Diamonds and Doomed Pixies

Wednesday morning dawned, as forecast, dazzlingly clear and fiercely frosty. The garden was frozen solid and so I reasoned that there was nothing (apart from a long and boring To Do list) to prevent me from jumping in the car and going to explore the shimmering countryside.  I had to stop now and then to admire bejewelled trees and seed-heads, or the ridge-and furrow fields looking extra-curvaceous with a thick coat of frost, so by the time I got to Stow-on-the-Wold the sun was already melting the frost on east-facing slopes. I drove up and westwards over the hills, in the hopes of seeing a bit more glitter.

Not far from home. Frost made the familiar roads special.

Not far from home. Frost made the familiar roads special.

It was glorious – a pastel scene in the soft greens and blues of Scandi-style interior decor, warmed by patches of still-hanging oak and beech leaves, and accessorised with clusters of golden Cotswold stone buildings. Smoke drifted from cottage chimneys. I envied the lads and lasses on the racing stable gallops further up the smooth valley (but I didn’t envy them the brutally early starts, mandatory weight loss and endless mucking out).

Looking down on St Michael and All Angels, Guiting Power.

Looking down on St Michael and All Angels, Guiting Power.

The gallops

The gallops

You can't beat a beech tree, even when most of its leaves have gone.

You can’t beat a beech tree, even when most of its leaves have gone.

I could see on the map that there were plenty of footpaths around Guiting Power, so I parked in the village and set off between some rather grand houses along a path which forms part of The Diamond Way. Apt for a sparkly day, don’t you think? Of course I immediately got a Diamonds Are Forever earworm – which didn’t bother me too much as I like to annoy my sons with a Shirley Bassey impression if diamonds are trumps when we play cards, so it made me smile to myself.

As usual I was being a bit of a nosey parker, gardenwise. One smart house had a selection of crisp topiaries lining its tennis court, a great way to reduce the ugliness quotient, but just imagine how infuriating it must be to watch your wayward tennis ball plop into one of those cones. Just as well they aren’t holly.

 

Anyone for topiary?

Anyone for topiary?

The path wasn’t exactly exciting to walk along. To my right, bland pastures stretched up hill, while on my left the wooded land dropped tantalisingly out of sight. A sign informed me that this was a “post-glacial limestone gorge formed by the River Windrush” but I couldn’t see it. The Rivers Windrush and Evenlode seem to have everything round here carved up between them. There was evidence of coppicing and of hedge restoration, which was cheering to see.

Looks interesting down there.

Looks interesting down there.

Fieldfares squirted, chattering, out of the hedgerows and tree tops. I wish fieldfares would just calm down a bit. They are handsome birds and I’d like to get non-blurry photographs of them, but they sound the alarm when you’re within 100 feet and push off, leaving discarded berries and copious poo. Perhaps they think that if we catch them we’ll make them tidy up after themselves.

Last fieldfare in the ash tree. Looking at me with suspicion.

Last fieldfare in the ash tree. Looking at me with suspicion.

Pheasants scuttled off this path and hurled themselves, squawking, into the nearby road.

Pheasants scuttled off this path and hurled themselves, squawking, into the nearby road.

In the woodland on my left hidden pixies were panicking and running off through the crunchy leaf litter. Sorry, not pixies, pheasants. Pheasants are not built for stealth. They can’t tiptoe and they can’t fly without announcing themselves with a ridiculous squawk and a noise like one of those elastic-band-powered propellers being released from an envelope. As the path turned through the corner of the woodland towards the road one of them tried to launch itself so ineptly from the middle of a hawthorn that I could have reached up and grabbed the daft bird before it managed to break free.

“You’re all DOOMED”, I muttered. At this point I had to join a road, but as a lorry hurtled past me with four inches to spare I comforted myself with the fact that after the village of Ford I could join the Gloucestershire Way for a bit more peace and quiet. This was not to be.

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Ford

After a short stretch of bridlepath I turned right, along a minor road, heading for the footpath. I noticed tweedy men, labradors and springer spaniels gathering in a field next to the road. “Told you!” I inwardly warned the pheasants. My heart sank as I reached the signpost for the Gloucestershire Way and saw there were guns positioned on both sides of the footpath. Weirdly enough it isn’t illegal to shoot across a major footpath but walkers are supposed to have the right to pass, and it would have been nice if someone had come to say “Sorry, we’ve just started beating and it really isn’t practical”, or even if, admittedly less likely, the men had broken their shotguns and let me through. I stood for a couple of minutes, pointedly looking at my map and looking at the tweedy men. I was ignored. I could hear beaters coming over the hill and I wasn’t about to argue with men with guns, so I turned and trudged back towards Temple Guiting along the road.

The Gloucestershire Way runs along the field boundary at the left of this picture

The Gloucestershire Way runs along the field boundary at the left of this picture

Refuge

Refuge. St Mary’s, Temple Guiting

 

Shots began as I turned. I was expecting them but they still made me jump. As long as it’s legal, I can’t tell people how to earn a living, but I find pheasant shooting deeply unpleasant. Thousands of intensively-reared non-native birds are released into our countryside and have an impact on both ecology and road safety. Even if I ignore the fact that killing animals for fun seems indefensible to me, I just can’t see the “sport” in blasting what is essentially a chicken in fancy dress out of the air as it struggles incompetently to rise more than about 50ft. I am told that most of the birds don’t even get eaten but end up in landfill. I’ve no idea how true that last bit is, but if there’s any truth in it it just makes the whole exercise even more pointless.

I calmed myself with a mooch around the village church – the interior held little interest but churchyards always have the best views in the village. And I’m fond of gargoyles.

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View from the churchyard, Temple Guiting

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Hairy Gargoyle

12thC corbels - from the time of the Knights Templar (hence Temple Guiting). Is that one on the left a rabbit or a badger?

12thC corbels – from the time of the Knights Templar (hence Temple Guiting).
Is that one on the left a rabbit or a badger?

I was still peeved about the shooters, so I walked up to the brand new and spankingly smart village shop/café and had a very good coffee, and a little chat with the friendly Scottish lady on duty there. There’s not much inner turmoil that can’t be fixed with coffee and a chat. A pistachio swirl helps too, I find. It was peaceful and soothing and when I came out the frost had almost succumbed to the bright, bright sunshine.

As I walked back to the car I heard little footsteps running through the leaves.

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17 thoughts on “Diamonds and Doomed Pixies

  1. The photos are very evocative of your walk. I know the area a bit so could kind of imagine as you walked along.

    Killing for sport is bad enough, but pheasants are so easy to catch, it’s not even sport. It’s just killing for the sake of killing.

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    • Thanks Julieanne. Yes, I find the whole thing bizarre. It really is like releasing a whole lot of battery hens and then shooting them. But it’s big business around here, judging from the number of birds squashed on the roads.

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  2. Your posts are so enjoyable Harriet…you’re really able to set a scene and bring the sedentary reader along with you, getting a sense of the minutiae and beauty of the countryside/gardens you ramble through….Looks like it was a stunningly lovely day…
    As you point out though, so much for the ‘sport’ of being able to kill a bird that ‘can’t fly without announcing themselves with a ridiculous squawk and a noise like one of those elastic-band-powered propellers being released from an envelope.” Really, killing anything ‘for fun’ is a dismal and sordid pastime… Anyway, glad you emerged unscathed…Love your photos too : )

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  3. Glorious photos Harriet. I was walking along side you. Metaphorically speaking. We heard shooting in the back fields last week. Suddenly there were 20 or so pheasants in our garden. Luckily they know sanctuary when they see it. We had fox hunting here on Friday. I try to ignore them, but they race up and down the lane, making such screaming, shouting and howling sounds.its frightening to see and hear them. Then the hounds got stuck in our garden. They’d come through the back fields and couldn’t get through our locked gate. No apologies from anyone.

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    • Thanks Karen. Yes the hunting fraternity does itself no favours with arrogant behaviour. I’ve seen hounds allowed to run through a field of sheep, I’ve seen hunt followers haring about busy roads on overloaded quad bikes and people on horseback cantering on the Fosseway (which is a dangerous place for cars, let alone horses) and crossing the traffic. I’ve heard much worse stories but thankfully not witnessed them. I find the whole thing revolting and bizarre but also know nice people who are into hunting and shooting, and find this really perplexing. I think they just switch off that bit of their imagination that could make a comparison between the terror and death of a hunted fox and someone doing the same thing to their beloved labrador.
      I believe that humans have upset the balance of nature and so some animals’ populations occasionally grow so much as to make them pests – if we have to control those populations it should be by the most humane methods possible. Sport it ain’t.

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  4. Hi Harriet, loved this piece, another who was with you metaphorically speaking. At work I love to see familiar sites decorated differently throughout winter.. Winter gets it in the neck from many, but I love it especially winter outlines of trees and hedges… very atmospheric.

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