Sunday, 3 February 2013

as i walked out one fair badger's day morning

Of Candlemas beware old man
the wind gale and the thorn
and if you think that winter's dead
it's barely been born
and if you think that
the spring has come
with the bright sun in the sky
an icy wind blows icy tears
from the corner of your eye

Due to American Cultural Imperialism, nowadays most people associate February 2nd as Groundhog Day. But rather than Punxsutawny Phil, the weather traditionally in parts of England were predicted by none other than that much maligned gentleman of the woods, Brock the Badger.

In the North Candlemas has traditionally been a time when farm tenancies were commenced or terminated. In Devon and other parts of the country, it was an important part of weather forecasting. However, in Huntingdonshire, Candlemas Day was also known as Badger's Day and it was he who upon waking from hibernation decided whether winter was over or not by the casting of the shadow of his tail.

The view from the car park
As I stepped out of the house yesterday morning, there was a light sprinkling of snow on the car - being only a few hundred yards from the sea means to me that it had been pretty damned cold in the early hours. I took the road up the coast to a village called Ramsholt (Rammesholt in the Domesday Book). Turning off down the lane towards the Ramsholt Arms, I had to follow two 4x4s with horse boxes so it was a slow drive for a mile or two. I spied a buzzard overhead, then found the car park where the loose walking group we have formed over the last few years were waiting. Mrs Dave was too busy marking exam papers to come and it was a diminished group of five hardy fellows (well three fellows and two ladies). Oh and about twenty horse boxes and horses of various sizes. We spoke to one of the horsey ladies and they were going for a ride after a champagne breakfast. With dogs. Okay.

Ramsholt Church of All Saints
We set off across the fields and went up the gentle incline towards the church. At the top of this small hill, we saw a few shifty characters jumping out of a small people carrier. A comment or two was made about them but I thought nothing of it. The church was fascinating as these small country churches often are. It's a grade II listed building. The tower had been thought of as Roman in design but it is Norman (probably mistakenly attributed to the French "Romanesque" rather than "Norman") and quite unusual as it's oval in shape. Evidently it's round inside. It was used as a seamark on maps from 1287 but the history seems confused. Near to the entrance of the tower inside is a stone coffin used for washing corpses.  Ah well, time to move on.

At seven o'clock we do begin
and we generally stop about nine or ten
to have our beer and oil her up
then away we go till one o'clock

Behind some houses and near another church a murder of crows were gathering. On the fields, on the fences and in the trees - or was it a storytelling of rooks? According to Mark Cocker, in Norfolk they say that where there's a rook it's a crow and where there are crows they're rooks. So I guess they were rooks, then. We walked up to Shottisham where a discussion about the local pub had led us to. Evidently the locals didn't fancy losing their local pub so decided to buy it. The pub, The Sorrel Horse, was bought in August 2011. The finances are in such a good state that they've managed to put a new thatched roof on and they still have some £450,000 in hand.for future projects. With so many shareholders they've secured a good future for the pub and locality. Perhaps it's something more villagers should do to ensure the survival of communities in these days of pubs closing at the rate of 2 per day (there are about 60,000 pubs still open in the UK). It's good to hear of a successful community project. A fine lunchtime pint of Adnams in front of a roaring fire set us up to continue.

As we crossed a field I turned and looked back at the sky. So far, the BBC's weather report was closer than the Met Office's App on my phone. The sky in the distance was black and moving our way quickly - there was no cover so just pull up the hood of your waterproof and keep walking. BBC 1, Met Office Nil. Actually, it passed over quickly and the worse we had was a brief icy shower as we entered a wood just above the shoreline of the Deben where we could see Waldringfield opposite. We found what was probably an ancient fleet - a slipway where trees were cut down to be build a warship and then dug out to float the ship into the river. There's one called King's Fleet on the opposite side of the river which is marked on the map, and there is a local Primary school named after it. We climbed the gentle incline up through what must surely be a bluebell wood - I'll come back later in the year to check. As we left the wood the sun came out briefly and warmed us slightly. A cormorant scudded past above us and I looked out across the river. Others talked of sailing here and someone suggested that the inlets were good for canoeing so perhaps we'll try that later in the year. Although this landscape appears bleak to many, I think it has a strange beauty. Big Skies and miles of reed beds and a rugged landscape full of teeming bird life give this county a wild charm.

By the time we got back to the Ramsholt Arms after our brief walk (Andrew the leader of the group had recently broken a rib and wasn't able to sustain walking for too long) we realised we hadn't seen the riders. But we heard the dogs. After settling down for a pint and shared plate of chips, a few riders were straggling in looking elegant and rosy cheeked. But it was time for me to go. All-in-all, a good day - no hint of any badgers, though.

After the goodbyes and hand shaking and kissing was over I went up to the car park. A very well-spoken gent unharnessing his (huge) horse and coercing it up into its box started chatting to me. I was more concerned that whilst I un-booted myself that this ton of animal muscle wasn't going to damage my car. He spoke of seeing a buzzard earlier on and that it was quite unusual - okay mate, but they're not that rare around here, I thought. I said that the changes in farming practice over the last twenty years was good for wildlife. Of, course his father had been a farmer (my mouth gets me into trouble, and all that) and we talked of DDT and other things that people seem to think I know about. God knows why. I did read The Peregrine by J.A. Baker once but I'm hardly an expert on farming practice of the 20th Century. I suppose there was a little meeting of two classes in that exchange. Him with his wealthy Young Farmer's background and me with my working class, council house roots. I bid farewell and drove out of the car park, there seemed to be a lot of police presence. And some familiar young ruffians in black masks.

Oh, they were hunt saboteurs, then? It hadn't crossed my mind what was going on really. I haven't really experienced this sort of thing that much. It all looked a little tense but at least I was being ignored. Meanwhile, the riders were wandering down to the pub . . .

the huntsman he can't hunt the fox nor so loudly to blow his horn
and the tinker he can't mend kettle or pots without a little barleycorn


Zouk Delors said...

"where there's a rook it's a crow and where there are crows they're rooks"

Yes, I've heard this as "If tha sees a rook, tha's a crow; if tha sees crows, tha's rooks" - which does make you wonder how the term "a murder of crows" arose? Perhaps to suggest that flocking of crows is as rare as murder?

In fact, I've heard somewhere that many of the colourful terms for groups of animals were made up fairly recently (last 200 years or so).

Collective noun for ignoramuses anyone?

Dave Leeke said...

A government?

Zouk Delors said...

How about a Suffolk hunt?

Dave Leeke said...

Yes, good one, Zouk. I realised that mine was too close to a"parliament" which is an alternative for corvines.

Thanks for the Norfolk (and good) colloquial phrase - I couldn't find the actual phrase in "Crow Country" so thought I'd paraphrase in case the Internet police piped up. Believe me, it happens!

Zouk Delors said...

Glad you can confirm it's genuine dialect. I did start wondering about its precise provenance after I wrote it. Or is "Norfolk" just a random term of abuse round your way? Is that Felixstowe, btw, or somewhere more rural?

PS What is Crow Country? And who are the internet police?

Dave Leeke said...

Do you mean like, "NFN" - "normal for Norfolk"? No I leave that sort of abuse for the Tractor Boys. We're in that area.

"Crow Country" is a fantastic book about all things corvine by Mark Cocker. Well worth a read.

The Internet police are all around us - and I'm not even paranoid. Every so often random comments turn up such as the Christian robot after my musical sex education post a while back. Ssh!

eeyorn said...

Tha's not genuine Suffock dialect, it dunt end with the word 'bor'.

Following an exhaustive search on Google, I did come across a blog that claimed the proper noun is a 'stupidity' of ignoramusses, but I suspect the author was making it up. Probably to avoid being being classed as belonging to said group.

Good to hear that the Hunt sabs are still on the case.

So the red tailcoats, stirrup cup, hunting horns and them all singing 'Bold Reynardine' didn't raise any suspicions?

Dave Leeke said...

Actually, I didn't see any of the red coated ones - mostly girls in black jackets. I didn't hear any horns, just dogs barking. They went a different way to us.

As for "Reynardine" isn't that a werewolf song - Mr Fox and all that? A sort of werefox, I suppose.