1 year, 11 months ago…

…I began this blog, just two weeks before moving from Manchester to lovely Lincolnshire.

Before I started posting a friend gave me some advice: ‘Never blog about why you haven’t been blogging!’ It seemed sound to me, excuses and apologies never making for interesting reading; and I decided that when my posts became apologies it would be time to stop.

I posted 110 times in the first 12 months of the blog but in the past 11 months I have only written 27 posts. I think it is time…

I can think of reasons good and bad for the writing having dried up. It has been a hard few months, with family demands and problems taking me often away from home and distracting me from myself. I have had very little time for the walking, outdoors and landscape which inspired much of my thinking and writing last year. I have been preoccupied with worry about people I love but about whom I am not going to write about here. I have had less time to savour that sense of freedom and lightness that I have written about finding since moving to Heckington.

And yet, there is something more, something different. I began this when about to make a giant step (for me) into a new life and in the following months I explored what it meant to have made such a choice. At some point earlier this year I felt I had reached a different place in my understanding. I think I had said what I wanted to say here. But I have enjoyed writing and having people read my words and making new connections. So I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave – although I’ve written very little.

I’m winding up the blog in a month’s time, on my second blog birthday. Between now and then I am going to revisit posts I wrote along the way and reflect on the journey. In my first-ever post, Farewell Manchester, which appears below, I wrote about the things I would and wouldn’t miss about the city. I don’t miss all of them as much as I thought, though I miss people just as much as I knew I would.

This picture is from Chorlton Meadows, where I walked with my dogs for years and years. In the winter of 2011 it was an amazing winter wonderland. I miss seeing it in all its different hues and seasons. And oh I do miss my dogs!

Meadows Winter 2011

One year; two dogs

Doris

This time a year ago we moved and I wrote this post as we were about to leave Manchester.

Some hours later, about the time of day that I am writing this, the removal men were unpacking the van and I was walking two very fed-up lurchers round a strange village in the dark. They were not impressed by the trip over the Pennines in an over-stuffed campervan or by a late walk on the lead.

The new garden in the morning, with neighbouring cats to chase off, was better. But that first evening I felt like a very poor dog owner.

A year later both dogs are gone and we are bereft. Bob, everybody’s friend, the plucky three-legged character, died in the summer at nearly fifteen years old. Doris, our ‘young’ dog, was nearly thirteen by then – see Spot the dog and Poor Doris for more about her. She was getting a bit stiff with arthritis, but was still frisky in spirit and we expected her to be with us for some time more.

Yesterday, suddenly her back legs gave out and she couldn’t walk or even stand. We talked about investigations, x-rays, general anaesthetics, pain relief. We wanted to keep her longer but it felt that it would be entirely for us not for her. So we let her go and the house is desolate with no dog. In twenty years we have always had at least one.

I was planning a celebratory post about a year in Heckington for today. But all I can think about is that a year ago I had two dogs and now I have none. And then, ridiculously I start feeling guilty about making them move.

I know this is transferred guilt about having hurt people by my leaving (of which more another time). Really I know that no dogs, or people, died because I moved to Lincolnshire. I’m glad that Bob and Doris shared the beginning of our new life and I’m glad they had a garden for their last months.

But I do miss them: beautiful creatures, greedy scavengers, speed merchants, born-to-kill hunters, all of that and dear companions.

Bob

Outside

Shropshire Union

I write this sitting in the campervan in the dark, something over 100 miles due west of Heckington. We’re parked at a marina beside the Shropshire Union Canal: very English, very rural but different to the landscape we left this afternoon. This is border country; green hills and mists of Wales beckon, instead of cold marshes and bracing winds.

A nice surprise at the pub tonight was a gig by a young singer-songwriter called Heidi Browne (www.heidibrowne.co.uk). Her dad sang I Can’t Stand the Rain, but I love it against the van windows. It’s a tiny campsite and we’re in the car park, but walking to the toilet block in the rain and the dark, it is every campsite I’ve ever stayed on and my spirits lift.

I remember this feeling of freedom, expansion, contentment from every year that we used to camp in France when family were younger. Now I have it when I walk down the garden or to the garage, or to the field with the dog. Now I wonder how I didn’t know how much I craved outdoor space; or how, knowing it, I let myself live without it for so long.

When my two-year old granddaughter visits, the first thing she does on coming downstairs in the morning is run to the back door and try to open it. ‘Outside! Outside!’ she cries. I know just how she feels.

Audlem Wharf

Dog field revisited

Field, Cameron Street

If you’ve been following for a while, you may remember No longer the dog field about the arrival of sheep in the field at the end of our road, making it a no-go area for our bloodthirsty lurchers.

Yesterday the sheep and their now quite well grown lambs were suddenly gone, leaving only close-cropped sward and the odd hank of fleece behind them. Bob, the very elderly three-legged lurcher, is no longer going for proper walks, but Naughty Doris scampered happily round the field this morning. We went back later on my return from a walk with the Boston Ramblers (a pleasant tramp in lovely evening light at Swineshead, a few miles down the A17).

It was at Swineshead Abbey that King John was supposedly poisoned by a monk in 1216; the village sign depicts the event (click here to see it).

In no time at all the dog field will be out of bounds again when the famous Heckington Show is on. Meanwhile, the view above is what I see when heading back into the village after our walk. For a prettier, though less seasonal picture, see View from the dog field.

Poor Doris

Doris

Back in Manchester one of my many grumbles was about having to get in the car to walk the dogs. In the nearby local park our badly-behaved lurchers mostly stayed on the lead, so as not to have them run and bark at other dogs, raid rubbish bins, chase cats, kill pigeons and so on.

The field at the end of our road here in Heckington seemed ideal: space for Doris to run around while elderly, three-legged Bob pottered more slowly. But since the dog field became the sheep field, poor Doris is having all her walks on the lead.

Though no spring chicken herself, she has had a whole new lease of life on arriving in the country. The scents of foxes, muntjac deer and other wildlife are obviously exciting beyond anything back in Chorlton. Five times now, in different places, she has sprinted off over several fields and stayed away for ages (see Spot the Dog and No longer the dog field). Too much anxiety, not knowing where she is, if she’s run onto a road or into a farm, so until the sheep field is free again, she’s on the lead.

At least here we have a garden for her to run around in. But still, poor Doris; it’s a dog’s life!

No longer the dog field…

Disaster; there are sheep in the dog field. No good for letting lurchers off the lead; the sheep would certainly be worried. Tried the sports ground in the village, where we’re told many people walk their dogs, but Naughty Doris nipped through a gap in the hedgerow and did one of her disappearing acts over huge field (see Spot the Dog post of a while ago). A long wait for partner and much kindly concern from fellow dog-walkers until Doris turned her back on exciting scents of muntjac and fox and came trotting back, ready for the more solid pleasures of breakfast.

Nice woman with collie dog has mentioned walking at Haverholme Park, a little way beyond the village of Ewerby, a couple of miles from Heckington. So off I go on my bike to scout it out.

As I head for home there is heavy cloud above. In the south is a fat stripe of light, a wash of blue, white, pink between the dark land and the dark cloud. I love this landscape for just being itself, unassuming and unromantic, and I love it for being like a piece of abstract art: all blocks and stripes, light and colour, saying so little, containing so much.

And with each turn in the road, I see a church spire against the sky: Asgarby, Ewerby, Heckington. Tiny Howell’s church is ancient and beautiful, but small, so you come upon it almost without warning.

image

Spring in the dog field

Ploughed earth

A short while ago the fields around were still covered in stubble, but now they have been ploughed. This the third field that the dogs and I cross on our regular walk and I am fascinated by the red-brown soil turned over in fat, slug-shaped ridges, such a rich colour, dense and fat and tactile, like something to be moulded or even eaten.

On the far side of the field is Naughty Doris, spoken of in Spot The Dog. She might be hunting in the hedgerow or just eating grass.

The picture below is the view looking back towards the village when we are on our way home.

Hall trees