Monthly Archives: October 2012

Beech in Autumn

There is something about a gate framed by arching trees

Rain before dawn had left a fresh tingle in the air and wind made music with the dry autumn leaves as we set off, well wrapped against the chill. Hoover rushed ahead, beckoned forward by the hint of a friend lurking on the far side of the gate. Low sun shot light under the clouds, illuminating the churchyard, lending an enticing sparkle to the headstones. Sometimes we wander through it on our way up to the hills rather than sticking to the path and once again I was drawn by the idea of being buried where visitors, if tired or dispirited, can at least enjoy the view.

Hoover and Rana bark at each other in greeting; the sheep ignore their foolish games, turning their backs and sauntering off to nibble at some thirst quenching grass. Beyond them the sun seeks out a pair of oaks, throwing a brilliant mantle over them as they stand against the Paynes grey clouds.

Oaks against a heavy sky

Bright against the darkness beyond

There was something about the light that made me look for rain as the wind buffeted against us. Hoover’s ears flapped as she ran ahead of me, casting a look over her shoulder to check that I was keeping up. I changed my mind about the burial plot, returning to my old favourite. I have always asked that my ashes be scattered from a high hill on a windy day. I think it is a desire to be blown free, to travel in the wind, running my fingers through the hair of those I have loved, hugging them as the wind hugs me. I want to be found in the open places, not to tie anyone to a place or sense of obligation to visit.


It is almost as if the rainbow is casting light beneath it

As Hoover and I headed back towards home, invigorated and inspired, as rush of colour streaked the sky. We had walked with our eyes on the sky, convinced that rain had to be falling somewhere between the puddled sunbursts. The dash of vibrancy grew until a full arc crossed the sky reaching from the far hills where we had been walking shortly before, far over into the valley beyond us.

A rainbow always looks like a promise; a promise of good things to come, of hope; a reminder of all that we have that we cherish. I arrived back at my desk with a light heart, plenty of ideas and an extra willingness to work.

Rainbow with a shadow

Jay cuts things smaller

There has been a lot of pruning and hedge trimming recently

Although the official end of summer was weeks ago, and autumn colours have struck the trees, I still persist in cheerful summer mood until the clocks go back. Heavily clouded skies, rain and general dankness has done its best to remind us all that winter is just around the corner, but yesterday October threw off its mists and mellow fruitfulness in a final burst of glory. Clear blue skies brought a sudden drop in temperature, and I donned gloves, hats and a thick coat for our morning walk. Hoover had just had a cut and blow-dry, so she was reduced to extra brisk walking, circling me at high speed and checking every blade of grass for hidden rabbits. It didn’t stop her from rushing for the garden when she saw us dressing up again.

First smoke

Smoke seeps through the bright leaves

Smokey developments

Thickening columns are a sign of good things to come

In no time sputtering crackles down in the depths produced the first wisps of smoke curling up through the damp leaves. Hoover dragged sticks from the pile, taking them off to the back of the redcurrant bushes for a final chew. Unlike many dogs Hoover’s innate desire to be with us overrides her natural caution around fires. She lurked at the edges inspecting progress, prepared at a moment’s notice to duck out of the way when smoke leapt down to envelope her, chasing her round the other side where she caught sight of a more interesting collection of old rabbit burrows..

Hoover checks progress

Hoover checks progress, or is that a squirrel I spy…

Fortunately we produce large heaps of hedge clippings and prunings too quickly for hedgehogs and toads to take up residence, but I always check the pile shifting things from the collection point to the bonfire only as we light it. Jay brought wheel barrow loads of beech leaves that he’d swept up from the yard. Together we threw in crisp armfuls onto the fire. The wind caught them, adding them to those it fetched from the trees, wafting them through the smoke before they fell to feed the flames.

Suspended leaves

Dancing leaves held by the smoke

The wind fanned the flames which burst through in dramatic flurries of energy keeping me busy tending to new areas that needed feeding. The dramatic shapes and colours were barely recognisable as flames at times.
Flame shroudBrilliance against the darkness

Slowly the whole heap of garden waste was transferred to the bonfire. Hoover had abandoned her rabbit forays and reminded us to collect the leaves that have already fallen on the vegetable garden by sniffing out a courgette that had managed to dodge the first gentle frosts. With everything stacked high we went in for a thirst quenching drinks; tea for Jay and water for Hoover and me. When I came out later to check it, the fire had already burned through most of the leaves, leaving a white ash autumn that miraculously held its fragile leaf forms against the odds. Flameless now, the heat was held in the core where it continued to smoulder, scenting our dreams.

Ash Fire

I only have to blow on these ash leaves for them to collapse into dust, but the heat keeps me back and I just treasure the image.

And today? Today it rained, but with the early evenings now upon us we made a fire indoors and relish the time to rest.

Ploughed Fields

Mist swallowed up the cottage in the valley, but left the furrows of the plough

Yesterday it rained, and the day before. Tomorrow it will rain again. Today it is not raining, but you can tell that it would like to. They sky is heavy and the air is wet.

The hills were empty and still. The tractors have given up ploughing. Other walkers were ‘putting it off until later’. Only the fool hardy were out. But Hoover and I didn’t mind, we had the hedgerows to ourselves, time to explore and investigate at our leisure. Life is good.

Hoover at the hedgerow

Who is that rummaging about on the other side of the hedge?

Half a Hoover

And who came this way before me?








Hoover darted ahead of me, her eyes alert, her nose quivering in anticipation. I keep my pockets stuffed with broken biscuits, hoping to keep her at my side through bribery if not affection. So far it has mostly worked, she cannot believe her luck and gobbles them down returning for more and hopefully offering me a paw in exchange. However there have also been times when I stand forlornly in the sog, listening eagerly for the ting of her returning after another deer quest.

We have yet to have a frost and the warm rain of this early October has encouraged plants to surprise us with unexpected flowers. A field scabious trying hard to lift its head reminded me of a blue sky that was somewhere beyond the clouds. Flashes of yellow sparked the imagination and clover reminded me of early school days.

Field Scabious

A dotted line hangs over a field scabious

Wet clover

Destined to flower fruitlessly, but still hopeful










Running up the gravel path on the first day of school, my heart was in my mouth. My brothers loved it, but I wasn’t so sure.
“Sit in front of me in assembly,”  Sime had said. “I’ll show you what to do.” I wasn’t sure I’d find him. School was huge; there must have been at least fifty of us. Maybe not, maybe thirty. But you know what I mean – HUGE – and strange.

There was Sime, standing by the door as we shuffled into assembly. He grinned and took my hand, pulling me into the room with him.
“Here,” he said, rummaging in a box and pulling out a circlet of bells. “These are the best.” He shoved my hand through the centre and curled my fingers round the handle. I hung onto them tightly. “Keep them quiet for now, but when I say ‘Go’ shake them like crazy.” I kept them quiet and stared around the room. There was my friend Ali, chatting to another girl I’d never seen before. And there was Andrew. And Sarah had a new hairband. Sime pushed me into a sitting position on the floor.
“You have to sit with your legs crossed,” he hissed from somewhere behind me, his breath all tickley and warm. I scrunched up my legs, leaned back against his knees and looked at the shiny golden bells.

Goody, our headmistress, played the piano and around us voices sang a song about bees and clover and sucking honey. Sime knew the words. I didn’t, but I liked the tune. Children banged drums, shook tambourines and tinged on triangles according to the coloured lines on a chart. I held up my bells. What should I do?
“Not yet,” Sime reminded me. A girl sitting next to me, sniffed and wiped at a tear with the back of her hand. A teacher gathered her off to the side, dabbing at her with a big white handkerchief. She didn’t have a brother to look after her and seeing her tears made me sad.
“Go!” Sime tapped me on the shoulder, grabbing my hand and waving it in his. I shook it like crazy. I shook all of me like crazy.
“That’s it!” called Sime. “That just perfect!” I forgot about being sad. Or anxious. Or worried about school. If this was what school was like I could see it was going to be fun.

To this day, I have a particular affection for bees, and like to suck honey out of the flowers of clover. Even in the rain.

I was still singing the Bee Song as Hoover and I turned into the yard. Rain was dripping off the rim of my hat and as I looked up from latching the gate I caught sight of a dried head of grass, hung with crystals.

Rain spangled grass

Rain spangled grass

I headed towards the house singing an adaptation of another childhood song – Raindrops are my diamonds. With masses of those around us, who needs any others?

Sugar Loaf Mountain

From the first moment I saw it I loved the fact that here was a mountain that looked the way a mountain should – pointy tipped and dark, way above anything around it. There were plenty of others around it too, but nothing that said mountain quite so distinctly.

A long time ago someone we barely knew came to stay for a week while he ironed out a glitch in the house purchase that he was three quarters of the way through. By the time we had been through a redundancy, a summer spent job hunting, the arrival of his girlfriend, a change of house choice and the infant Rosie experiencing another six months of life we had all become firm friends. Now he and Zara have a house in the Black Mountains and we were visiting for the weekend.

Hoover spotted the sheep before the car stopped and leapt from the car for a closer inspection.
“Hoover! No!” I shouted in greeting. “Come here!” I pointed at my feet. Hoover slunk back.
“What a good dog.”  Zara and Chris were impressed. I glowed with pride as Hoover chomped her way through a biscuit.

“Right. Walk,” Zara had us organised and pointed at Sugar Loaf Mountain. We started off in the opposite direction and headed downhill through dappled woods. Flashes of light sprang through the branches, or pooled in glades, and soon we were heading upwards through winding lanes, past  a tiny chapel and stone farms. Hoover stopped to look at more sheep. A collie came to see if she needed to be herded anywhere,  walking along side us till we were off his patch.

On Sugar Loaf

Peaty pools quench thirst perfectly well

Hoover sampled sheep droppings for both scent and flavour.
“Oh Hoover, No.” Hoover spat the droppings out. She’s not that keen on them really. Rather like the Duchess’s baby, she ‘only does it to annoy, because she knows it teases’. Sheep scattered when they spotted us, skittering off excitedly. Hoover studiously ignored them, waiting patiently by the gate for us to open it, while sheep darted away in all directions.
“What a good dog!” More biscuits.
“You won’t need a lead here,” Zara told me as we headed upwards through springy heather, but I wasn’t sure.

The friends you know best are the ones with whom you have the most to discuss. The only thing to pause the conversation was Britain’s last Vulcan flying slowly past, vast and instantly recognisable.
“Wow! Look! That’s a what’s it, isn’t it?” As we watched it disappear in the direction of Cardiff we strode past a necessary turning and suddenly we were running parallel to the peak rather than attaining it. Chris and Zara went back to find the path, but Hoover, Jay and I, not realising where they had gone, launched ourselves upwards. Hoover led me up the sheep trails until we came to part where it was so steep that I let her go free, and resorted to using hands as well as feet. Jay was negotiating rocks somewhere to our right. Chris and Zara had found the path and were sauntering up in a relaxed fashion. Hoover looked down at me from the top. Two feet good, four feet clearly better, I thought, and wondered if Orwell liked walking up mountains.

Hoover enjoys the view

Dog at the top

“That’s our house,” explained Chris pointing at a speck on a lower hill a couple of valleys away. I could see Jay itching to find a map, but we had none with us. Chris and Zara know this route well.
“What’s that? ” we asked, pointing at the horizon.
“Offa’s Dyke.”
“And that?” Investigating a cleft in the rocks, Hoover had found the Essex Scout’s cache of emergency mountain rations.

At the top of Sugar Loaf

Rocks and vapour trails

The Vulcan slid past again, heading for Ross-on-Wye now and we launched ourselves back down the hill. Hoover darted ahead, keen to show us the way and, spotting sheep nibbling at the grassy verge, I fished out her lead again. Hoover ignored the sheep.
“What a good dog,” I tickled her ears. We were getting through the biscuits.

Down one hill, round another, up a lane and suddenly Sugar Loaf was far behind us, back to being the perfect mountain image as we stripped off the jerseys that we had donned to protect us from the buffeting wind at the top. The warmth of the valley seemed balmy.

Hoover glanced casually at some sheep in the field beside us while I opened a gate for us to take the final track.
“Was it easy to train her to be so good with the sheep?” asked Zara. My good dog. I rubbed the top of her head.
“Well, I don’t think she actually wants to chase sheep. Not that I’ve ever given her the option, but she’s never shown any inclination.” Ahead of us the track wound its way between gnarled blackthorns. Hoover ambled at my side, tired after a long walk.
“Last gate,” said Zara. Hoover waited patiently as she and I stepped through. I checked behind us, but Chris and Jay were still out of sight, lost in some discussion.
“OK, Hoover, you can come. Good girl.” She frisked through, all tiredness gone. There was a light in her eye; something had caught her attention. I turned to see what it was and was just in time to see Hoover vanish out of sight.
“Zara?” I called. Then I heard a sound of many hooves, running.
“HOOVER!” I bellowed. “BAD DOG! NO!  BAD DOG!  COME HERE!” I didn’t have to see what was happening to be pretty sure what was going on. There were sheep in Chris and Zara’s front garden. I ran. Hoover and I nearly collided. One glance at me and Hoover slid to the ground, that curious, slinking creep that only a dog can do; that sorrowful slither which means that Hoover is pretty sure that trouble is about to follow hard on the heels of high jinks.

All those misplaced biscuits; that misplaced confidence. Pride does indeed come before a fall and I was the one at fault. Given half a chance Hoover would have played a hearty game of tag with those sheep. She would have thought it splendid fun. They would not.  No more chances.