In need of a short holiday we packed the car and headed for the village of Braunstone just outside the town of Oakham in Rutland. It was close to the area where Richard and I first met, where we shared our love of wildlife and where we decided to embark on a life together. That was way back in 1976 and we hadn’t been back in the interim so we expected, and found, many changes.
Memories, not all of them pleasant, flooded in, and I find myself wanting to recount something of the two unhappiest years of my career. Forty years on I don’t think it can do any harm and I certainly won’t mention any names but it concerns an Infant School and it has been at the back of my mind for years. Superficially the displays of children’s work were outstanding but it didn’t take me long to discover that the meticulous writing came from repeated copying during missed playtimes and that the paintings of flowers were copies of the teacher’s art work and not from observation. As one of three teachers, along with head and deputy in an open plan classroom, I was powerless to make changes because the three ‘classes’ worked as one. Each teacher rotated, on a weekly basis, from areas used exclusively for Language, Maths and Art . This limited curriculum was bad enough, but even more horrifying was the fact that the teacher sat at a table while the children queued for assistance. The queue was never allowed to exceed six – and woe betide the child who found him or herself at number seven. Because of this rule the children would grip the edge of their seats in readiness to make a dash for the sixth place. The other two teachers seemed oblivious to the anxiety that this bizarre ruling produced and no thought was given to the fact that children wasted time while waiting. I refused to sit down and made myself extremely unpopular by walking from child to child as the need arose. The only positive contribution I was allowed to make was to introduce nature by planting a complete range of native trees
We made a return visit and I was looking forward to seeing how the trees had grown. The school and field were still there but, despite a careful search, we found no trace of the trees that I had planted. I almost wept. It would be too awful to imagine that they’d been removed in a fit of pique when, in my parting speech, I told them exactly what I thought of their way of running a school. But the field was large, the trees were not obstructing anything and I could think of no other explanation.
Luckily, other memories were full of joy. Apart from three small showers we had a sunny week and it was good to revisit the places we had walked all those years ago.
Rushton Triangular Lodge was our first stop. A fascinating building with religious significance where everything represents The Trinity – three floors, three sides, triangular turrets and windows designed by Sir Thomas Tresham and built in the 16th century.
We made a particularly poignant visit to Newton Field Centre, an old church on the site of a deserted medieval village where Richard had presented sessions on woodlands and grasslands. As a a student I had been delighted to find that, in addition to the botanical aspects, Richard talked about the uses of plants as well as their place in folklore and literature. We were on the same wavelength and the rest, as they say, is history.
A pilgrimage to the John Clare museum in Helpston was high on our list. Clare remains a great favourite with both of us and seeing his handwriting, walking through rooms where he had lived and finally seeing his grave made for a humbling experience.
Visits to the nature reserves of Castor Hanglands and Barnack Hills and Holes were wonderful with flowers at their best and a positive plethora of butterflies including Marbled Whites which we hadn’t seen for a very long time.
After a week away the garden needed a lot of work as everything seemed to have doubled in size but we had promised to man the Cottage Garden Society display at the Shrewsbury Show so that had to come first.
Then we took advantage of dry weather and headed for The Lawley, part of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was quite a steep climb but the view from the top was reward enough for the exertion. We descended on the Caer Caradoc side and walked back to the car via the wooded lane along the base of The Lawley.
After lunch we visited 14th Century Langley Chapel with its early 17th century interior. Abandoned before the end of that century, the box pews, pulpit, reading desk and carved faces remain.
Making the most of the lovely weather we went on to Acton Burnell Castle, a 13th century fortified manor house set among some magnificent Atlas cedar trees.
Our last stop was Cantlop Bridge, a single spanned iron structure over the Cound brook. Built in 1813 it was part of a network of bridges built to improve trade around the county.
It was an excellent day and a relief to find that, after all the health problems I was fit enough to enjoy a five hour walk and to learn more about the history of the area.
A few days later found us on the top of Corndon with views across to tree-topped Bromlow Callow in one direction and The Vale of Montgomery in the other.
A final August treat gave us memories of our first holiday together – in Poland in 1976. I had written a daily diary and, day by day, we read it together as we re-lived fourteen magical days of walking, climbing mountains and botanising in a very different country.
We had joined a Botanical Society of the British Isles expedition and were not sure where our relationship would lead. Well, here we are, still together, still botanising and still, thankfully, able to enjoy our walks in lovely surroundings.