Covid-19 - A Rural Diary - Me and My Dog: Reflections from a Country Lane
It is a very hot day here in the High Peak and I’ve just been wandering the lanes of the valley having popped a couple of birthday cards and a thank you note in the village post box. It is right next to the village pub which was doing a good trade, as you can imagine. Yet for once I turned my back on the tempting scene of light conversation, cool beers and summer attire. Instead I parked up beyond the village school as I used to when my own three daughters were infants and I would come and pick them up after their days of learning and play. The ghosts of their young selves were with me as I wandered along the hot, sun-dappled lane with Lily dog. We used to come along here when they were learning to ride their bikes, little pink ones with white wheels, wonky stabilisers and shiny taffeta tumbling from the ends of the handlebars. Oh so girlie! We also had the inevitable 3-wheel scooters at some point, branded with some TV character or other which I’ve long since forgotten. Teletubbies and Tweenies is about as far as my memory goes, they being their favourites when they were tiny. If they were here with me now we could reminisce and they would remind me, but I am alone as they are all grown up and doing their own things, no longer needing a mother to hold their hands every step of the way….
Yet I am not sad. I am happy. I walk along the lane I have gone down so many times before and I remember the time my youngest came down the hill and round a corner on one of those bikes I’ve just described. She says how she remembers the handlebars starting to wobble and getting worse and worse until she lost control and fell off. It all happened in slow motion for me - horrific images of those skinny little legs getting all caught up in the wheels and bones snapping in all directions. Mercifully this did not come to pass. We had bad cuts and bruises and dented pride but nothing that couldn’t be fixed back home in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a biscuit. She was recalling this with me just the other day. If you have shared memories, you are never truly alone, are you?
And so I continued with my reflections along the lane, past the house where the old man once lived who is now long gone and the bench that was erected for his partner, Gwyneth, who passed before him. Someone has been tending to the pots and it was looking very loved in the sunshine. A happy place, not a sad place. A perfect place to stop and gaze and contemplate.
I took a photo of the hedgerow flowers and gazed across myself at the vista of the majestic steep sided slopes of the Moss which encircles the valley, my eyes sweeping up to it through the holm oaks, across the fields of cows and sheep and beyond the farms with their golden hay stacks - the perfect embodiment of an English rural landscape. I was thinking of how the gamekeeper roams and tends the high moorland long before and after folk are awake, in darkness and in all winds and weathers. It is a place he loves more than he can express and I can imagine why. It must be magnificent. Just you, nature and views for miles.
As I continued on my way, I couldn’t help pausing by the latest house to be renovated along this stretch. People come and people go. The houses stand firm on the same plot as they have for decades, but the occupants change, each making adjustments to the place they call home. The new owners of this one are horticulturists and I can’t help but envy the beauty of their newly created vegetable garden. Everything is flourishing and well-tended - cabbages, peas, runner beans, kale and so much else. It all looks beautiful. I can’t help thinking of my own plot which I have worked so hard at but never seems to produce anything much beyond berries (which I have to fight the birds and mice for). I am higher up the hillside with less sun, but I feel I should be able to crack it. I must try harder, clearly!
And so I came to the corner where my youngest fell off her bike. It is here that I climb over the stile and into the field, a pheasant squawks and runs out from the undergrowth and sheep scatter, complaining loudly at the intrusion. The stream, my destination, is tinkling away as I cross over the little wooden bridge. Lily stops to cool down, the object of my walk today - for her and for me. It has been so very hot this week. I fancied a little paddle, a moment in the sunshine on the banks of a stream in perfect isolation. The stream where I used to take my girls all those years ago when life was sweet and simple.
There is nothing like plunging hot feet into cool fresh water, is there? I went to the bit where we always used to paddle and found a perfect pool right by the bank where I could sit with my feet submerged while Lily panted in the shade amongst the tall grasses of midsummer. The stream tinkled over the stones and continued on its way, meandering down through the village until, now dammed, it flows into the reservoir. Kingfishers have been spotted, but I have never seen one. Maybe one day.
I let time slip by until I was ready to walk back along the lane. A stepped aside to let an old tractor pass and waved at the occupant, a long-time resident of the village, and then a car passed with another elder of the farming community to whom I also waved as his little dog popped his head above the open window. The owners of the vegetable patch were sitting at a large round table in dappled shade in their garden, a horse popped its head over a gate to greet me while its foal lay dozing behind her. I stroked her long nose and soft muzzle and had a quiet chat as the flies buzzed annoyingly around her eyelashes.
And so back to the car and home, resisting once more the temptation of a cold beer in the sunshine at the pub even as I paused for a quick chat with a friend doing just that! No, I have things to do. We are going away tomorrow and I was happy being just me and my dog. The rest of my family have been out all day - two with former workmates in Manchester enjoying long summer lunches; another with friends cooling herself at a local beauty spot and then to the pub; and another travelling up from London by train. I relish my time alone, but it’s always good to know the family’s coming home.