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Monday, June 15, 2009

High Summer

After a week on the road, and in taverns, I found a summer Sunday afternoon free to myself. I'd done the housework and made it good enough for the Queen to visit, loaded the fridge, and generally fried my To Do List. Monday could wait.

It was high summer outside, so I decided to go to explore some of the heritage medieval hay meadows, that have now been turn into nature reserves, between my house and the River Thames to the west.

I'd seen on a nature program, on TV in the winter, about these tracts of flood plain still tucked down by the river, standing the same as when the field workers made hay in them in the 13th Century. In the right season they are a profusion of flowers and I hoped that I'd picked the right weekend.

To reach them on bike I decided to follow the course of the canal by my home, on the tow path, for 3 miles, then bear right to the river.

Before wide roads and motorways, indeed before the invention of the petrol engine, England was criss crossed by a network of canals, on which long barges were towed by horses, carrying every kind of goods imaginable to the various cities, much as haulage trucks do the job these days.

Nowadays the canals are kept in trim by the waterways council, and providing wonderful walks and cycle rides into still beautiful scenery, that teems with wildlife.
I started my ride at the bridge at the end of my road. The pair of Mute Swans, that roam that section of the canal cadging food from the pleasure boats, had had two cygnets this season, and seemed unusually content now they were growing up.

The Long Boats I passed moored by the banks still provide me with painting work, decorating them in the Victorian canal folk Style they are famous for. This one I painted, still travels up from Oxford to Birmingham, and it was good to see it out on the water.
At Duke's Lock about 3 miles down the tow path, I turn along the narrow cut that leads to the River and the Yarnton Meads.

This little used footpath had become overgrown with Stinging Nettles, at which point I slightly regretted wearing the three-quarter length shorts I had on, as my shins took some major hits that I knew would tingle thru the night.

But to get to anything worth while you have to prevail in life, and eventually after half a mile, of beating my way through, the path opened out onto the vast hay meadows that lay next to the river under the upturned bowl of a blue sky.The Bulk of the white daisies and other flowers had passed over, but still there were hundreds of different species amongst the grasses; purples , yellows, scarlet's, like so many hidden jewels.

Everywhere I walked rose a cloud of common blue damsel flies, and
painted butterflies

A remarkable example of how an eco-system left as time intended it to, can flourish year after year. As it was a flood plain, development would never ever happen there.

The whole afternoon took me back to my childhood, when as the youngest of the family I used to go off and roam the countryside with my collecting nets and bottles and come home, and unbeknownst to my Mom..keep dozens of creepy crawlies in jars, with foliage, and tiny aquatic creatures in jars of fresh water, in my bedroom, so I could study them and take notes.

I say unbeknownst, but mom's being mom's she'd find out the following day what I had been up too, and everything would eventually be set free.

I read somewhere, that in middle age, we go back to the comfort and happy times ( if we were lucky enough to have them ) of our childhoods. Times when the concept of work, bills and taxes, were as far away as the days were long.

And as I took off my shoes to wade the ford, back to where I'd left my bike, I looked at my toes in the cool water with the sandy bottom, and realized, for a short time anyway, that I was back there.

Sir Dayvd ( God bless dappled things ) of Oxfordshire.


  1. Most excellent tour.

    Question: Do you have ticks over there (the little blood-sucking kind)?

    Ticks in this part of the country keep me from venturing off the beaten path.

    A great lesson in enjoying the moment to the fullest / creating happy moments, so that when we may later enjoy our memories and live the happy moments twice.

    Sir Bowie (who used to love climbing trees and romping in Wesselman's Woods) of Greenbriar

  2. Not Ticks... but there were some hefty cow flies which my insect repellant, that i'd put on, didn't deter, which took a couple of lumps out of me..

    i soon put that right, with my childhood knowledge helping me remember which plant i was to look for, who's leaves when i'd spat on them and rubbed them into my bare arms and neck seemed to do the trick, and i was no longer troubled.

    I imagine there are some ticks but these are found more where farm animal are, and generally on the animals.

    Its a jungle out with lots of stingy, thorny, buggy things amongst the colorful beauty.

    Soon there will be rare orchids to go hunt in the same meadows.

    Sir D ( the survivalist ) of Oxfordshire

  3. A great post Sir Dayvd, I llok forwaqrd to these. Great job on the long boat.

    I noticed quite a few thistles in your pictures, beautiful flowers for sure, but they can take over a field. In most states here in the west they are classified as noxious weeds, and if you don't take care of them, the government does, and sends you a bill.

    I see neon white legs are present in your area also, I am always embarrassed by mine in early summer. I maintain that if full frontal nudity is a felony, neon white legs should be a misdemeanor.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Sir Richard (with pasty white legs) of Windsor

  4. Excellent post! Has me ready to romp through the fields in a few weeks. Perhaps we can find those rare orchids then?

    And yes, get on me about my white legs! I'll be tanned and gorgeous by mid July! LOL!

    Sir Hook the Leg Man of Warrick

  5. Ah not so Sir Richard.. actually there weren't any thistles out there.. don't think the legs could have taken it iftheyre were......
    Those were Knapweed, whose heads do have that thistley look, but not the cottontop seeds.. the Lesser and the Black Knapweed were growing in huge clumps....alongside the yellow butercups...the blue Devils scabious Bit and the scarlet clovers. A real flower expert would have hyperventerlated at the sight of all the hundreds of plants out there...
    The knapweed , on closer look , seems akin to the cornflower.

    We do have thistles but they tend to like the shaded sedge and hedgerows..

    The Yarnton Mead where i was, was an open and withering place in the sunshine, Only the wiriest plants made it out there..:)

    As for the legs... neon white they we don't get enough contiuous sun to warrant getting them out long... and anyway i don't lie around at all..i'm up on them using them all the time. :)

    Sir D ( the rest of him is toasted tho ) of Oxfordshire

  6. I'm half German (Red-headed German father) and half Irish: I'm not white -- I'm CLEAR!

  7. ditto... the Mountain Welsh Celt bit of me toasts up a bit...... while the Swedish Viking bit of me likes to stay out of the sun...

    I have a workers tan..

    Just cover yourself in Tick repellant and wear that big'll be okay

    Sir Dayvd ( from the land of the midnight sun ) of Oxfordshire

  8. Thanks for the info on the flowers. We have Canadian and Russian thistle here, and the lavender is the exact color of the Canadian.

    By end of summer, my legs do look better, but I typically have what is referred to here as a farmers tan, brown arms face and neck, tan legs and lily white on the rest.

    Sir Richard (the walking kaleiscope if you like earth tones)of Windsor