Nuthatches scuttle head-first down an elm-bole. A flash of black and an agitated chatter a Blackbird dashes into cover. Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings flock together on the pasture, ceaselessly probing and searching. Look beneath this sliver of bark; it is bursting with tiny animal life a chrysalis, dozens of woodlice, and two handsome yellow and brown spiders locked in combat. Common Woodlouse Philip Cook Now we begin to climb steeply. Last summer was damp; the winter that followed was wet. The grass is spongey underfoot, but the soil of the free-draining limestone outcrop is surprisingly firm. These rocks tell in their abundant fossils the history of millions of years of life in this place. A fallen Elder supports a healthy colony of Auricularia auricula fungus, grey and floppy and uncannily ear-like; and another fungus, Daldinia concentrica, gives a dead oak the appearance of suffering from tumours. The woodland floor is criss-crossed with tracks; they lead to the entrance of a well-established Badger sett. The red-brown bracken bedding lies tidily airing in the sun, and some yards away is the latrine. Clawmarks scar the bark of a fallen tree nearby. Badgers James Field Precipitous now, the path climbs between rhododendrons to the Norman castle on the hill's crest. It is ruinous, but not sadly so. Derelict and dead to the casual eye, it is clothed with plant life. Curtains of ivy drape the stone walls rising sheer above a perpendicular cliff, their tops thickly upholstered with moss, lichen, ferns, Ivy-leaved Toadflax; the minute white blossoms of Whitlow-grass shine profuse as stars among the surging green. From this height, the whole broad valley and the hills enclosing it are spread out to our sight, in infinite shades of green and grey and brown, the sheen of the river, the milky blue sky. Downstream, White-fronted Geese graze the water-meadows. Soon they will fly away northwards, to come back again in the autumn as they have done for who knows how many years? When this castle clattered with men-at-arms, the sentries on the walls saw a similar yet very different scene no rich valley-bottom farms, no
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