26th Feb 2010. A second walk to test my knees. Mid-afternoon. It’s cold and blowy, damp in the air. The wind roars like a river through the high bare tree-tops along the brook. I meet a woman walking her dog, ‘fenland born and bred’, as round and rosy as an apple, something of a botanist. Before they ripped up the disused and overgrown railway track to make the guided busway she walked it for months recording, collecting and pressing its flowers and plants. It was a rare wild corridor in these parts. We look at it now, a bare and sterile swathe through the land. The fields round about are empty too. Full of lapwing and golden plover before they installed the bird-scarers, she tells me, and last year there was a pair of sparrowhawks in the little wood behind Westwick House.
The sky is magnificent though, layer upon layer of pink and plum and dove-grey cloud reaching into the distant blue. And here come the gulls, group after group, flying low into the face of the cold north-west wind, frolicking and gamboling like lambs, heading home somewhere far away beyond my horizon. In the arable a lone oddling (one of Clare’s words) rook, or what I take to be a rook, catches my eye because of its strange greyish-white secondaries that unfurl when it flies. An albino of sorts.
The old medieval trackway back from Histon is muddy and slippery. 500 pigeons sit at the lower end of a huge field, all facing the westering sun. The afternoon is bright now, shining, and the land is lit. I spook them and they rise and fill the air like blown confetti. 200 yards off the track there is an old orchard, unfenced, in the middle of stubble fields. The apple-trees are overgrown, unpruned for years, each pooled below with dull black fruit like spherical droppings. The place is a thicket of brambles, and rarely visited I reckon, the best habitat around for fox, muntjac, badger, and other wild things but today I put up only a hen pheasant. A last look at the sky – indescribable loveliness – I am lost for words. They have ravaged the land… but the heavens remain.