Sunday, 30 June 2013

It's Best Not To Fall Off Your Horse When Rounding Up A Bull

I was woken at 6 this morning, not by Ted yipping at squirrels (because he's spending the night in L's attic bedroom at present on Monster Patrol, which handily also means he can't hear or see any squirrels and therefore isn't waking us up by barking at them at 5am) but by a whirring noise which was going on over my head.

M is away on a Boys Cycling And Curry Weekend (the hardcore credibility of which took a dent yesterday when I received an excited phone call informing me they were all off to a National Trust Tearoom overlooking Golden Cap for a Cream Tea in the afternoon) so it's just me and L this weekend. I therefore got out of bed to investigate the noise and for a second thought I'd discovered a new species of moth that was round and tubby with a sticky up tail (not that I am becoming at all obsessed in any way). As I woke up properly and could focus with my whole eye instead of half of it, I realised it was in fact a teeny weeny wren bumping against my mirror. I picked her up and took her to the window expecting her to fly off the second I opened my hand, but instead she tilted her head and gave me a thorough and I felt, given the early hour and the fact I'd just rescued her, a rather critical examination before bobbing her tail in thanks and bouncing off into the garden. I think the word that best describes a wren is pert.

I love wrens (they remind me of my Grannie) and don't see them often so it was A Nice Start To The Day.

Yesterday, it being just L and me, we popped over to ma's to show off our new car which finally arrived (after a delay of what felt like several years) on Friday evening. It's a shiny red fiesta with zero road tax and a decent mpg, which, after the Landy which consumed money just by staring at it, will be heaven. At the moment no-one is allowed to eat in it, touch it, breath near it, and I'd really prefer they didn't sit in it either but I suppose I won't be able to avoid that. L is disgusted and keeps rolling his eyes and threatening it with a football and saying things like: "how long is this going to go on mum?" and "what d'you mean, I can't eat my sweets in it?" A bird has already done a poo on it which is typical. I washed it off quickly, much to everyone's amusement because I am not usually known for doing this.

Ma duly admired the new vehicle with it's "Aston Martin Grille" (;-)) then went off to saddle her Appaloosa mare Lou and the four of us, plus Ted and Dougal, went off for a tramp round the forest in the sun.

L walking with Gran, Lou and the two doggy boys

Half way round we saw these people who were very curious about us indeed....

They reminded me of the times I used to help round up our local dairy herd in Sussex with my friend Sarah. She was the daughter of the Farm Manager on one of the neighbouring farms and was three years older than me so I rather looked up to her and thought she was pretty cool. I'd been dying to do the round up ever since I found out about it when I was 9, and when I was 12 I was finally allowed to go.

Sarah used to ride down from her farm across the fields and collect me. I'd sit on the gate with my binoculars trained on her farm and the minute she set off I'd rush round to the stables and get my pony ready so I was waiting when she arrived. Together we'd ride through the fields, collect the dairy herd and bring them back to the farm for milking. This was usually done pretty early in the morning before school and the land was often wispy with mist and wet with dew (which is an important part of this story).

One particular morning the Hereford Bull William was out with the girls. He was known for his bad temper. Think typical caricature of a bull, quadruple it, and you get near to what he was like. We were warned NEVER to go in the field if he was in it (so of course we did- my sister and I used to play a game of dare, sliding under the barbed wire fence and venturing as far into the field as our nerves would allow. If we were feeling particularly brave we'd do a little dancy wiggle to get his attention and annoy him. Usually all it took was for William to raise his head and stare at us from the other side of the field and we'd turn and flee back to safety giggling in a slightly hysterical fashion).

I hadn't expected him to be out with the herd on that particular morning but being on horseback gives you a sense of safety and I felt quite imperious in a masterish way, knowing he couldn't get to me. It was rather empowering not to be scared witless of him as I usually was and it made me braver than I probably should have been. Anyhow, we got on with the round up, collecting the girls and William (all of whom knew the routine so were quite biddable) and driving them down towards the field gate. This particular field was on a slope and something happened at the top that made the cows spook and they duly all took off down the field.

My pony, usually so reliable, took off with them. By this time William, who had led the charge, had reached the flat ground at the bottom of the hill and had turned round to stare straight at me and my pony as we flew out of control down the wet hill straight towards him.

All sense of empowerment vanished. I have never been so scared in my life.

Wet grass, panicked pony, girl out of control AND enormous angry bull waiting at the bottom for them. None of these things make for a healthy combination. 

Pickles (pony) pulled up sharp when faced with William, but couldn't entirely control his hooves on the wet ground. We skidded straight towards the enraged bull who of course didn't move because Bulls Don't Get Out Of The Way For Panicking Ponies. Finally Pickles managed to dig in his toes and stop, about eight feet away from the now snorting bull. The saddle shot up his neck and I shot with it. 

It looked, Sarah said (from her safe vantage point at the top of the hill), very impressive.

I went straight over Pickle's head in a sort of acrobatic but fairly graceless somersault and landed thump on my bum at William's feet. 

I'd like to say I radiated a calm and impressive sense of control over the bull and that was what saved me; in fact I think William was just so surprised at the sudden and unexpected appearance of this girl-child with her flying pigtails sprawling unceremoniously at his feet when he was used to people running away from him in terror, that it took him a few seconds to react. 

He stared at me, blinked, then slowly lowered his massive head and, raising one extremely thick leg, began to paw the ground.

"GET UP!" yelled Sarah.

Believe you me I Did Not Need Telling.

I scrambled to my feet, hauled myself up on the equally terrified pony (with the saddle still half way up his neck), turned him round and fled back up the hill with the enraged bull in hot pursuit behind us.

I looked back once and saw him, red nostrils flaring, enormous shoulders pumping, and urged the dear pony to Please God Go Faster. Half way up the hill, satisfied that he'd seen us off, the bull stopped running, turned and went nonchalantly back to his ladies.

I reached the top of the hill white-faced and shaking but oddly exhilarated (adrenaline is useful stuff it turns out) and discovered Sarah nearly falling of her own horse with laughter. I like to think this was because I was now safe and she could afford a chuckle.

"I have never seen anyone move so fast!" she gasped. And because it was either that or cry, I laughed too. We finished the round up, got the girls (and William) in off the fields and I went to school as as if it was perfectly normal to start your day being chased by a bull who wanted to gore you.

I'm not certain that ma ever had the unedited version of that story, but given that she'll be reading this post I expect I'll get a phone call later....

I'll leave you with a pic of this adorable baby Blue Tit who I think must have flown into the window and was in recovery mode when I discovered him (he flew away fine)...

A lovely Stag Beetle I found on the wall...

And Naughty Teddy, who went in a muddy puddle, was rinsed and shampooed clean, then decided to roll in a flower bed so had to be rinsed all over again. Well, I couldn't let him in the New Car covered in soil could I? As it was he got his revenge by rubbing himself all over the inside of the immaculate boot and redecorating it off white :-(

 Monday tomorrow. Have a good week all.

CT x


Friday, 28 June 2013

Mottisfont Abbey Rose Garden and a Pair of Grey Wagtails

The Rose Garden at Mottisfont Abbey is one of those rare places that bestows a real sense of wonder and the knowledge that you have witnessed something special and out of the ordinary. Visiting the gardens when the roses are in full bloom is a spiritual experience. It touches your soul and leaves you feeling blessed and a teeny weeny bit emotional if I'm being honest.

As well as the roses (some of which date from 1895 and 1905), there are fluffy peonies the size of footballs, thistles, aquilegia, fox gloves, harebells, lavendar, aliums, nigella, irises and pinks all squashed in together in a riot of wonderful scents and colours. The planting is exquisite. Top marks gardening team!

Ma and I went together on Thursday, our husbands both having made the same small tentative "I'm not all that keen if it's alright with you darling?" type noises. We got there as the gardens were opening at ten and we left at midday, wondering where the intervening two hours had gone. By that time the car park had spread to cover four fields and was still growing and the grounds were starting to fill up, so if you decide to go, go early.

Mottisfont Abbey dates from 1201 when it was built as a Augustinian priory. After the dissolution it survived by being incorporated into a country house and still retains many of its churchy-type features (notably the 13th Century cellarium which is fab and well worth going down in to). 

The area was important long before the Priory arrived because of its natural springs (the "font" which gives the place its name). They rise in the grounds off to one side of the house and have been an important focal point for centuries. Mottisfont has a magical feel to me and I expect the springs are responsible. I always feel cleansed and restored and at peace whenever I've been.

The Walled Rose Garden is in two sections joined by an arch in the old stone wall

If you need time to gather your thoughts afterwards, the rest of the grounds are lovely to explore; peaceful and tranquil. The river Test flows through them and brown speckled trout can be seen swaying in the shallow waters beneath the bridges. Ancient Plane trees (some enormous- see the pic below) grow on the estate and here and there elegant statues stand surveying the land around them. There is a HaHa (a kind of hidden ditch) which is always fun to discover and pretend to fall into, and there are often displays from local artists, statues etc, in the grounds. There is also a charming river walk that leads out into the fields which currently have mown strips for walking through. Also worth a visit is an ancient ice house in the gardens behind the house (I should be a paid guide!).

Brown speckled trout swimming in the River Test

A HUGE plane tree above, and below the bark close up.
This clever tree absorbs pollution and when the tree has had enough
the bark flakes off all the old contaminated stuff to reveal a clean fresh skin beneath. 

As you'll doubtless know by now, I find it hard to go anywhere without noticing the resident wildlife, and Mottisfont on Thursday was no different. A small crowd had developed on the bridge and when we wandered over to see what everyone was looking at we found these wonderful people. They had a nest in the arches below the bridge and were catching insects to feed their young.

I've never understood why Grey Wagtails are so-called, given that by rights they should be called White and Yellow. Lovely aren't they?

Apologies if you feel I've over done the pics, but as I took over 500 I think I've done pretty well to squash them down to 30! I hope they've given you a sense of the place, but to really understand the effect these gardens have you have to go there.

Friday again, so I'll wish you all a good, productive, restful and contented weekend.

CT x