My partial transformation from urbanite to country dweller is viewed with incredulity by some of my friends. I’ve been asked: “But what do you do down there?, as though I had gone to Mars, and newspapers, shops, pubs and people were not readily available within a shortish driving distance. Also, the internet, which is a total lifeline, does stretch to these parts, fortunately. No, I can’t walk to a shop and there’s barely any public transport, but I can amble to the pub. And… there are other things to do.
Yesterday, for example. In the morning I went for an nine-mile ride with a ten-strong group of riders from the local stables. We rode up to the top of Cothelstone Hill, which is so high that you can see for many, many miles in all directions, right over the Severn estuary to Wales on a clear day. It happened to be a wonderful morning. Good for the soul. Check. There were so few people around, courtesy of the rugby world cup, that we were able to do loads of cantering. Good for development of new skill. Check. I usually ride Joseph, here on the left, and we get on very well. Good for…mmm… feeling good. Check.
Then, after a quick lunch and change out of my jodhpurs, I went over to Manor Farm to help with their ragwort ‘pull’. Ragwort is poisonous to horses, which means they’re reluctant to let the horses graze in some of the hillier fields. This, being the Quantocks, is extremely hilly, too steep for any mechanised equipment, meaning that clearance has to be done by hand. In this day and age.
So the call went out for a team of helpers, who were promised a cream tea, to pull the plants up one by one. In the event, only a few of us turned up, which was daunting once I realised how large the field was.
On my walk home, up over that same wretched hill, I stopped to pick some sloes to make more sloe gin. Some of these, being several weeks riper than the last lot I picked, were almost the size of grapes. It’s been a particularly good year for berries of all kinds, due to the cold winter and wet summer. I’m not planning to drink all this gin myself, by the way, I was thinking Christmas presents. Good for the budget. Check.