Mid March 2014, and the last week before I started my new job. There seemed to be an awful lot of loose ends to tie up. Then injuries started rearing their ugly heads. Commando had a twinge in his knee and, despite RICE (not the stuff you cook in boiling water, it’s an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation), he had to cut his final twenty mile run short when it had barely started. It all felt very familiar. The last weeks of my Moonwalk training were beset with knee problems and I only finished the marathon with the help of pain killers and a knee support.
18 March 2014
Yesterday we all went up to the new doctor’s surgery to pick up the forms to change doctors. It couldn’t be more different to our normal surgery. The two receptionists were smiling and friendly, quite happy to chat to us. One of them recognised me from somewhere and she looked quite familiar to me too. Eventually we worked out that our children had gone to the same school twenty odd years ago when I lived in Woolston. What a small world and what a surprise that we recognised each other after all this time. Maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought.
Not only that but the surgery opens early in the mornings and late at night as well as every other Saturday, helping people who work but need routine appointments. They have a phone line for repeat prescriptions, unlike our current surgery who make you visit to request a prescription and again to pick it up. This is a pain because they close for an hour and a quarter for lunch and are only really open during office hours. All in all it seems a much friendlier and happier place. I’m pretty sure the doctor won’t sit and Google our symptoms quite shamelessly during a consultation too. Let’s face it, I could do that at home without having to face the dragon on reception or sit three quarters of an hour in the waiting room breathing other people’s germs. So now all that remains is to fill out the forms and book our initial check up. Why on earth didn’t I do this years ago?
Despite a rocky start, today turned out to be quite a learning experience. Yesterday I had a bit of an achy arm probably through sleeping on it ‘a bit funny.’ Through the day it was a minor irritation, just a pain when I moved certain ways. Of course, when I went to bed it felt worse, as things do at night when you have nothing else to occupy your mind. No matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable and I ended up taking pain killers. It wasn’t a very peaceful sleep and this morning my arm was still painful.
Of course this is nothing when compared to Commando’s knee problem. The ice and rest helped during the day but he had to go to work last night which involved being on his feet most of the time. He rang me during the evening sounding very despondent because the pain was back with a vengeance. The call left me feeling helpless. There was nothing I could do or say to make it better and he was obviously worried about the marathon in three weeks. The thought of thirteen weeks hard training, all those hours of running, being for nothing if it doesn’t get better, was tough to take. More of the RICE treatment is in order I think.
My major task for the morning was to take our forms back to the new GP’s surgery and make my initial health check appointment. As it looked like being a nice day I decided to combine this with a bit of a walk. My walking in the week days are fast running out so I intended to make the most of it and explore a small copse I’ve passed but never visited. The satellite map suggested it might lead me down towards the river. Of course you can’t see paths through woodland from the air so, potentially, I could end up getting hopelessly lost. Nothing new there then.
When I left home it was so bright and warm I very nearly left my coat at home. In the end I didn’t which turned out to be a good thing. With my paperwork delivered and an appointment made for Thursday I set off along the edge of Townhill estate, not the nicest walk but I enjoyed the drifts of daffodils on the grass verge outside the school. From there it wasn’t long before I could see the copse.
The map wasn’t all that clear on where the paths came out but, luckily, I spotted a gate almost at once and the path beyond it looked clear and, more importantly, dry. As I set off I could hear lots of loud voices shouting and, through the trees, I spied a group of people in brightly coloured bibs. There seemed to be some kind of boot camp training going on. So much for a quiet woodland walk.
There was more than one path but the one I’d taken wound upwards into the woods and beside me, to the left, there was a steep drop with a stream running through a deep gully. The boot camp group were down below, making a chain gang to carry tires across, along with lots of barked orders. Later I found out this was Military Preparation College Training, mainly from the MPCT logo on their bibs. It looked tough.
The woodland was mixed, mainly deciduous with lots of birch, beech and holly so it was fairly bright, if a little prickly in places. With the path being so high there was no mud but there were plenty of newly fallen trees and some older, rotten ones. I kept my eyes peeled for interesting fungi. It wasn’t long before I found one, shell shaped and fawnish white it clung to an old stump surrounded by holly. I think it may have been Piptoporus betulinus or birch bracket, used by barbers to sharpen their razors and also a good fire lighter. As I was trying to work out if I could get a shot of the underside without getting prickled to death the MPCT group came charging past. One said hello. He was probably wondering what an earth I was up to.
Close by was another, much larger fungus, similar in colour but I’m not sure it was the same type. It was in a slight dip at the top of the bank so I clambered down to have a closer look. The top looked like it had seen better days and the underside had a smooth brownish crust and a thick stem. Clambering up was more difficult than getting down but I managed it and was soon on the path again.
The path undulated up and down through the trees. Ahead I could see a steep climb where wooden steps peeked from under the leaf litter and beside the trail a mound of earth that looked very much like a large ant hill. Something was flying around it and, as I got closer, I could see they were small bees. How strange! I stood and watched for a while, fairly confident the bees would leave me alone as long as I left them alone. They seemed to be more intent on crawling in and out of the holes in the hill than me stooping to take pictures. Obviously this was no ant hill, it was a nest of ground bees.
Now, I was aware that some bees built nests in burrows in the dirt but I thought, like the mason bees who build nests in holes in wood or walls, they were solitary. This was a whole colony though and a large one, probably two foot high and five foot long. A look at Google when I got home told me they do build quite large colonies of individual nests if the conditions are right. Each female creates a tunnel in a dry, usually sandy, spot, often with many entrances, exits and chambers. She will lay a single egg in each chamber and collect pollen to make honey for her young. Once the job is done though, she doesn’t hang around to care for her brood like the more familiar honey bees.
In spring the eggs hatch and the bees go off to pollinate flowers, fruit and vegetables. As there were many bees buzzing around the mound I think what I saw were male bees in a mating dance around the nest. Once the female has laid her eggs they will all go off alone. Although these bees can sting they are not at all aggressive and rarely do, so I was quite safe watching them.
When I began to climb the steps to even higher ground I heard a commotion behind me. Looking back I could see the MPCT group running up and down the hill behind me. It looked like hard work and I hoped they didn’t disturb any other colonies of ground bees during their training. They may be quite gentle bees but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t take kindly to a size ten boot crashing down on their nest.
On I went, crossing the muddy stream running through the copse and climbing yet more steps. At the top I realised I’d reached the edge of the wood. The path now ran beside a fence with houses behind. I wasn’t quite sure where it would lead me but I followed it nonetheless.
The trail came out on a quiet little lane lined with cottages. One garden was lined with the strappy leaves and white flowers of ipheion or spring starflower so perfect I had to stop and take photos. Before too long I was on the road towards the river, heading for the garden centre. The sky had clouded over and a chilly wind had got up, making me thankful for my coat. I was tempted to stop off for a coffee but pretty sure I’d never be able to leave without buying plants. Reluctantly I dragged myself past, my arm still hurt and carrying heavy plants for three miles didn’t seem like a good idea.
Clumps of daffodils were growing on the marshy ground by the White Swan. Outside the pub a large, ‘sorry we’re closed’ sign has appeared but, as I came level with the car park I could see contractors vans outside. When I crossed the road for a closer look one of the builders was unloading his van, he said hello as I passed him.
“I’m glad to see some progress being made,” I said.
“Yes, we’re putting it all back as good as new.”
That was good news to me, I’d been a bit worried the pub would close for good after so many floods and so much money lost. That would have been too sad. Out in the garden they seem to be building some kind of a wall, maybe for future flood defences. Whether it will work or not I’m not sure but it must be worth a try.
Now I was walking along the river with ducks swimming beside me looking hopeful. One of these days I will remember to take bread or, better still seed, for them. On the edge of the pitch and putt the huge willow has a fuzz of bright new spring leaves. Soon all the bare branches will be clothed again. Some geese were crossing from the undergrowth to the river as I walked towards the mill. They looked at me but didn’t seem too bothered that I was so close.
There were new flowers to see all along the river bank. Bright pink ribes have opened since I last came this way and I spotted the very first blackberry flower of the year close by. Amongst the nettles a single oxeye daisy caught my eye. As I bent to take a photo I noticed there are flowers on the nettles too and a ladybird was crawling along the spiny leaves. How to they do that without getting stung?
Along by the reed beds there was blue sky although the wind was still blowing strongly and a poplar was creaking quite alarmingly. I hurried past. This seemed like a good plan when I spotted yet another fallen tree on the edge of the football pitch. Around the bend on the last leg of my journey I saw my first swans of the day.
A couple were walking two dogs just in front of me, one large creamy one and a snappy little brown one. The dogs kept dashing towards the river barking at the swans and, as I passed, the women called out, “leave them alone, you’ve already been fed.”
I wondered if she had any idea of the damage a swan could to do her dog. A few moments later I heard a loud hissing and turned to see the smaller dog at the bottom of the the bank almost in the water. Luckily for him the hissing made him turn back.
“I hate bloody birds,” the woman said to her companion, “except arctic terns, they’re all right.”
For a moment I wondered if I’d stumbled upon a Monty Python sketch. Why walk along the river if you hate birds and what is so special about arctic terns?
A whole troupe of swans were swimming towards me now, perhaps they wanted to gang up on the dogs. When I turned back I was pleased to see both dogs well away from the water along with their stupid owners. The reason for the huge swan gathering down by the bridge became clear as I got closer. They were courting. I watched enraptured as one pair rose from the water in their courtship dance, cursing that I wasn’t a little closer and could only take a distant photograph.
Tonight my arm is still sore but I’m glad I went for a walk today. In just over five and a half miles I learned a lot. It seems every day is a school day when you go out for a walk.
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