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.

Now this is what a holiday looks like!

Madame with a handful of freshly picked field mushrooms – note the one stuck in her binoculars.

Our son, (at least, one of them did), said once that we can’t go on holiday because by virtue of being retired we’re always on holiday. I told him to get on his bike, because there is a profound difference in being away and being at home and working flat out on the allotment. Even going to the supermarket in a new place is more interesting than the same old same old. That said, we know this particular place pretty well now – so we know where the good walks are and especially we know where the field mushrooms grow abundantly at this time of the year.

So what’s so great about St David’s? Well I’ve already written about St Non’s Well so I won’t repeat myself except to say that it’s a very special place. St David’s itself is not necessarily very beautiful, and there’s not much to see apart from the cathedral – but – it’s a place that repays a peaceful and contemplative walk with its profound sense of history. Walking in the footsteps of 1500 years of pilgrimage puts you in your place in the gentlest of ways, and beneath the huge dragon backed rock formations of St David’s Head, you sense a history that goes back two or three times as far as that. Ancient is a powerfully affective concept.

Apart from that, just today we watched a couple of young women swimming in the sea being captivated as they were approached by a curious seal. We had taken our ludicrously expensive super lightweight chairs (retirement gift) down to the beach so we were able to sit comfortably and quietly on the pebbles which meant that a couple of rock pipits were able to approach within four feet of us, searching for insects in the seaweed. So amidst the plashing of the waves there was a robin singing non-stop just behind us, crows and jackdaws were crossing the little bay in noisy groups chattering to one another in what must surely be some sort of Corvid language. On our way back from the beach we saw a buzzard being mobbed by crows. Sheep were being noisily sheepish, some of them well raddled, while the tups wandered around flaring their lips in search of love.

Our supposition that chicory flowers would be palatable to the sheep was dashed as we passed them today, but an examination of the leaves suggested that it’s the green bits that the sheep like. The flowers were pretty well untouched – ah well.

A Dragonfly was depositing her eggs in a pond that we passed. They have several different ways of egg laying; some attach eggs to water plants but this one was dipping her ovipositor and dropping them one at a time into the water. We crossed stiles past a bog where abundant Brooklime covered the surface and Water Mint, in flower, pushed its way into the warm sun. Where in April the grass would have been yellow with Dandelions, here in early autumn there was an abundance of Fleabane. The sloes are poor here, at least half their normal size due to the drought in the summer, but the field that was direct-drilled with grass only a few days ago is green with germinated seed.

I had to keep stopping as we walked back along a bridle path edged, on one side with Withy bushes and Comfrey and on the other with bracken, because the sound of bees and insects was so overwhelming. Dozens of Speckled Wood butterflies were nectaring and scrapping with one another. On the roadside verges Alexanders were already pushing their first leaves through the grass ready for an early start in the New Year. It’s curious the way that there are always signs of the coming seasons, slowly appearing. Nature is replete with fugitive signs; never still for a moment.

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