While we were suffering rain and cool weather on Islay, England was experiencing a heat-wave. We drove south with the windscreen wipers set at fast but before we got to Shropshire we were experiencing a different world. Desperately in need of rain, lawns were yellowing, cracks were opening in the grain fields and the golden barley was giving off a rich, nutty scent.
Despite the drought, most plants were coping well although some that I planted on our last visit had died. By the 28th we had rain – warm, gentle rain scenting the air and giving the daisies in the lawn a sudden boost. Water in the brook was low but plants were flourishing in our river garden and our plan is to introduce more wild plants by collecting seed from the locality. Alien species will be banished. So the abundant growth of Himalayan Balsam, despite its pleasant scent, attractive flowers and seeds that are such fun to pop, has been uprooted.
Although we’ve only been resident for four separate weeks, we’ve now owned our Shropshire house for three months. So what do I now feel about our choice? Delighted. That’s the word that comes to mind, the word I find myself using again and again. I don’t intend to detract from the Hebrides. I have loved the wildness, the vagaries of weather, the vast open vistas and the familiarity of otters. For twenty-five years I’ve reveled in walks by the sea, frequently having an entire beach to myself, but I am no longer the person who chose to head to the islands all those years ago. A lot of ageing comes with the passage of a quarter of a century. Solitary walks over rough moorland and scrambles over bouldered shores are no longer sensible options. A large, carefully managed wildlife garden, while a pleasure to walk in and a pleasure to look at, is now far too time-consuming and back-breaking.
It is a stunning location but it no longer provides the wholehearted enjoyment of earlier days. So, rather unexpectedly I found myself yearning for gentler options.
That is what I have found in Shropshire. Yes, the county can be busy, but our bungalow is on the edge of a village and can’t be overlooked because of its proximity to the Reabrook and the lie of the land beyond. I can take solitary early morning walks and between bursts of bird song there is often silence. Infrequent trains to Shrewsbury sound their whistle briefly and an occasional helicopter passes over, but traffic noise is no more than a distant hum on still days. Surprisingly, the nights are darker than on Islay where lights from the ferry terminal, the streets and distant lighthouses are magnified by reflection from the sea. The only light I will miss will be that of the full moon sending a silver pathway across the bay.
In this new location there is the constant excitement of discovering new or unusual things. A range of habitats fosters a more diverse flora and fauna than that on the islands. We are reacquainting ourselves with former favourites and encountering unfamiliar ones. Most fascinating this month have been the Banded Agrion, Agrion splendens, – iridescent damselflies that flit about in a whir of wings and settle on the iris leaves in our river garden. Unfortunately, a still photograph gives no hint of their mobile beauty.
Hive or Honey bees and five different species of bumblebee gather nectar and pollen from the Lavender in the main garden. On our next visit we will bring our bee book and try to identify them. In the meantime I can enjoy the sound of buzzing and the heady scent of flowers.
Islay otters have been replaced by Shropshire badgers and I love searching for signs of their presence in the surrounding fields. I haven’t yet tried to watch them, but there is definite satisfaction in recognising their activities. Finding dung pits on the edges of the fields and seeing heaps of discarded bedding outside their setts gives me a thrill. I love following their narrow tracks through long grasses until they squeeze through hedgerows where I am unable to follow.
Abundant in our Islay garden but lacking in our Shropshire garden are orchids. We left over 200 in bloom when we headed south. Among them was a spectacular hybrid – Heath Spotted-orchid x Northern Marsh-orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata x Dactylorhiza purpurella. At 50cms tall it dwarfs both of its parents and would grace any garden.
We are returning to Islay at the end of this month. Our house – Carraig Mhor, Emerivale, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay will soon be for sale with Stewart, Balfour and Sutherland, rightmove and OnTheMarket. It has been a wonderful place to live and whoever moves in is in for a treat. The Home Report has given us Category 1 for every aspect of the property which means that no immediate work is needed – and the view is spectacular.