Autumn comes to Beetley

Despite the unseasonal weather, (it was 24 C here today) it is more than obvious that Autumn has arrived. I spent a fair amount of time this week collecting the first fall of leaves and twigs from the oaks, as well as attempting to shift some of the many acorns. Another good few hours were spent trimming the leylandii hedges that shelter two sides of the garden. I had neglected them last year, and paid the penalty for this, with hard work. Standing some ten feet high, and almost five feet deep, this is not a job to be tackled lightly, or in bad weather. Most of the difficult bits have to be got at from the top rung of a ladder, with almost all of my body at full stretch, perched precariously on the bulk of the hedge, as I reach across. The thickest branches had to be dealt with by sawing, and each remainder would have made an acceptable Christmas Tree, for an average room. The unexpectedly good weather allowed me to get on with this job, which I could no longer put off. The end result is a satisfyingly neat double row of hedge, and more light allowed into the gardens of the neighbouring houses. I also have the scars to show battle was done, with marks from twigs, the strange redness of an allergic reaction to the pine needles, and muscles aching all over my legs and wrists.

It is getting foggy in the mornings, and dark earlier. By 7.30 in the evening, our lights are on, and by 8, it is completely black outside. The fields nearby are being ploughed, and at times the smell of the manure, and other fertilisers, is all-pervasive between here and Dereham. The leaves are turning; gold before brown, some pale and lifeless. Walking with Ollie today in the afternoon heat, we wandered in the direction of Gingerbread Corner. The vast acres of blackcurrant bushes have now been harvested; the fruit that was rejected by the farmer now fought over by hundreds of starlings. They in turn are mobbed by dozens of crows, swooping down from high nests in the Poplars lining the Holt Road, their cry of ‘caw-caw’ building to an unpleasant cacophony. Squirrels are much in evidence, rapidly gathering nuts to store against the coming winter. So many are scurrying around, Ollie is unsure which one to chase first, and just stands and cries in frustration.

Once at the plum orchards, lack of rainfall, and the cessation of watering by the farmer, shows in the remaining crop. This time of year normally sees many unpicked plums still hanging in plump clusters on the short trees. Today, all that was visible were hundreds of shrivelled and blackened fruits, dehydrated and dead on their stalks. A little further on, there is a pleasant area left fallow this year, home to attractive wildflowers, and recently, scores of sunflowers; not cultivated, just growing randomly. Their huge yellow heads, with the dark centres of seeds, helped to brighten a familiar walk. On inspection this afternoon, they have lost petals, the seeds are dry, and the heads are beginning to droop down, as if the flower is sad, or unwell.

This summer of mixed blessings will soon be just a memory. Clear nights, cold winds from the north, Halloween, Bonfire Night, and other seasonal festivities will replace the joy of light evenings, and wide-open windows. Autumn is here.

A Windy Walk

Saturday didn’t start too well. On a routine trip to the shed, to get a fresh light bulb, I noticed that almost half of the floor was under water, once again. Presumably, the recent torrential rain has raised the level of the ground water, and it is finding its way inside, though it is impossible to work out how. This meant a complete evacuation of all the stuff stored out there, to gain access to the floor, so as to be able to ascertain the extent of the small flood. Sodden cardboard packaging had to be thrown out, and numerous things re-packaged, in plastic containers that will resist the worst of the water. Many items had to be found a place in the adjacent garage, which is now almost full, with only a narrow access passage left.

Once the space had been cleared, the mopping up process could begin, using any old towels, dust sheets, and paper. When the area was dry again, I resolved not to put anything back there that could be damaged, so a complete sort out was necessary. I know that this is insignificant, when compared to the devastation caused by severe floods in the South-West of the UK, but when it is in your shed, and causing a nuisance, it still seems like a big deal. After almost two hours of this chore, it was time to get ready to take Ollie out, for his later than usual walk. I decided to reward his patience, with a walk along the Wensum Way, to the back of the large pig farms, and around the plum orchards.

After ploughing through some muddy paths in Mill Lane, we emerged into the large area of open fields, home to a large plantation of recently pruned blackcurrant bushes. It was here that I discovered a new ‘enemy’ of the dog walker. Wind. Not a breeze, you understand, nor even something described as ‘blustery’, or ‘windy’. This was serious wind, a north-westerly coming at us like the back-draft of a jet engine. Flattening my long parka against my body, and whipping up stones and twigs, which clattered into and around me, as if hurled by some unseen poltergeist. Forward movement felt constrained, as if wading through deep water, and my eyes were soon streaming too. Turning my back for a brief respite, I felt that it would almost support my weight, if I leaned into it.

Ollie was oblivious, as he usually is. No extremes of weather ever seem to faze him, and his demeanour is the same, whether in torrential rain, or thick snow. If he noticed this wind, he certainly didn’t display any reaction to it, and carried on looking for rabbits, peeing up bushes, and trotting around, as if on a mission, only known to him. When he got thirsty, he took a drink from one of the pond-like puddles, and he ran on far ahead, sometimes looking back, to check that I was still there. When we reached the pigs, they sauntered over to the fence, no doubt hoping that I was a farm employee, bringing them more food. They all lined up to look directly at me, as their huge ears point forwards, and shade their peripheral vision, like blinkers on a horse.

When we finally arrived at Gingerbread Corner, I took the opportunity of a break. There is a large copse of tall trees, and they stop the wind from having the same effect that it enjoys across the open fields. Retracing the route towards home, I at least had the wind in my back, and this made walking much easier. I arrived home, pleased to be away from the constant buffeting. One hundred minutes seemed so much longer, when it was hard to hear yourself think, and each step felt like I was wearing diving boots. I am looking forward to a time of less extremes, ‘normal’ days, windy, or otherwise. The good walks will return, their time is just around the corner.