In London during the week, and travelling to Devon for the weekend the promise of spring is everywhere. Gordon Square, in Bloomsbury, was frothy with blossom, while crocuses bejewelled the grass, purple and golden in the sunlight. From the train on Friday, the first blackthorn was evident in the hedgerows.
On such a lovely day the journey was a pleasure; just outside Pewsey we passed a pigfarm, where a litter of Gloucester Old Spot piglets were enjoying the warmth. Several other rare breeds could be seen, Tamworth for certain and a pure black pig with Tamworth lines, perhaps a cross. I shall be looking out for them in future. Further west is the birdspotting section on line, from the water meadows below Stoke Woods near Exeter, along the coast to Newton Abbot. It's not so very many years since, with great excitement, I saw my first little egret at Dawlish Warren, a lone white figure on the marshes. Now they are a regular sight, sometimes in quite large numbers, hunting the mud flats all along that stretch, and they are becoming a common bird all over southern England. A couple of years ago my family and I spent a very pleasant afternoon taking a boat trip from Keyhaven to Hurst Castle, on the Solent, where we were able to watch egrets from the boat – I decided that, were I one, I would spend all day admiring my long yellow toes in the water. Not just little egrets, either – my mother was lucky enough to see a great egret on the Dart, and I heard on the radio that even cattle egrets have been sighted here. (I reported seeing a little egret on the Tweed at Berwick two years ago, but I don't think it was corroborated and therefore probably not official.)
Not many egrets of any kind in sight this weekend, however, but other waders, shelduck and swans (and the black swans on the other side of the train at Teignmouth). I'm writing this while watching the rooks and jackdaws in the trees at the foot of the garden – the rooks like to catch the evening sun in a Scots pine. A trio of swans is flapping lazily up the valley. The lawns are awash with snowdrops, the pink camellia is in full flower and the crocuses are a bright tapestry beneath the beech tree. While we walked round the garden considering necessary pruning, and even tackling the odd branch (my mother never goes out without her secateurs) next door's children, faces darkened with camouflage, stalked us through the undergrowth. This is a wonderful garden for children, full of almost-inaccessible paths and vertiginous slopes, so that you could believe you were in the jungle, or the boreal forest – being Devon the planting, some of which dates back to the beginning of the last century, lends itself to either. Of course, I didn't grow up here, and if you had told me when I first saw the house and garden that one day I would feel in some measure responsible for it, I would never have believed it. I'm not proprietorial – I shall never live here, but I've known the place for nearly 40 years, and I lie awake during gales wondering if the trees will all still be standing in the morning.
The sun has set now and I can hear the dog being fed downstairs. Time to go and help with the supper. Local sausages and mash, scrumptious.