“Oh who will o’er the downs so free / oh who will with me ride?” So run the first two lines of one of the rarely sung ditties from our Singing for Pleasure choir folders. So long is it since we last sang
it that I can’t actually recall the tune at all and when I looked up the words just now it occurred to me that they weren’t anywhere near as appropriate as I thought they were.
Nevertheless, gathering yesterday morning with other intrepid members of the Birdy Group on Highdown Hill, overlooking our home town of Worthing and a coastline stretching into the distance, I felt like bursting into song. It was that
kind of morning.
After yet another disturbed night I was exhausted and I wasn’t at all sure I could get myself going in time to join the party but I told
myself that it is important to Never Give Up. Besides, had I not cleaned my walking boots especially (see previous blog), retrieving them from their long sojourn in the garage since their last Birdy Group outing. It was only as I was pulling them on this morning
that it occurred to me that, while I had cleaned the outside of the boots of the dried on mud, stones, twigs and assorted leaves deposited upon them, I hadn’t even thought about checking inside for spiders, mice or other creatures which might have made
their home therein. I didn’t have time for a thorough check as the Lovely Linda was drawing up outside our house in her car. I tied the laces quickly, gave Mr B a kiss (and a promise that, yes, I would look out for a Golden Eagle), grabbed my rucksack
and trotted forth.
Much of the car park at Highdown Hill was taken up with contractors’ vehicles while beautiful Highdown Gardens was cordoned off - I had
completely forgotten that the gardens are closed while a new Visitor Centre is under construction. While such a radical improvement is obviously to be welcomed, I selfishly thought only of the fact that when the Youngest of the Darling Daughters comes next
week for a pre-birthday celebration (hers, not mine) we will not be able to enjoy our annual trip to see the daffodils. No chance this year of wandering around trying to locate the daffodil heart in which we like to take photographs of each other and, hopefully,
ask a willing passer-by to snap us together. Ah, well, we can always drive along the A 259 lined with daffodils - but it won’t be quite the same.
As we had
been warned, it was exceedingly muddy underfoot, so much so that I found myself concentrating on my feet as I trudged along, just in case I slipped and fell. Such an accident, I couldn’t help pondering, would require assistance from the air ambulance
which would be A Drama Too Far. The trouble with concentrating on one’s feet, is that you are not turning your eyes upwards to the trees, and so spotting feathered friends. Fortunately the skylarks were in excellent voice, ensuring that they grabbed
our attention - I stopped walking and gazed as they rose vertically from the ground, high, high into the air, singing all the time before parachuting back down again. “Look at me! Look at me!” they sang.
Even without the skylarks, well, larking about it was so very beautiful up there on the Downs. Such a clear, clear day - we could see for miles around. We spent almost as much time pointing out the landmarks - the wind
farm! the Salvington Windmill! Arundel Castle! the car park at Honeysuckle Lane! - as looking for birds.
Then, the very best moment - a splendid kestrel
swooped across the sky, hovering above us for simply ages, before dropping to a nearby vantage point so that we could admire him in all his glory before he set off again on his endless hunt for food, relishing his freedom compared with we earthbound humans
in our muddy boots.
“Oh, who will o’er the Downs so free...”