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8th June 2020

Sunset in field Northamptonshire Sunset in field Northamptonshire

The one delicious green that now pervades

The woods and fields in endless lights and shades…

How clever of John Clare, ‘the Northamptonshire poet’, to capture such images of the county’s countryside exactly 200 years ago.  And for those of us lucky enough to have remained healthy during Corona Virus lockdown, what a revelation our daily local excursions into that countryside have been.

The restrictions we have lived with have brought opportunities as well, especially for those in rural locations.  Since February some sparkling weather has prompted many people to get out for their fresh air around the ample network of footpaths and byways offered by Northamptonshire.  Rights of way are generally well marked and a variety of stiles and kissing gates help keep you on your route.  They can lead you to stunning views across picturesque farmland, unexpected quiet nooks and woodland teeming with wildlife.

Over the last three months or so my own local expeditions have revealed an extraordinary and changing range of greens as dormant hedgerows have burst into life and matured to provide nesting sites for countless birds whose trills and warblings reveal their presence even when out of sight.  March fields, where I witnessed hares scrapping for mating rights, have since been coaxed into productivity by farmers, their crops rising ever closer to harvest at each visit.

Overhead, soaring buzzards have announced themselves with their plaintive calls and more than once I have been buzzed by a red kite, playing the wind with its v-shaped tail.  Another close encounter on a woodland margin was with a green woodpecker, startled into flight from its work on an upwind ants nest.  Whilst the badger and barn owl have stayed hidden in daytime, there is plenty of evidence of their nightly activities along the way: fresh earthworks and beaten tracks to water supplies revealing one, smears and pyramids of white droppings on and around favoured perching posts, often beside stiles, the other.

I won’t attempt to describe the range of wild flowers in our woods, hedgerows and roadsides but February’s rain seems to have done its job well.  Shows of bluebells, red campion and stunning blue speedwell all deserve a mention.  Let’s not forget too, the pungent wild garlic that the inventive chef at Althorp included in his recipes for the ‘Food for Heroes’ initiative – daily free meals for local NHS staff.

Our pubs, tea rooms and restaurants have of course all been furloughed – a word we have learned to use – during lockdown.  They have looked sad and resentful behind their shutters and ‘closed’ signs, unable to perform their duty to refresh walkers (and cyclists, let’s not forget them!) and provide welcome venues for us to meet, eat and drink.  But it’s a comforting thought that when restrictions are lifted they will once again be there at the end of a thirsty walk or cycle.  Meantime like the impressive range of stately homes, houses and churches the county offers we can see them at a distance and plan a future visit to include them more fully.  There really is so much to see and do for young and old, individuals, couples, families, activity groups…

John Clare was known for his love of the countryside and the rural life.  Now the lockdown has given many more of us the reason to re-engage with it ourselves - and how amazing the experience has been!  Commentators suggest we will return to a ‘new’ normality in time.  Part of my own New Normal will be a commitment to walk the county’s paths and tracks regularly and continue to enjoy the variety and change that time and nature bring.  Why not you too?

Richard Bunce

Daventry 27 May 2020

Always follow current government advice about how and where you exercise, and remember the Countryside Code.

 

Bluebells Bluebells
Northamptonshire Landscape Northamptonshire Landscape

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