NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Brian and I seemed to have made an unconscious post-Christmas tradition of heading for
Ibberton Hill with a flask of coffee and some mince pies. They always taste particularly good
whilst admiring the view from the warmth of the car and at this time of the year, when trees
are stripped bare so that you can see the beauty of their structure, the view seems almost
more breathtaking than it does in summer. It’s a peaceful place. The land drops gently down
to a long, wide valley dotted about with doll’s house-sized villages, stray cottages and farms,
and sheep-grazed fields that are laced together with hedges. Buzzards circle overhead and
below us magpies chatter, otherwise all is silent.
So far, it’s been a mild winter and here and there early gorse blazes golden on the hillsides.
According to country lore, when the gorse is out of flower, kissing’s out of fashion, and when
it’s in flower, England will never go to war, so we’re all right for another year. It’s going to be
a very early spring this year by the looks of things. The first daffodils are out in the village and
if things continue as they are now, the church will be decorated with summer flowers at Easter.
Hazel catkins are already so long that they’re swinging in the breeze. They always remind me
of Bert, an elderly man I once knew in Devon. I first came across him walking backwards and
forwards across a field with a forked hazel twig held out in front of him. I watched him for a
few minutes before curiosity got the better of me and I called out to ask what he was doing.
“Dousing,” he said. He never used two words when one would do.
“For water?”
A nod.
“You can’t really do it, can you?”
For answer, he walked slowly towards a hedge where the twig did some violent twists and
turns.
“You’re doing it on purpose,” I called and he looked at me in disgust whilst the twig
continued to agitate in his hands.
“Does that mean there’s water really there?”
“Course.”
And of course it did because he was standing over a small ditch. All the same, I was deeply
impressed.
“Can I have a go?”
Silently, he passed me the twig and showed me how to hold it, flat on my palms with the ends of the forks between my thumbs and fingers.
I paced backwards and forwards away from the ditch. Nothing happened. “Come this way,” he called and suddenly the twig became alive in my hands, wriggling violently.
“Ay,” he said calmly. “You’ve got it.”
I’ve tried it out many times since then, over places where water is obvious and not so obvious ‒ like under-floor water pipes for instance ‒ and it works every time. I know I’m not in the least unique but I do wonder if everyone feels as strange as me when a bit of stick suddenly becomes a living thing trying to escape from your hands. Have a go ‒ it’s worth trying. From the early mornings of mid-November until now, with only a brief pause, a thrush sang nearby, serenading the world for several hours. They can be heard most months but it’s when other birds are silent that their song is so welcome. They sing from the top of a tree and can be heard for up to half-a- mile. Not a microphone in sight. Pop singers take note. By Christmas, the weather was still mild and several other birds joined in so that Stourton Caundle had a mini dawn chorus.
We picked up an old bird book at a second-hand bookstall recently. It’s called ‘Birds One Should Know, Beneficial and Mischievous’. At the time of its publication in 1925, thrushes appeared to be more numerous than blackbirds. From about the 1970s on, positions reversed as thrushes began to suffer from the loss of hedges, wet ditches and woodlands, whilst blackbirds flourished in gardens and seemed not to be quite so fazed about loss of other habitat.
The weather seems to be having an early effect on birds. Chaffinches have pinked up, we have a pair of robins constantly feeding together beneath the feeders and blackbirds are once more fighting fiercely for their territories. No sign of Mr Bocelli yet though.

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.