This year winter has seemed a long, cold tunnel with spring warmth seemingly still out of reach of our icy grasps. The coldest March and April in many a year means that spring is locked tight in winter's unrelenting grip with the only upside of the stubborn high pressure system being the cold, dry but often bright days. Such days beckon me out for a walk in the brisk air - no need for botox as the wind blasts the wrinkles on tightening skin.
Sunday was such a day and I walked locally along Seven Mile Plantation near Badminton. Seven Mile Plantation is a long ribbon of woodland that is located near Petty France. It starts at Bodkin Wood and like a green tendril reaches southwards for seven miles. There were some heartening signs of spring including these delightful daffodils.
The woods lie near Petty France; a delightful Cotswold hamlet on the A46 north of Bath in South Gloucstershire. At this time of year (and especially this year) there isn't much sign of life and so these daffodils give a welcome splash of colour. I wasn't alone in the woods. Ambling along as quietly as i could - I know there is a pair of roe deer that live here. I often see them at a distance in the adjacent fields in the early morning or late evenings from my window. Sure enough, there's a crash to my left as the skittish creatures start at my footsteps and instinctively run deeper into the wood casting a single look back at me before melding into the undergrowth.
A beautiful feature here and around the Cotswolds generally is the dry stone walling. Dry stone walls are walls that are made without the use of mortar or cement. They have been used as boundaries throughout Britain for centuries, and are a particularly important and attractive feature of the landscape within the Cotswolds.The earliest known example of dry stone walling in the Cotswolds can be found at Belas Knap near Winchcombe in the North Cotswolds, a Neolithic long barrow built about 2000 BC. Most of the dry stone wallswe see now date from the 18th and 19th century, when large tracks of open fields and downland were enclosed for livestock. Stone and labour were both readily available, so walls were relatively cost effective to construct. In the second half of the twentieth century, many walls became redundant as livestock numbers fell and fields were used for growing crops. There were also fewer people employed with the skills to maintain and restore the walls. Stone used for dry stone walling in the Cotswolds comes from thin strata of oolitic limestone. The thickness and colour of the stone varies considerably throughout the area. As a result, the appearance of the walls, also varies. In the north of the Cotswolds, for example, the stone can be honey coloured, while in other parts of the Cotswolds it can be grey or white.
Features in the dry stone walls in the Cotswolds contribute to the diversity of the area and reflect local history. Walls contain many unusual features, including holes for livestock to pass through, stone steps, water troughs, stone styles, archways and bee boles - a shelter within the wall where beehives used to be kept.
In the context of modern farming practice, dry stone walling is expensive to maintain. Within the Cotswolds they are a unique and distinctive feature of the landscape and their conservation and management is a high priority. It can cost £100 per metre run to restore a damaged wall and so it must be a blow for owners to see collapses like these.
On my way back I encountered a hapless crow with what looked like a broken wing. It could only hobble across the field away from me rather than fly whilst holding up the sorry looking appendage. I wondered if it would see the day out in that sorry state and keep out of sight of the hungry foxes that abound here. They too must be fed up with this long, cold winter.
Photos taken with Lumix G3