Today I explored Shirley Moor via Moor Lane (OS grid ref: TQ9382432035). A thin post-heatwave mist dulled the early summer air on either side of the scything tarmac fringed with cow parsley, buttercups and the rising wands of false oat-grass. There were little clumps of trees dotted about: oak with an understorey of blackthorn, ivy and sallow, sheltering a myriad of noisy birds undeterred from their spring business by the coolness of the day.
At one point the ground rose as the lane ascended the small hill on which Glover Farm and Shirley Farm are situated. Once this was probably an island in the marshy water world of the Moor, like Red Hill and Chapel Bank to the south. A red-legged partridge ran across the road and, from a gateway, I could see over the green barley to the rolling fleeces, darker green, of the distant Heron Woods. It was so still there was no shaking of the barley by the wind.
Yellow remnants of oil-seed rape blossomed round the edges of fields. An old blue pickup vehicle full of men appeared and bumped slowly away down an unmade, arrow-straight farm road. After it had gone I moved on to New Bridge that carries Moor Lane across the Cradlebridge Sewer (the small streams that meander across the flat lands around Romney Marsh and the lower parts of the Wealden river systems are widely named ‘sewers’ though they are no more polluted than any other English river. The word is ultimately descended, via Norman French from Vulgar Latin exaquāria meaning simply a drain for carrying water off).
The views from this spot could hardly have been more variable. To the north the lane ran straight as an arrow towards my newly discovered ‘island’. Southward a curving screen of tall white willow above a band of lacy cow parsley followed the line of the lane which was of two-tone grey asphalt, darker in the centre where wheels did not run, verged by bright green grass – a five-banded landscape.
To the west were bare, flat fields ultimately broken by a line of dead and dying trees bordering a distant dyke.
To the east, in total contrast, was a magical composition of England in early summer. A swan, a haughty swan, rested on its reflection in the black and silver water of the Cradlebridge Sewer, just in front of a thick pollarded willow and between banks whitened by billowing stands of hemlock water-dropwort with, at one place, a cluster of the flowers of yellow flag caught in the sallow and reed. The only sound was from the small birds in the bushes and the endless lark song embroidering the upper air; the only smell that of fading, falling hawthorn blossom, the small petals turning from white to pink when their work was done.
I found a feather here, of a partridge I think, beautifully and strikingly patterned with at least six shades of brown, the darkest making tiger stripes along the central rachis. I wished I had had a Tyrolean hat to put it in.
Somewhere towards the Isle of Oxney a cuckoo called.