NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

This is a rather bloodthirsty opening I’m afraid, but don’t worry, it does get more cheerful later on! Early one morning in mid-November, Brian and I were spellbound by a sparrow hawk that had chosen our back lawn on which to eat his breakfast, which appeared to be a collared dove. Goodness knows when he had started this meal, but it was about 7.15 when we first spotted him and he was still at it 40 minutes later. When he left, there was just a pile of feathers, one tiny speck of blood and a foot! Ah well, that’s nature for you.
On a more cheering note, a friend told me in September that she had counted 30+ tortoiseshell butterflies on one plant of sedum. What a sight that must have been. Wonder if it’s a record? This same friend told me in mid-November that she had seen a little flock of linnets feeding on seedheads of Rosebay Willowherb in a lane in the village where not all hedges and verges had been cut. Pity we can’t leave a few more things uncut, but then I suppose there would be an outcry from the motorists.
Apart from that, recent restrictions seemed to have numbed my brain, so I do hope you won’t mind if I take you back again to my old home in Devon.
My husband was a fisherman, and we had the most beautiful beat on the Torridge. It consisted of three large, flat fields with woodland sloping steeply to one side. The river looped and curled its way round the fields with steep clay banks giving way to shallow shingle here and there, varying in depth, bubbling over stickles or giving way to deep, slow, canal-like pools.
The woodlands were divided by a track that used to go over an old railway and in spring everywhere was lush with flowers and birdsong. In the first part there was a stream that bubbled from a spring at the top of the hill and there I found flowers that I had never come across before. There was Town Hall Clock – a small yellow flower set on four sides of its stem. I ’ve found it several times since, but not yet in Dorset. One day I’m sure I will – it‘s not really rare. There was also a tiny yellow Saxifrage that grew with its roots in shallow water together with a small Water Forget-me-not, and all around was a mass of Yellow Pimpernel. And there were orchids, orchids everywhere.
On the other side of the track the wooded hill became much steeper and was full of bluebells. One day, accompanied by our Labrador, Penny, I met a fox there. The ridge that marked the beginning of this wood fell steeply away below me to a narrow ribbon of stream. The fox picked his way delicately through the violets and wood anemones of the opposite ridge, blissfully unaware that he was being watched. He ambled down to the water, paused for a quick drink, crossed it and began to climb up towards me. For a moment he was hidden by the angle of the slope and while I frantically tried to get Penny to stop snuffling and sit for a moment, I crept forward, waiting for the fox to reappear. But, puppyhood by then far behind her, Penny had become slightly deaf and a very heavy breather.
For a few seconds the fox’s head came into view, framed by primroses and the soft, budding bluebells, then he spotted us. He was a very laid-back sort of fellow. He didn’t hurry or even glance backwards – he just ambled off as though he were out for a stroll and had spotted someone he’d rather not talk to.
It was a lovely place in all seasons. In the winter I liked to walk beside the river where the tall grasses were parchment-coloured and reeds rattled in the wind. Small forests of summer Balsam, that had lined its banks here and there and had wafted faint peppermint scent over everything, now lay like felled trees. Sometimes I disturbed a couple of prehistoric-looking cormorants and come January and February there would be the noisy cranks and cronks from the nest-building herons, equally prehistoric looking, from the heronry on the opposite bank. Sometimes I would see a sudden rise of a trout or a lazy swirl of a spent salmon heading back to sea. It was a spate river, so it could go from flood, rushing down with the detritus of winter storms, and back to its normal character in a matter of a few hours.
One bitterly cold, snowy day Brian stood so close to a little kingfisher that looked almost frozen to a branch of alder that he almost picked it off to warm it in his hands, but decided that the shock would be too great. When he came back, there was no sign of the little bird. Hopefully it had got a second wind and flown off.
And with that seasonal note, may I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.

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.