I made my way to the lovely village of Ringland nestling in the valley of the River Wensum and hard up against the upthrust of the hills which take their name from it. I parked at the church which is situated on a small prominence in the centre of the village. The nave and chancel stretch prone along the contour of the ground and look nothing less than a great beast at rest. Its tower stands like a truncated lighthouse.
I walked past buildings that are a cross section of the last three hundred years of the village’s history. Ringland is sprinkled along the road as if it has been sown by a serf in some distant past. The road bent leftward and the grass verge morphed from linear to triangular. I turned left to follow a track, closely hemmed by a skirting board of hedge, as it meandered and climbed, following, yet subtly crossing, contours.
Perspectives changed with ascent, no less that of the village. I was now looking down onto the top of the church tower and Ringland became a cluster of buildings nestlings amongst tree and hedge. To my right the Wensum became a shining, gently meandering ribbon, tiny from this comparatively elevated viewpoint. Here and there, blots of water, dark as ink stains, where the recent rainfall had swelled the watercourse to bursting point and drowned areas of the floodplain.
Before me, a Kestrel falcon raced the sun and sliced the air like a scalpel, cleaving the blue sky. As I observed the tilt and shift landscape, with mirror image wood clothed hills opposite, with cars and lorries, toy like, racing along the two-lane blacktop scar on the floodplain, I realised that I was for that instant one with the Kestrel. Her view was my view. I was on the summit of Royal Hill, an ancient place.
This is primordial landscape, created ten thousand years ago by the sloth of the Ice Age crushing and tearing at the ground in its slow progress, ramping up great ridges of moraine with its melting. It has also fuelled ancient industry. In times long gone, flint mining and knapping were big business. Flint pebbles provided a rich seam of raw material, rolled and abraded smooth, not by the waves of an ancient sea, but by the progress of ice across the land. Sand and gravel were pulled like a dense, warm blanket over great marooned rafts of chalk.
In the foreground was a recently ploughed field. It looked like soft brown corduroy. The metallic smell of newly turned soil, damp and fecund, has been with me all my life and is warm and comforting, like strong coffee. As if it had risen spontaneously from the earth like a curious fruit, I became aware of a Brown Hare in the corner of the field. Like old Dick Straightup it was a timeless part of the pattern of the land. It sat as a statue, ears erect, listening, dreaming brown eyes reflecting its world, something of the present yet of older days too. Its nose twitched and caught my scent, even though I was almost certainly invisible to it, such was my distance. It began to canter, ears still erect, before beginning that life affirming sprint which defines its path across its world. Its powerful hind legs quickly propelled it from view, kicking up soil as it went, and the field grew quiet again.
I turned sharp left with with a plantation to my right, fronted by deciduous trees and gaunt pines peering over their heads. A long stack of freshly felled shortwood lined the woodland margin like stacked cigarettes. The breeze carried the sweet smell of resin, nascent amber, across to me.
The track, rutted like a furrowed brow, tumbled over the edge of the world and the sinuous waves of hills rippled out before me. To my left a closely-knit copse clung blackly to the top of the next crease in the ground, backlit by the strengthening blaze of the sun, an arboreal island among tamed fields.
From nearby, a Skylark ascended with a flickering flurry of wings. It soon became a dot in the sky and hung like a glider on the thermal.
Its bubbling liquid song tumbled back to the ground like a waterfall of sweet sound. Suddenly, the sound ceased, it closed its wings and dropped back to earth as if mimicking the stoop of a Peregrine. Before it made ground fall it had vanished from my sight as its colours became one with the pale, dry soil.
The return to the valley floor led me past the edge of the dense belt of trees standing proud and wild like an army waiting to sweep down in attack. At the top of a tree in the wood a Great Spotted Woodpecker monotonously drummed a Morse Code message to announce the imminent change of season. The curve of the lower slope almost imperceptibly levelled out and I walked down through tractor generated Nazca lines in the clinging mud.
I walked back long the lane and through the village to a bridge over the Wensum. It flowed quickly, pushed by the rainwaters decanting from the slopes of the surrounding hills and swelling its channel. The floodplain was submerged in places and Willows and Alders paddled their feet, unsullied by long years of sporadic inundation.
In the middle distance, a screech of gulls, reflected in a pool of water like a mirage, peppered the ground like hailstones which had been dipped in caster sugar to create a softer outline. A few Jackdaws and Carrion Crows mixed with them, like shadows cast by the gulls.
As I walked back to the church I stopped to admire the freshly emerging male flowers of a Grey Willow, looking for all the world like cats, from whence comes the name: catkin. As they soon mature they will produce the familiar yellow pollen bearing stamens and fire the starting pistol of Spring.