The end of August and most of September passed by in a whirl of phone calls, paperwork signatures, and bottomless cardboard boxes. It is said, September is a great time for making new starts, which I hope bodes well for us. All this stress and frantic activity is down to one little (actually rather big) thing; we moved home.
It is over 3 weeks now since our first night in the new place, and it has taken nearly that long to sink in. Leaving behind my childhood stomping grounds and the 1st floor flat we rented in the middle of a crowded housing estate, we have escaped to the countryside! In reality, we have moved from the lovely market town of Midhurst, 5 miles down the road to the village of West Dean, just north of Chichester, in the beautiful Lavant Valley. A short distance as the crow flies, but it feels a world away.
Our new flat is within row of flint and brick cottages, over looking a shared green. The neighbouring rows are new builds, erected since the millennium, but sympathetically styled. Our row carries a very worn date brick that reads 1810, if you catch the shadows in the right direction. The giant cherry tree in the centre of The Green must be of similar vintage, its vast heavy boughs will be a cloud of blossom in the spring I’m told. Around this venerable cherry are other trees; apples, plums, pears and walnuts, a shared bounty ripe for the plundering. At the rear of the property, brambles that resemble small trees themselves, obscure the boundary of the garden. A challenge that will keep us warm on several frosty autumn weekends.
Whenever I drive out of the end of the lane, I wish I never had to leave. When I come home, pull up under the trees and switch off the car, I sit for a moment or two and let the sudden peace wash over me. A wholesome soundtrack of wind in leaves, pheasants in the fields, a neighbour chopping logs in their garden.
The effect of our move finally hit me one sunny and windy day near the end of September.
It was one of those glaring September days, all pure white light and whipping wind. The bright sun, autumn low, threw everything into stark contrast, forcing you to squint to see anything at all then suddenly dipping behind a cloud or tree and the resulting shade was all detail, movement, and texture. It was not a day for staying indoors. The temperature was caught and tossed between the decision of wearing a coat and hat, or not; warm in the sheltered sun if working or walking, but the wind has a stormy bite to it. I opted for my blue ‘Paddington bear’ style duffle coat, with its wooden toggles and soft hood.
A few hundred yards from our new home, steps climb up from the lane, behind the village school, to the eastern halt of the Centurion Way. This disused-railway-line-come-cycle-path runs from West Dean to the cathedral city of Chichester, (or Chichester to West Dean if you prefer). The great thing about the wide, level, flat, easy walking of a cycle path is that it means one rarely has to worry about looking down at ones feet and risk missing something of value in the scenery all around. And on a sublime September early-afternoon such as this, there is so much to be seen.
Some say that steam trains are like living, breathing beasts, and it would be easy to imagine one haunts this now rail-less track. The wind raced and whistled, clacking tree branches together so as I found myself walking in brisk time to the chuffety-clack, whilst the hedgerows either side snagged smoke-puffs of old-mans-beard, and extinguished flares of willowherb leant into the wind-draft beneath sparks of hawthorn berries and rosehips, and coal motes of sloes.
Spindle and dogwood leaves blushed pink and russet. The ash is the first this year to relinquish its leaves and they flurried across the track in eddies.
Solitude, the thrill of the wind, the rush of sights and scents of nature, something slipped the catch on weeks of emotional pressure and I whooped for joy. The buzzard soaring overhead complained haughtily and a covey of partridges scattered across the stubble. I dug in my pocket for my phone to text my Mum. I hurriedly typed a list of everything I could see, and added on the end a short yet exuberant sentence. “I love where I live”.
It is now October, and we have mostly settled in. I am trying to keep to my new resolutions inspired by that windy September day; pause more often, breathe more deeply, connect more wholly. Several exciting things are planned over the next couple of months; this weekend is an autumn countryside show plus a local beer festival, whilst November opens with a special supper club and closes with a Christmas fair. When storm tides have been high, I plan to visit the beach as inspiration for my regular column in New Nature mag, and there are countless footpaths that need exploring around our new local area. Hedgerows filled with wild fruit will draw in winter thrushes as they migrate south, and the naked form of fallow fields will hold their own beauty.
An Autumnal To Do List
- collect conkers
- bake an apple or pear cake
- go for a walk on a very windy day
- visit a country fair
- see the stars without streetlight pollution
- drink hot chocolate in front of a fire
- enjoy seasonal food; think wild, local and sustainable
- watch for the fieldfares and redwings’ arrival
- mulch roses and fix polytunnel door on allotment
- host a seasonal supper with friends/family
- decorate with hops, old mans beard, and rosehips
- kick through piles of fallen leaves
- plant bulbs for late winter/early spring blooms