights up the mossy vegetation with rainforest hues. The rain is graced by double rainbows refracting the airborne water droplets and looping the landscape with their multicoloured arches.
I pace down Angers Lane jumping between the watery rivulets, past the mushroom farm and down towards the main road. Every so often, a car passes me full pelt splashing me with mud and water. As another vehicle speeds around the corner, I step up off the road and as I do so, I notice a path in the thicket and a tiny babbling brook. Curiosity grips me as I slide around the base of an old oak tree and duck under the low thin branches of hazel coppice. Tiptoeing between banks of snowdrops and already sprouted ground elder, I follow the brook until I can hear a much louder burbling of water and as I approach it, I hear a single shrieking note of a familiar bird. And then in the time it takes to blink, I catch the flash of intense turquoise as a kingfisher hurls around the meanders like a racing car.
I know that if I sit and wait he may well come back the other way, so I find a comfortable spot, and sure enough, ten minutes later, here he comes; this time silent and stealth like. The River Stour runs through the Blackmore Vale but I am only just discovering the myriad of brooks, streams and water courses that feed it. These waterways are hidden delights as they drift in deep banks over the bedrock; secret passages for kingfishers and otters.
Uplifted, I walk on to Hammoon and across a field that overlooks the ancient hill fort of Hambledon Hill. By now the sun is high and warm despite some more portentous clouds on the horizon. To my amazement, a large yellow brimstone is fluttering around the ivy. It’s the 19th January and my first butterfly of the year. I follow it for as long as I can until the black cloud above me suddenly empties its consignment. Head down, with horizontal hail stones hitting my exposed cheeks I hurry down the old railway bank towards a local Inn to dry off with a warming bowl of soup. Here I listen to three, quaintly dressed, old farmworkers recollecting the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 and their antics during their National Service. Retired now and drinking away the afternoon, I suddenly feel glad to have free time when I am still young and fit enough to enjoy it.