Country diary: a hospital visit, a motorway verge and the first swallow

Country diary: a hospital visit, a motorway verge and the first swallow

The inexorable tide of verdure flashes alongside the A388 and Expressway, skirting Plymouth, as I make one of my regular trips to Derriford hospital. The haze of fresh hawthorn, pale yellow fluffiness of pussy willow catkins, and abundant white blossom on blackthorn are luminous, still unsullied by traffic fumes.

After treatment from caring, gentle professionals, against a background of companionable chat among patients, the journey home is slower. The verges come into focus showing swathes of primrose, brassy celandine, salt-loving scurvy grass and umbels of alexanders, interspersed with ubiquitous litter; a lone magpie, beneath the suburbs at King’s Tamerton, flies towards a fringe of woodland where oaks break into leaf.

Off the main road I relax, like a cat in a box, homeward from the vet, sensing the details of familiar terrain. Beyond the farm shop that sells home-produced beef and pork, rooks flap about their nests in the beeches by the church tower and glebe land. The spring sunlight casts a tracery of tree shadows across the way above wooded Radland valley. There, returned blackcaps chortle, invisible among the thickest scrub; neglected plots of Narcissus poeticus species (pheasant’s eye) like Ornatus and Horace are in full flower. In Sullen’s Wood, another derelict market-garden, moschatel (townhall clock) colonises patches of bare ground between emerging ferns, all strewn with rotten ash twigs.

Pheasant-eye wood (Radland Valley) in afternoon sun by Mary Martin

On the adjacent hedgebank among the seeded pennywort, hart’s tongue remains tightly furled, and uncurling fronds of soft shield appear as scaly fiddle-heads. Opposite the gate that points home, the “Blizzard” Burcombe cherry tree is already in flower, grafted almost 40 years ago from a tree that survived the great blizzard of 1891. Chiffchaffs dominate the birdsong and two swallows, seen twittering on a high up branch, have prospected last year’s nest in the barn.

Across the valley, 30 south Devon yearlings have been turned out for a second season of summer grazing before eventual dispatch to the abattoir.

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