Rain clouds have passed, revealing sunshine, blue skies and a perfectly arching, beautifully coloured rainbow over the green Dartmoor foothills.
The anthills are stirring again in the Dartmoor woodlands. Newly emerged ants cluster at the top of the heaps, waking up and warming in the sun.
In wet and windy weather on Dartmoor it’s a relief to walk up the deeply sunken path to Meldon Hill. It was probably created in the same way as the tracks over the Hampshire and Berkshire Downs. The people who lived in the high hill forts came down to the valleys to hunt and forage. Then the shepherds reversed the trend, coming up from the valleys with their flocks for the summer grazing.
Here and now on Dartmoor the high banks topped by hedgerows shelter us from the worst of the rain and all the wind, just as they have sheltered walkers and riders for centuries.
It’s a shock to emerge at the top today into strong winds, and bright sunlight. But the view over the surrounding countryside certainly compensates for the gusts that try to blow us down into it.
There are snowdrops everywhere, edging ancient parklands beyond their metal railings, spreading like snow over roadside verges, clustering scenically around moss-covered logs in woodland.
Two little grey figures stood side by side on the roadside verge, like displaced garden ornaments. They both moved forward in a single synchronised spring, but the wood pigeon then powered upwards and the squirrel bounced away over the ground.
It looks as though the builders have moved into the Hampshire hill fort, where a line of freshly raised mounds follow the ring of the ditches. Then perhaps it’s military engineers, storming the entrances with the tunnels beneath the mounds.
But both builders and invaders are tiny and velvety black moles that create a noticeable change in the landscape at this time of the year.
The seagulls are brightly white as they pick their way over the muddy field, unconcerned about the sheep they walk amongst.
The sheep though are a dirty white, and look very miserable with their sodden fields and fleeces.
A buzzard flies out below us as we walk down the path that circles the hill fort. A hare skitters into cover at the foot of the slope.
We see the hare again later as we walk down the hidden drovers’ track. He’s a dim shape blending into the shade under the trees, and I was only sure of he wasn’t a lump of mud or wood when he loped lazily off.
Birdsong filled the air above the ridgeway path across the downs. New green shoots brightened the fields on either side of the path, and every few yards a little brown bird shot upwards into the clear blue spring sky.
The birds rose steeply in arching flight, singing lustily as they went. As they seemed about to disappear into the high vault above us they suddenly paused, then parachuted down to the ground again in wide graceful swoops. And so they were revealed to be meadow pipits, not larks as I’d first thought.
Wide pools of water have spread over the lower corner of a field near the river Kennet. Seagulls bob, brightly white, on the surface, in more active movement than the gloomily grey geese that ride the ripples in sombre slowness.
A stretch of canal gleams like polished pewter through the screen of tree branches.
A hazelnut has been skilfully cut in half and emptied. One half lies neatly in the weathered top of a gatepost which must have served a local squirrel as a tabletop.
As we walked down the slope of the Hampshire hill fort, we saw the sepia tones of the winter-bare trees had been highlighted with gold. Dangling catkins were covering two of the taller hazels, highlighted against the distant green slope of another hill fort.
Grassy pimples covered the foot of the steep slope where the Hampshire hill fort meets the drover’s road concealed in the hazel trees. I suppose these pimples were created by earlier moles and then greened over as the grass sprouted on them. Perhaps the little creatures were relatives of the moles that are so active higher up on the hill fort.
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