Tuesday, June 3, 2008

'And the mists lie low on the fen..'


I’ve been two days now at Hermitage Court Farm on St Catherine’s Downs but I haven’t exactly started rushing around the Isle of Wight.
Reason number one has been the weather. Monday dawned grey, cool and drizzlish, and Tuesday has followed suit, adding for good measure in the last hour or so a healthy wind which is howling around this particular wuthering height in great gusts. Actually, I don’t know why winds are supposed to howl. This one doesn’t. It sounds more like an elderly washing machine trying to spin dry, or an effortful vaccum cleaner with the hiccoughs.
My little apartment here (‘little’ in the endearing sense not in the magnitude sense, for its indeed as luxurious in size as in appointments) is so comfortable, and the wifi so efficient, I don’t really feel like leaving it in such conditions. But I have.
First of all, I had to get to the co-op store to stock up on edibles and drinkables. So I pointed Red Fred back down the hill I had come up so nervously the day before and off I set. Oddly, I had the impression that the roads had widened just a tad overnight.
All went well, till I reached the crucial junction with the main (haha!) road. Across it was a stationary van with a pair of legs sticking out from under its bonnet, and a barely sufficient gap left for me. And vehicles coming both ways outside. Well, both vehicles stopped, the one I could see blinked, and I squeezed through. I felt rude not stopping to see if the legs had a head that needed help, but I’d be the last person likely to be useful in such a case.
Rookley co-op is not large. In fact, its more the size of your old-time corner store. But it had two shelves of wine and beer, a plentiful choice of cheeses and ham, a few pickles (Branston but no gherkins), no biscottes but Carr’s 'cheese melt' crackers, the odd nut and crisp, and the lady even managed to dig me up a bottle of olives which I suspect had been long awaiting a buyer. So I drove home well-stocked, ready to fill to bursting the little cooler Chris has installed in my room.
After such a sterling effort, I lunched on cheese and crackers, wrote half an article on Victorian vocalist Tom Travers, had a long, luxurious lavender bubble-bath in my wondrous bathroom, changed, and generally relaxed until dinner time. Jayne does ‘in’ dinners for the occasions you don’t go out (which in my case are likely to be frequent), so I was treated to a really great vegetarian lasagne which went down perfectly with the co-op’s bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape (yes!), and took me through to a comfy bedtime in my kingsized bed. Something of a shock after 3 ½ months of a bunk.
Today I simply had to walk. Fred has been given the day off, and I sat over my breakfast (prunes, thick-cut smoked salmon and sour cream, with tea and brown toast…) looking through the latticed windows at the grey and the damp and wondering if the forecast improvement would come. At 11.30 I decided it wouldn’t, so I donned my woolly jacket and Turkish beanie and set off to wander along the damp and drizzlish downs and down to the village of Niton.

It was an invigorating walk if slightly hazardous. Knee-length wet grass is, to a man in shorts, not charming. Knee-length nettles even less so. And the bridle path had had more than brides on it: 4x4 tracks showed here and there, and devolved ultimately into a series of muddy potholes. But, hey, country walks are country walks!
Niton is a pretty little village with a large church (Anglican, thus locked), a post office, an antiquarian bookdealer (by appointment only) and a quaint general store which actually had the two things I wanted: an ordnance survey map and a tiny backpack to replace the blue plastic bag in which I was carrying my map, camera, hat, knife, water bottle etc. The plastic bag is not practical when jumping muddy potholes.
Niton was taken in swiftly, as the drizzle was getting insistent, so I struck up the sodden return track towards the descending mists. When I reached the heights they were certainly wuthering, but picturesque indeed with the whiter than white sheep glowing out of the gloom as I strode along with my voice raised in song. Gilbert and Sullivan. ‘The Ghosts’ High Noon’. Well, the sheep did look ghostly but it was the line about ‘the mists lie low on the fen’ that jolted me into music.

I was pretty muddened and damp, not to say nettled (in spite of my best efforts), when I reached home base, but now that I’ve spent far too long in the bubble-bath, changed (I shall run out of clothes soon), nibbled a little of my stores, brewed a cup of tea and downloaded the only two photos I took, I shall turn my attention back to Mr Travers until dinner time. Yes, I’m ‘in’ again and its chicken tonight. I have a nice bottle of bubbly that should go a treat with that.
Sigh of contentment.

PS I have discovered something about the width of the roads from the map. Red roads are normal. Orange roads are ‘generally over 4m wide’, yellow roads ‘generally less than 4m wide’. The roads that lead here are green, which don’t even rate a mention, or white, which are listed at the very bottom, like very minor choristers in an operetta programme, and are just dubbed ‘others’. I wonder how wide Fred is.

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