Wednesday, 24 June 2015

June and the Midsummer Solstice

For many the summer solstice is seen as a time to celebrate the arrival of the longest day.

Certainly as I arrived at Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire on the evening of June the 20th, I realised a lot of people wanted to celebrate the setting of the midsummer sun. Planning is everything and on that warm June evening, my planning had been what many would describe as, deplorable. After a dummy run for anywhere to park up and walk back to the stones, followed by another vain return route attempt to circumnavigate every blocked parking space or route we would normally use to visit Avebury, all attempts to celebrate with the thousands of people there were abandoned, we headed for the Pewsey Downs.

This was going to be a busy weekend and so it proved. Having woken in Somerset, we had a full morning planned to clip six, yes 6 box parterre of a client of Julie’s. In Wiltshire.

And not just a part of Wiltshire say near to Bath, but a part of Wiltshire less than a gnats crotchet from the Berkshire border; turn right before Hungerford, shimmy back and we’d be there. In fact very close to where Julie lived until a year ago.

Duly arriving at 10.30 am we set to. Shears flashing like egg whisks across the Buxus hedging we toiled for a goodly while. I found myself facing the man’s hedge, sizeable mushrooms of greenery and a hedge around a small patio, the steps to which were flanked with yew – also to be trimmed into submission. Julie meanwhile remained at the front shaping the 12 inch high parterre box hedging containing a cornucopia of mauves and pale pastel plants, literally dripping with buzzywussies.

Noises off alerted me to the grounds man who seeing me (for the first time) struggling with my shears suggested I use the strimmer. I’ll go and fetch it, returning in a few minutes later with a leviathan 24 inch petrol hedge trimmer. Man’s tools for man’s work I thought.

Man's tools for man's work!

After an hour wielding that beast over all of the garden, I felt more mouse than man. It did a splendid job but boy they are heavy – and noisy. Common sense, something I’m not entirely sure I have, would have suggested ear defenders and maybe a shoulder harness. But no, this man from the north strode on manfully sweating buckets, smoke billowing from the exhaust, all the while adding to Wiltshire composting mountain without a care in the world.

Julie has earlier booked us to have lunch with friends of hers at 2pm. These lovely people were once gardening clients, but now she is considered their 5th daughter as they looked after her when Julie was going through a rough patch a few years ago. This meant that at 1.30pm a portly gentleman could be seen stripping, less Poldark, more needing the dark to remove a box flagellated shirt for his pristine luncheon attire.

Crayfish salad pushed across the larynx it was time for a nap, and just 4pm. Overnight accommodation was at friends of Julie's who own an equestrian business with a B&B room. It seems odd staying just a mile from where Julie used to live, but it is lovely there. And now is a base to pootle about back in Wiltshire. A nap was had prostrate on the lawn listening to swallows and martins swooshing by.

Which brought me to being up on the Pewsey Downs to celebrate the Solstice. It is lovely up there. We walked up to Adams Grave Long Barrow, a steeply enjoyable climb to 262 m above level sea. And what a view, back down the vale of Pewsey and along the chalk ridge towards the Giants Grave above the hamlet of Oare to the east.

Knapp Hill from walk up to Adams Grave

Knapp Hill and the Vale of Pewsey

The wind was howling up here, with low clouds scudding across the sun and sky. Dramatic, brooding and just what we needed for the Solstice. A handful of people and being at one with nature. We were surrounded by skylark, some just singing while perched onto the grass, due to the wind. The wind up there dominated our time watching the sun set. I asked Julie to cup her hands round her ears and listen to the wind pulsating across the tall grass producing a sound like a rapier being flashed through the air. Slash, slash slash silence, slash, silence, whoosh, slash... It's a sound that will stay with me for a long time, man and the elements in an audible harmony.

Remembering the rapier grasses

View from Adam's Grave

Giant's Grave hill bathed in the last of the sunlight

All too soon we retraced our steps back down the hill, past the skylarks still singing and at the car park watched a mêlée of young bullocks being very frisky in the field. Perfect.

As the sun sets over the Pewsey Vale

Sunday; after waking at 4.20am to see the sun rise over the farm (and take a wobbly record shot to boot), we mosied back along the M4 to meet up with friends in Thornbury near Bristol. Another super luncheon was partaken of followed by a walk along the 'small' Avon river near Tortworth. I had been duped into visiting Tortworth with the promise of a strawberry cream tea. Plus our original plan was to haul ourselves up May Hill, an activity curtailed by one of the party injuring a foot the week before. 

Nonetheless, what I enjoyed was a lovely walk along a river, including a minor detour to visit the 800+ year old Tortworth chestnut, before for a few moments just being able to sit by the river and watch the world go by, marvel at the sunlight on the water, listen to the breeze through the trees, lose myself in the day and the year very slowly moving, taking hours to complete minutes, much like it used to do as a began exploring the natural world as a child, when a whole day seemed a lifetime in length.

A juvenile dipper piping up the river ended that weekend wonderfully, that and sitting watching a Vulcan bomber fly by almost to the minute of the Solstice at 5.30pm. These long June days are so special, we must embrace every moment we have to enjoy them, for soon the days will shorten, mists and mellow fruitfulness are knocking at the door. The Wheel of the Year that is so important to me.

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