I sit in the blue painted rushwork chair in the shed. Behind me posters from Icelandic and Danish art exhibitions (mostly landscapes with cliffs) adorn the walls, relics of the time it was a writer’s den (it still could be, there’s power and light, but it’s become chocked with junk and garden materials).
The shed has also been an artist’s studio (but Margi needs to be part of a group, a collective, to function at her best so she took a studio in the centre of town) and now it’s a potting shed, one wall has a table with heated propagators all down it, currently occupied by the courgette plants. Maybe I can reclaim it once the summer comes.
Margi calls the shed “The Summer House” because on warm, sunny evenings we sit with the doors open and drink cold rose wine and eat oatcakes and ewes’ milk cheese and quietly chill. We can look out into the garden and watch the birds on the feeders. Goldfinches are particularly exotic little visitors with the flashes of gold on their wings, nuthatches throw seed everywhere, a boon to the dunnocks who like to ground feed. We only have the squirrel proof feeders in action now, we were inundated with squirrels, but the new designs mean we’ve lost our thrushes and most of our blackbirds. Is it worth it? We’ve hung fatballs from the viburnum which attract lots of tits each day. But I must not dally here….
I open wide the double doors and step out onto the decking area. The decorative bits of the back garden lie before me, ahead is the metallic red of the maple and the lush green of the hazel. Falling away down the slope is a mass of waving yellow poppies. On the flat terrace are two raised vegetable beds where spinach, dwarf beans and salad crops are just beginning to grow.
I turn to my left and start down the steps. The bay tree stands tall to my right, and alongside it are our rhubarb plants. Behind them is an area of soil, dug over but not yet planted – courgettes and kale will go here. At the bottom of the steps there is a flat area leading to the back door, I check it’s locked. We always keep it locked since the burglary three weeks back. I enter the narrow passage between the garage and the house. I jog slowly along it. My way is barred by an iron gate, which I unlock. Past the gate the front drive slopes steeply down to the road.
At the bottom of the drive, I turn and prepare to “sprint” back up the slope (make allowances here I’m 71). To my left is our raised front garden, dominated by a hydrangea and a tree heather. The stone wall is topped with the purple of thrift. A little further on, the first pale, yellow, roses are just coming into bloom.
As I run up the slope I pass the mini-greenhouse I built a week or two back, now filled with tomato plants. It nearly blocks the pathway that runs across the top of the front garden.
But for now I am trying to sprint up the drive, into the passageway and up the first flight of steps into the back garden. From this lower angle the garden is a wall of yellow poppies backed by the hazel and the maple and beyond them the fence and the woods beyond.
I pass the shed and turn sharp right along the path to the gate into the woods. There are three steep stone steps to climb, and on this first lap I have to unlock the padlock and open the gate (again the burglary has made us more conscious of this).
I pass through the gate and enter the cool, green shade of the woods. To my right is a pile of brushwood which we hope is (or will become) a home for hedgehogs. Our garden used to be visited most nights by three hedgehogs, we used to feed them. But last year they didn’t turn up, we keep hoping though that they will return. Some years ago there used to a fox living in the far right hand corner of this small piece of woodland. Glynis at the end used to feed it with chicken. Margi saw it once walking down the middle of the road. But it’s not been seen for a while now.
To my left is the large domineering sycamore that shades half our garden and threatens to push over our fence. The Council call it a feature tree, and will not accept that it poses a threat to ours and other houses so we just have to live with it. Some years ago we noticed that the way the bark on the trunk was twisted looked like some eldritch face, but last year the ivy grew so strongly over it that now all we can see is a mass of green foliage.
The path leads into the woods. I have in my head, a half remembered image of a painting, “Das Weg durch den Wald” – the way through the woods. I’ve always thought it was by one of the German Romantics but a google search can’t locate it, just modern US paintings and the poem by Rudyard Kipling. There’s nothing like the grandeur of the German forests, no home here for Armenius (Hermann the German as Simon Scharma called him) or even a haunt for Herne the Hunter (I come from haunts of “coot and hern”), but something about the shadows and the green always make me think of those German romantics. Maybe there’s a bit of Robert Frost’s “snow falling soft on cedars” when we hit winter. I’m getting a bit pretentious here I fear, and my memory isn’t what it was. It used to be legendary, like I was one of the Bene Geserit in the Dune novels, but there I go again. Get on with it, man!
We made this path by our (almost) daily transits over the years to our allotment to tend our crops and the beehives in the days before the fires. The path provided a short cut through to the minor road and across it to the allotment site. Margi says the path is a drawing made on the landscape by our feet. In all the years we’ve been walking it we’ve never met another person on it.
The path floor is covered with beechmast and dried twigs. The pathway is lined by “lords and ladies” their fleshy leaves standing tall. Later in the year the spikes of their red berries will grow, there’s something fleshy and evil about them, like ingredients for a witches brew.
I start to jog along the path, following it as it curves to the left running parallel to the stone wall that marks its northern edge. The path twists and turns round ash and beech trees, avoiding holly bushes and the occasional sycamore. Further back a lone ash tree stands like flagpole rising from a pool of white ransome flowers.
As I round a corner a bird shoots across my path, too quick, too small and too dark for me to recognise what type. Around another corner I surprise a squirrel that runs up the trunk of a welcoming beech seeking the safety of the upper branches.
As I reach the stone wall that marks the western edge of the woods, a pack of magpies descends, crashing and banging into the brush below the path. This is an area where one winter a couple of years back we surprised an overnighting deer.
The path is straightening, the trees are sparser, the light is breaking through. The ground is carpeted with the white flowers of ransome, its garlic scent is rising up as I move through. Further back there are scattered patches of bluebells.
I stop and stand on a large square flagstone above which steps climb to a locked gate that leads into what was once the walled garden of the House. This is the furthest point of my walk.
From here the path will lead out onto a “square” behind the houses that now fill the House’s site. The square contains a couple of garages and there is the danger of running into other people here. In these times of lockdown, I can’t risk that. Margi is in the shielded group, total isolation. This walk / run is all I can risk, I’ll turn back now.
I retrace my steps, back through the woods, and in through our garden gate. I rest for a moment outside the shed. One circuit done, only another 14 to go.
Dave Jackson May 2020