It is that time of year when, from a distance, the countryside is still in winter. But, much closer to, there are definite signs of spring with the buds starting to show on the trees and early flowers pushing their way out in the hedgerows. Rooks are to be seen collecting nesting materials, some of the twigs they are carrying in their beaks so large it makes you wonder how they can manage to fly. The countryside smells different too: gone is the heavy dampness from the air which accentuates the decay of winter. In its place on days such as this, when the drying easterly winds coupled with a few days of sunshine have freshened the fields, are the subtle aromas of growth. Subtle because the growth is, as yet, almost imperceptable but it is there nethertheless. And, although we know full well that it is the time for Mother Nature to be preparing for the return of spring, this in no way diminishes the pleasure in walking through the countryside and noticing the signs. It happens every year but it still takes us by surprise: this is not because we forget but, as with all creatures of the earth, our species needs this wake-up call at the changing of the seasons.
The mudhoppers have, due to work, been pretty much house-bound for a week se we head off to Badbury Rings to change the back-drop. This hillfort lies in the Dorset landscape like a sleeping giant, no less magnificent in it's slumber. We come here regularly but rarely go to the rings themselves, our feet tending to lead us off into the many bridleways which surround the fort and have taken us, on occasions, on much longer walks than we had intended. It is a piece of countryside which draws you in and makes you want to explore just that little bit further, along tracks which were first established long before the Roman occupation of this area. The evidence of these earliest settlers is not only in the many barrows which dot the fields but also, when stood on higher ground, being able to see how these straight tracks allign with villages in the distance. Very slightly more recent history can be seen in names such as "Kings Wood" and "Kings Down", relics from the era of the division into kingdoms. It is at this latter place where our walk is accompanied by a huge Buzzard circling low over the fields just to our right: it is so close that we can see the detail in it's feathers.
Here too we come across a barn. So what? Well, there was a time when barns were solid structures built of stone or wood. Nowadays they are more likely to be erected using steel girders clad with modern, flimsy looking, sheets of plastic. In between these two developments were the barns such as this one at Kings Down Farm, the lower sections being old railway sleepers stood upright and the upper being clad in sheets of corrugated iron. This sheeting may have looked good when first put into place but now it is rusted and bent in places, whch gives it a charm not quite old-worlde but a charm all of it's own. Inside the barn smells wonderful: a "farmyard smell", more commonly known as shit. It is pungent, but not enough so to burn the nostrils, and reminiscent of the hen-houses that most folk used to have in their back garden. High up in one corner is a nesting box for Barn Owls, birds that we have occasionaly seen here at early evening hunting over the fields.
Having come from an era when history lessons at school would have us believe that everything started with the Romans, we tend to ignore this aspect in favour of the real history of these Isles. But in this landscape it is impossible to do so, it almost breathes Roman Britain. There is no obvious reason for this, apart from the ordinance surveys maps showing the "sites of" there are few remaining signs of them actually being here. But, sometimes, walking these bridleways gives a feeling that the legions passed through here only moments before. This is a sense much stronger than is sometimes felt in places where their presence is still plain to see-such as Roman Baths etc. It's as if their aura still lingers, tramped into the countryside as they marched through.
Today this gets us talking about the Romans ( no, this blog is not about to sink into a series of quotes from "life of Brian".) who we reckon were nothing more than a bunch of thugs really. They just seemed to go around mob-handed pushing folk around - which aint particuarly clever: any crowd of boot- boys can do that ! And their treatment of any who resisted them was a bit over the top, all that butchering and wholesale slaughter: plus the stuff in the arena, blood letting as a form of public entertainment. These are the people who history teachers told us had civilised our country! It just went to prove early on that a structured society is not necessarilly a good thing. Ok so they were good at sticking up a few poncey buildings, but as they could only maintain the structure of their empire with a sodding great big army, it must have been pretty crap.
By now you must be thinking that we Mudhoppers have a fairly low opinion of the Romans. But this has to be balanced against where we agree that they did get something right. This is in their ability to celebrate their festivals in he most impressively depraved manner imaginable. Youv'e got to admit that their excessive debauchery is something sadly lacking in the world today, and more's the pity we say. The recent annual festive season is a good example to use here: every year, without fail, for as long as we can remember the media is at pains to point out that, to most folk, xmas is more stress than it is worth. Of course it is in the way that people feel that they have ought to do it, the big over commercialised way! How much better it would be if folk just shut themselves away for a week and abandoned themselves to total hedonistic pleasure, a week of pushing the human frame to the limits of enjoyment in every concievable way. We have no doubt that the the three "C"s (church,chavs,and commercial outlets) may have a problem with the idea, but we certainly think it's worth serious consideration.