The Countryside Stewardship Scheme was still operating properly when I first moved here just over four years ago. Then, as local authority cuts started to bite in the aftermath of the meltdown in the financial markets, my neighbour over the road commented that he was going to close the permissive paths across his land maintained by the scheme. He had been warned that no further money was likely to be forthcoming, meaning that he could no longer afford to maintain the paths appropriately for public access, and he was afraid of insurance claims from people injuring themselves.
Last week, however, I thought I would make my way down to where I knew there would be some early (for here) blackberries. John had said that I wasn’t to mind the ‘closed’ signs on the gates if I wanted a walk, but the undergrowth now had other ideas. The paths, once clear and wide, were almost completely overgrown by nettles and brambles.
If I hadn’t known the route, I would definitely have turned back. As it was, I did almost give up a couple of times, boiling in the heat of my windcheater pulled down close over my hands for protection, and exhausted by tramping down shoulder-high nettles and unhitching myself from the brambles that caught and re-caught me at every turn.
But it was worth my efforts. At the lake, ducks quacked as they paddled away across the still water between the water lily leaves. Lovely spots of cool widened out here and there beneath the canopy and the sudden rustling of the undergrowth, as rabbits lolloped away and horses came nuzzling up on the far side of the beeches to see who was passing, signalled the creatures that live here.
I came home with not very many blackberries and a lot of sadness. I just have to consider myself lucky that I arrrived in time to experience these neglected byways at their best.
There are other paths to the lake and across the land and I will have to content myself with those in the future.