May 10th, 2010. 5 miles. Late afternoon… still cold… big clouds spaced evenly across the sky, sun streaming through as they pass slowly southwards. I sit by a field gate to the west of the village, watching two buzzards circling high up above. I thought they had moved on a long time ago, but no, they are still here in the district, or they’ve returned. Farmer Giles No 2, silver-haired and stout, pulls up in his car, barely returns my greeting, opens the gate, and drives into his field. After some time he comes out again. I mention the buzzards, and this sets him off. He talks for an hour. Of rabbits and myxamotosis (still present though not so virulent now), badgers (rare – there used to be a sett in the brook, somewhere over there, jerking his head vaguely towards the south-west), and hares (very few nowadays, leverets killed by the extra wide modern agricultural machinery, unable to move out the way, he reckons; he remembers shoots when hundreds of hares were killed). He moves onto the subject of the old Oakington airfield and the great loss of young lives in the planes (2nd WW), and then the monologue begins to slide down a slippery slope into grievance and bigotry – the Germans, immigrants, Muslims breeding like rabbits, the Germans again (1st WW), hard-working Poles, lazy Italian P.O.Ws, Liberal Democrats who don’t have a clue, and if he was younger he’d emigrate (to New Zealand if it wasn’t so far away), and England is not the place it used to be, worse luck. I couldn’t wait to get away.
I strike down a public by-way leading from Long Stanton towards the west. It is without doubt the finest green lane in the district, yet it leads nowhere. It ends at a locked gate that opens onto the dual-carriageway of the A14. You have to turn back, or risk death. It starts wide, as an avenue of young mixed trees, with fields of rape on either side, then wheat and rape, then beans, becoming a narrow green tunnel riddled with burrows, then a causeway built up above what once must have been marshy land. Goldfinches accompany me. Tall trees, including some fine oaks, line the lower end, from which first one, then another, buzzard lifts off and beats into the blue. They seem ragged and not clearly marked, as if they are moulting. But it is good to see them still here, the largest birds of prey on our patch. They’ve just shifted about a mile north-westwards, that’s all. There’s the hind half of a baby rabbit on the path, ripped clean in two, with no sign of the head or upper torso, still fairly fresh, in a puddle of grey fur. Would a buzzard tear prey in half like this, or is it the work of a fox perhaps? I retrace my steps to join a newly-made footpath that leads south to the Dry Drayton Road and back home. I walk beside wide open fields, between barbed-wire fences, on uncomfortable clinker. Wheatears, with a black and white wedge of a tail, cheer my way.