Restharrow time

I guess that the harrowing of a field, even with a team of horses, would come to a halt when the tines dug into a mat of this plant. We’ve seen it before but always near the coast; I think the last time was in Portscatho in Cornwall but that was before my phone camera days – now my Pixel 6a does it all + lat & long which with a bit of fiddling yields a National Grid reference and a searchable database as well.

But I also love the name, because resting and harrowing have such wide fields of reference and the plant name Restharrow conjures up a ploughman calling his team back by name with a loud whooooa and pondering his next move. Wood engravings by Thomas Bewick, paintings by Samuel Palmer and the writing of George Ewart Evans come to mind and I’m plunged into rural history by a small but very pretty plant and a name with a cloud of meanings.

These words, the ones that trail clouds of meanings are useful but also tricky. On Friday night I was sleepless for hours. A southwesterly gale was blowing; rocking the campervan and soughing noisily through the leaky windows and I caught sight of the moon through a small gap at the top of the blind. But the moon wasn’t about to lend herself to any of the usual associations. For a start she was pale golden yellow rather than silvery and her usual progress across the sky seemed – well – vagrant, furtive under interrogation by my sleepless mind. Is it even possible to imagine a vagrant moon, stealing across the sky over Ramsey Sound with a haul of sunshine from somewhere always beyond the western horizon and then sinking quietly behind the clouds, or behind the brightening sky, in the dawn?

I lay awake for a while more and had one of our nocturnal chats with Madame, then fell asleep eventually attempting to disambiguate the highly ambiguous Male-ferns we’d found and photographed. It’s like counting sheep without ever arriving at a conclusion and sleep came as a relief

I think I must be addicted to the west; to sunsets and South Westerly storms and to the sunny days that always feel like a gift rather than a right. Here we watch the fierce tides flow through Ramsey Sound, intermittently covering and revealing the Bitches, a dreadful reef to any unwary sailor or canoeist – not that it ever seems to deter them. During the daytime the peace is rent by the ribs which offer so-called wildlife tours around the island but which seem to be extreme water adventures in anything but name, probably terrifying the wits out of any seals unfortunate enough to have hauled up on an inaccessible beach. I really cannot imagine any less viable way of seeing wildlife than travelling in a (f) bucking rib at 30 mph.

The gale hasn’t let up for days, but we get intermittent spells of sunshine and it’s been good for plant hunting and then cataloguing in the stormy intervals. That’s a good holiday – arriving with a suitcase full of worthy books, encountering the mental equivalent of a clump of Restharrow and being forced to slow down or take a break.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: