26 April-4 May: A postcard from our future?

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

‘Have we just been sent a postcard from our future?’ You may have seen the attention grabbing headlines from various newspaper articles reporting on research just published claiming 11,000 deaths in the last 30 days have been avoided in Europe alone as a result of falls in air pollution. The original research paper is here and really worth a read at only 10 pages.

If the research turns out to have validity, then surely it should alter the whole way we think about how we live our lives and the decisions we make about who should govern us?  Catherine is using some of her medical connections in respiratory diseases to get their input, but as a layperson it makes a pretty compelling case. The newspaper headlines of course leave out the ‘projected’ deaths bit, but journalistic sensationalism apart, the evidence that air pollution makes us sick, and kills a lot of people is pretty solid. According to the WHO 4.2 million people a year globally die premature deaths as a result of ambient (air based) air pollution. Food for thought. 

As we wander around our little corner of England, we take big deep breaths, and ponder how we would love a future that had air always tasting this good, skies this clear, and the background noise of the combustion engine so muted. We also appreciate we need economies functioning, and our lives enriched by being able to mingle with a wider community of loved ones, and friends-we-have not-yet-made.

A lot of our friends have seen how unnecessary many of their journeys to work are, some proving the work-from-home model to sceptical employers, or delivering training on line rather than flying to Asia from Australia to put people in a classroom. 

Greater stitchwort, Stellaria holostea – actually another edible flower and plant. It looks like there are 10 petals, but there are actually 5 pairs with splits. Nice to decorate (and eat in) a salad apparently.
Another visit to our wooly haired neighbours…
You’ll find there will be more photos of the two of us coming up with the purchase of a new tripod!
Delicate pink rhododendron buds burst into a subtle creamy bloom
Camassia flowers in the meadow beside our cottage

Yes, the air seems clearer, the colours of the countryside even more vivid, and the bird song emboldened.

Even on a stormy day, the colours of the soil look rich and warm, the lush greens of the fields contrasting as they stretch into the distance
No longer a short cut across this field, we walk around the outside
Love how the sunlight spotlights particular fields and woodlands. Look carefully towards the middle of this image and you will see a tall tower – this is Combe Wood Tower, built in 1750 to spy on the owner’s neighbours (among other reasons!)
Not being country folk, we are learning a bit about farming life. Last week we saw a newborn calf tottering after its mother which still has afterbirth hanging from her body as she munched nonchalantly on grass…no photo of that, enjoy these slightly older calves instead.
Following a path through the Bagborough Plantation
Moss covered branches that haven’t moved for years
Beautiful colours throughout the woodland
A huge beech tree, literally glowing after the rain on its new leaves
Hiking up, West Bagborough down the hill behind us
Ancient moss covered walls as we descend Stout Lane
The trees have grown through and over these walls – probably from a nut that sprouted many centuries ago sitting on this wall
Wild rhododendron flowers looking bright and fresh

Our walks take us across new paths through ancient oak woodlands and modern spruce plantations. Every walk gives us an injection of hope that we can continue to appreciate the world around us even in these difficult times.

(Below 12km circuit hike can be found on Strava)

How’s this for a green lane of many shades? A sunnier afternoon walk last Thursday
Our favourite dead tree now surrounded by sheep and lambs
Same location, a month apart – helps us see how the leaves have filled out in the trees around Cothelstone Manor and the church
And now fields of rape are flowering..
A picnic in a meadow
Continuing our spectacular walk towards what used to be Ivyton Dairy
Can’t stop smiling, the scenery, the birds, the fresh air – all so lovely
A nicely marked path up to Ivyton Dairy – now a dog resort and luxury housing
Look at where we are! Can’t get more socially isolated than this…
The patchwork of colours in these fields is incredible
Canola
Bluebell wood – this is where we wish we could share perfume along with our photos – it was incredible in here.
Crossing back over Cothelstone Hill on our return route – the ponies are sheltering together from the brisk wind. The views over the Bristol Channel are the clearest yet
Still enjoying the bluebells in our local plantation as well

Then my body tells me I need to take a break from walks with a swollen ankle and what looks like tendinitis. It was time to switch gear and get on our bikes.

We don’t have dedicated bike paths around our rural enclave in Somerset, but we do have hundreds of miles of beautiful lanes almost devoid of cars at the moment. A great ride helped us to see a few more of the villages that surround us and are too far to reach in a day hike. Thank goodness for our pedal assistance though from our Bosch motors, with many many steep climbs! On the way we continue to strike up conversations with locals. Gee they’re a friendly bunch round here! To us, that’s one of the joys of cycling, you get to cover more ground than walking, but are not cut off from the world around you as in a vehicle.

(Cycle the same 28km route – find it on Strava)

Crowcombe Court in Crowcombe – in peacetime used for functions
Mr A having a relax in the quiet village centre
The village church – Church of the Holy Ghost dates from the 14th century. In the early 1700s it was stuck by lightning and the spire is now mounted opposite the entrance (to the left of the photo)
A lovely MG parked outside Stogumber Station – part of the UK’s longest heritage railway. In peacetime there would be a tea shop here with a lovely garden for a cuppa and cake
Half way up the very steep Ashbeer Hill
The village of Stogumber nestled in the valley

The surge in cycling participation rates being reported globally is encouraging. “Bicycles are the new toilet paper, and everyone wants a piece”, as the head of Giant bicycle sales for Australia was reported as so cogently putting it. Here in the UK, investment  in cycling infrastructure also continues, a billion pounds committed to cycling and walking initiatives over the next 5 years. France also announced an initiative to subsidise bike repairs up to 50 euros, You have to give credit there for a good way to divert some money into bike shops. 

Silverdown Hill
Fabulous views over the Quantock Hills

The two nuclear power stations nearby at Hinkley Point are a constant “feature” as we gaze down towards the coast. I was intrigued to read that here in the UK, the energy market has just gone coal-free for the last 20 days, the first time since 1882! Some of the local farms are contributing to that with the production of crops for biomass power.

Mind you, there has been a run of “warm” days through April (apparently classified here as when the temperatures get into double figures centigrade) and  require the wearing of t-shirts and shorts! I’m still exposing minimal body parts of course until there’s a 2 in front of any double figure number 🙂

The UK government has now committed to close all its coal fired plants by 2025, a strong contrast to Australia’s fossil fuel centric policy. 

Our love of the area and the community in which we have randomly found ourselves is a constant reminder to us that life’s curve balls may get thrown for a reason. I read a book years ago called the Celestine Prophecy, and its central message has stayed with me. The author (James Redfield) proposes that as we wander through our lives we will find ourselves confronted by moments of synchronicity, coincidences that seem so improbable , like bumping into the friend from home from the other side of the world. We’ve all had these moments. My weirdest was while hitchhiking round Crete, I was at a low point after walking for miles in the hot sun, and who should pull up in a car beside me, but my parents‘ next door neighbour. The philosophy of synchronicity purposes that we should ascribe meaning to these so called co-incidences, and take them as the opportunities they are meant to be. To reconnect with that friend overseas, who then turns out to be the person who offered you a job back home, as happened to me for instance. Or those neighbours who became a lifeline for me over a very difficult time.

So many events that look random in our lives put us at a crossroads. Maybe we have been forced to take a long hard look at life in rural England for a reason. We think we know why, but that’s a story for another time.

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