The Gypsy’s Drove: a ghost yard of travellers past

I have always sought adventures; the chance to experience something new or unusual; a ‘gypsy’ nomad, in search of novelty.  But now that life has gone from global to local, the challenge, for all of us, is to discover novelty much closer to home.  It is not as hard as I first expected. 

Today’s ‘adventure’ was the discovery of a new footpath.  As I walked a familiar track down towards a small brook, I noticed a damp and claustrophobic trail between the hedgerows.  With curiosity running into overdrive, I made my way down pastures new; a path I had never trod before.

To my delight, the hedgerow faded and the fields soon opened up.  I found myself on a well-kept farm track overlooking the undulating horizon of Bulbarrow Hill.   Beyond that, was a wide uninterrupted blue sky completely unadorned by vapour trails.  How strange that was. 

I have grown up in a time where air travel is the norm; an expected luxury to an inexhaustive list of places.  Now, we have only two.  The first is inside ourselves discovering new kinds of happiness in our isolation; a self-reliant contentment not dependent on people and things, the other is a heightened appreciation of our own ‘back yard’.

As I made pace along this new track, the birdsong was the loudest and sweetest I could recall since childhood.  Today’s music was the ardent drumming of the great spotted woodpecker, the distant yaffle of its green cousin and the sweet tinkling chatter of bank voles.  There were clouds of audacious primroses, honey smelling gorse, a white mist of blackthorn and a vibrant budding green that decorated the hedge-lands.  Life is precious and sweet and I wanted to gather as much of this sweetness as possible to counter the grim reality of this Covid era. 

I found an old oak tree and perched for a moment on its flanks wondering if this was a good place for the cup of tea I had brought with me in my rucksack.  But almost immediately a pair of bolshie blue tits came within a metre of me as if to say, “what are you doing here? This is our tree, go home!”  I left them to it.  They were right, the tea could wait, I should be on my way. 

I carried on down Gypsy’s Drove absorbed with romantic thoughts of gypsy caravans, songs and lavender imbibed with the promise of good fortune.   Then, just as I rounded the bend, a strange ghostly shape of a boat peered through the hedgerow. What was a boat doing there?  As I made sense of this, more metal carnage of cars and vans slowly emerged from the undergrowth as if escaping the clutches of new green shoots.  Immediately my heart sank, the magic of Gypsy’s Drove was as broken as the rotting metal hulks. 

As I hastened to leave the path, a buzzard with its rabbit catch made me duck as it swooped over my head, we met eye to eye for a nanosecond as it guarded its bounty.  A wild interlude on a landscape blotted by humans.  With a quickened pace, I soon found myself in familiar woodlands and my sense of calm resumed.

I said a fair hello to my familiar friends of the forest floor: primroses, stitchwort, violets, wood anemones and celandines.  “Doight doight…..doight, doight, doight” called the nuthatches overhead: punchy, forceful and deliberate.  My mood changed as I looked at my watch and the dipping sun, it was time to get on.  Despite the delights, my feeling of Springtime is somewhat dampened by a background anxiety.  Part of the joy of Spring is always the thought of the fine summer to come: the music, the gatherings, the holidays and high days.  Alas not this year.