21st July, 2010. 6.30 a.m. Through the fields to Girton, across to Histon by way of a footpath, then back to Oakington on the track beside the guided-busway. A great wave of deep purple cloud, twenty miles long from east to west, rolls out of the north like a breaker, its advancing front curling dark against the light, its trailing edge thinning and foaming until it dissolves in the early morning sky. Within half an hour it has vanished over the southern horizon, leaving in its wake a blue day of sunshine.
I explore a narrow strip of abandoned, overgrown orchard sandwiched between the plastic-wrapped tunnels of a strawberry outfit and a field of fallow. A potential bivouac site for the future. Attenuated apple and plum trees reach for the light above a thicket of brambles, nettles and thistles. Hard nuggets of jade-green plums, powdered with bloom, hang overhead. Blackcap, chaffinch and greenfinch skip through the interlaced branches, and I fancy I see a dunnock or hedge sparrow, a rarity now. Rabbits scupper ahead. But I can go only so far, without a machete, and have to back through a blackthorn hedge into the light and air of open country. It’s no place to sleep.
Across to the roaring fields, roaring, that is, with the black noise of A14 traffic a mile away. The lapwing field has been turned and broken, its greasy, grey-brown clods faceted and glinting in the sun. Ploughing delayed, and a crop relinquished, I’m certain, for the sake of the birds. I’d like to meet this farmer. In fact I catch sight of him later from afar, already hard at work harrowing the other lapwing field below Girton, but it’s out of my way and I’ve no wish to stand in front of oncoming agricultural machinery in the middle of a field flapping my arms up and down like a lunatic. Not today. Interestingly, the adjacent field is sown to wheat, and between the crop and the grass verge is a bare strip of ground a couple of feet wide which here and there along its 300 meter length is populated with borage, the well-known culinary and medicinal herb. It must have been sown deliberately, surely? Its sky-blue, inverted, down-turned flowers are truly extraordinary. The plant hails originally from Aleppo, Syria, according to Mrs. Grieve’s Modern Herbal, and is now naturalized across most of Europe. Gerard tells us that “Those of our time do use the flowers in sallads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the minde … Syrup made of the floures of Borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy and quieteth the phreneticke and lunaticke person”. Natural Prozac then. I must return to gather a bag-full some time.
At Girton the bed of Beck Brook is as dry as a rambla in the Andalusian hills. Lying on the road is a baby hedgehog, just five inches long, dead, blood still leaking from a wound in the neck. One black shiny eye looks up at the sky. Its nose is still moist. I pick it up by one of its damp, putty-soft feet and lay it down in the shade of a hedge. It’s the first hedgehog I’ve seen this year, dead or alive. One used to frequent the shed in the garden and join the cats at their bowl but it hasn’t appeared for a while.
The gentle, murmuring collared doves are everywhere now, always in pairs, always in love. A couple is dancing, on the ground, in a farmyard. They circle each other closely, spreading and flattening their wings, then they spring up together, a few feet into the air, clapping their wings noisily as they do so. This is repeated over and over every ten seconds. The courtship of doves is a prolonged, intense, energetic affair – fifteen minutes later, when I must move on, they are still dancing, showing no sign of fatigue.
It is a brilliant morning, the sun now at about 40 degrees from the horizon, pouring down a pure light that sharpens the mind as well as the eye. I can see further today, and deeper. The far horizons, where the land lifts gently to the sky or where trees break the skyline, are as clear as the flowering grasses before me. Near at hand, windrows of golden hay lay soft on the land, still to be gathered. Butterflies are out and about, including a Peacock, almost black on the wing but spreading its rich red-velvet wings when at rest, revealing the four large peacock-feather eye-spots that give it its name. Also a single bright lemon-yellow Brimstone, not seen since mid-April. Underfoot, even the smooth concrete track of the busway sparkles with colour. As I near home, children are making their way to school, skipping and chasing and clapping and laughing. A day to be alive.