I have not been on a nature walk, per se, since I was about eight – more years ago than I care to remember. Not, that is, a nature trail through green rolling hills and dark leafy woodland. This day was a day of childhood memories – and it was good.
We set off through two ploughed fields. No sign of any growth there, and my companion mourned the extravagant display of bright sunflowers that had clothed them before. But still, the careful preparation of the soil promised future delights and we strode between them with our eyes on the flourishing banks of colour ahead.
As we drew nearer, we could see swathes of flowers. Campions washed the banks with pink; bluebells, almost over now, hinted at the seas of blue that had been there only days before; forget-me-nots flourished; and tall white daisies and golden buttercups were dotted here and there like spotlights blazing against their backdrop of greens.
I took photos. As a child I had coĺlected and pressed some hundred or so different varieties of flowers one summer. Being able to see so many in one place again brought back long forgotten names. So I recognised vetch and ragwort and celandines as their names sprang to mind from the deep recesses of my brain. The names had been buried for fifty years, yet here they were rising to the surface with little effort at the very moment I saw each flower.
The path climbed the hill and curved into a wood. A different world – and more childhood memories. For here before us, an enormous holly bush had an inviting entrance. Built for little people, I nevertheless squeezed through the tiny doorway and straightened up to stand entranced in a scene from my childhood. The ‘cavern’ within the bush was tall and prickly, offering protection and secrecy. As a child I had enjoyed several picnics with my sister and cousins in just such a place. The memories invoked were heart-warming and for a brief moment I revelled in them.
Onwards and upwards, through chestnuts, beech, oak and holly, glorying in the early summer birdsong. There is nothing quite like the joy of song in an English wood in May, before the warmth of summer blurs the vibrancy of greens and dulls the melodies of joy. I stopped to listen and quietly sang my own hymn of praise to our Creator.
Eventually we climbed out of the wood. I was reluctant to leave but fresh delights awaited us for here we could see from our vantage point on top of the world, the South Downs stretching away to the sea. Small villages nestled amongst patchwork fields and sunlight lit up the land here and there as blue sky broke up thefluffy clouds and the sun shone through.
The ancient orchard spread before us. Nearing the end of its life, its trees were gnarled and twisted – but there was the promise of new growth with plans to plant apples, pears, plums and peaches on this fertile hillside. Our mouths watered at the thought of such bounty and we descended the hill, eager to find something to drink in the valley below.
But then there was the lake. And its tiny island. Fishermen sat peacefully on the banks. A small child threw breadcrumbs to a flurry of ducks and fish. Rhodedendrons bloomed: here and there yellow flags dotted the green reeds, and willows dipped to caress the surface of the lake. Coot called as they were disturbed by some unseen threat, and ducks chatted to one another as they paddled serenely, breaking the smooth surface with their wakes.
I glanced back as we reached the end of the trail. What a basketful of memories it had produced – and what a bouquet of new memories I was going to take away with me.
As we left to find the cup of tea that awaited us, I rejoiced in the variety of creation and the gift it is to us. From the beauty of campions to the glory of birdsong; the reflections of rhodedendrons to the recall of the names of the flowers I had always loved so much. All were a gift from the Creator, encapsulated by this one nature trail.
To God be the glory!