Busy day. It's after five when I leave the house and so to gain half an hour I take the B8 bus to the edge of town. There's a few days of rain coming, and I thought I might get a few miles under my boots without the need for a layer of plastic on top.
Rain's coming from the west tonight. That'll throw bands of high cloud into the sunset, perhaps producing some lovely animated cloudscapes.
I head north-west from town, aiming to reach the top of the ridge-line above Sor Brook around sunset. As the equinox has just passed the sun will be setting almost due west. The north-south alignment of Sor Brook means that I just have to stay on the ridge to be guaranteed a ring-side seat for the whole period of twilight.
Sometimes you have to think a little bigger than just the map or the path to get a good walk.
With the help of the bus I arrive on the ridge just around sunset, then amble south. As the angle of the sun across the sky climbs higher with the change of season, evenings are losing that long, languid sense of drawn-out Winter sunsets. Things are hotting-up… Spring is here.
It's noticeable today that the hedgerow bottoms have begun to sprout nettles, cow parsley and cuckoo pint. Perhaps the more obvious sign of Spring, that started a little before sunset, is the serenade of birds from the hedgerows as they settle down to roost.
The only downside is thinking of today's news – that it all might be over for the English ash.
I started to walk the paths north of the town to Hanwell before my teens. At the time the area was in the grip of Dutch elm disease – which took out a quarter of the local hedgerow trees. Thinking about that then, and seeing just how much of the local tree cover on the ironstone is made-up of ash, makes me realise why I started taking these photos in the first place – to document the large-scale change that's "in the post" as a result of climate change.
Beyond Drayton I plunge down into the valley, past the squat Norman tower of St. Peter's church. Here in the bottom, well away from roads, it's almost silent – just a dull hiss as the water falls over the stones beneath the bridge. No noise from the town, and even the birds are now giving up on evensong. And above, spliced with whisps of dark grey cloud, the sky wheels from pale turquoise into indigo and dark blue.
…and all the while, brought-on by the cool air and colourful sky, in my head I hear rhubarb.
Back up on the ridgeline the stone of Drayton Arch is glowing in the reflected red light of the sunset – an eerie figure against the darkening deep blue of the eastern sky. I climb the hill and sit on the stone bench at the foot of the arch. If I had a bivvy bag it would be temping to stay and keep watching the view deep into the night, but I'm expected home.
I should really head back into town, but instead I keep going south. As the sky darkens the stars begin to pop out. It's a few days after full moon, so it's not going to rise for a couple of hours to spoil the view.
click on image to view full-sized star plot – made with Stellarium
The first to pop into view isn't a star, it's a planet – Jupiter rising in the east. Then, straight in front of me, Sirius pops out of the haze of cloud. With its help I get my bearing and wait for the rest of the bright constellations to fade into view – first Orion and Leo, then Gemini and Taurus. And all the while, as they're easier to view at twilight, the odd satellite slowly crawls across the sky – distinct from the faster aircraft with their green and red navigation lights and blinking white beacons.
I stand on the ridge at the top of The Bretch and look west. Almost black across the countryside – except for the sodium-yellow haze from villages and the animated cats-eyes of cars moving down lanes – and the last purple-blue of twilight frames the hills on the horizon running from Tadmarton Heath around to Claydonhill. I rejoin he world, in the blinding dazzle of passing car headlights, on Broughton Road, and make my way back into town along the pavement.