Over a long day confined to a desk a mind can wander great distances. But bodies need exercise too. To this end, every evening before dinner – or sometimes after – I’ve been stepping into the dappled light for a walk or a jog through the Bilberry Woods, on the edge of the Hawarden Estate.
There’s a circular route of around six kilometres I like to tread and retread, my theory being that by repeating a walk one can come to know every detail of it, to play witness to each seasonal change as millimetre by millimetre the leaves unfurl and the buds open, the mud dries out and is grassed over. Already I have heard the tenor of the birdsong change; seen the first of the rhododendrons come into lilac bloom along the path; passed through a snowstorm of white poplar seeds, swirling on the breeze and drifting as fluff upon the path.
Late spring in Hawarden has been a joy: the woods are knee-deep in bluebells, the air thick with wild garlic, blackbirds on every branch with their tails bobbing, pheasants behind every bush – plump and idle, waiting to the very last moment to flush, the air filled suddenly by wing beats and their panicked chattering. Walking alone and light-footed is an easy way to encounter wildlife – birds, especially, in this place. Woodpeckers are more easily heard than spotted, but still I’ve managed to track one down, high on a trunk, as mallards paddled happily in the stream below. Deep in the wood, where light filters through beech leaves like stained glass, I've seen the same sparrowhawk several times: a smooth taupe back slipping silently between the trees.
Last night, I varied my route to come back through an old railway arch and over the golf course, where a group of Canada geese has set up home in the pond. My arrival set them all honking, as a pair of black-necked beauties slid into the water followed by 10 fuzzy goslings, clinging to their mother’s skirts. I stopped to watch, and after a while the alarm calls slowed to a stop. They turned their attention to the midges, which drifted in clouds over the mirrored surface. The geese snaked necks to catch them, stretching forwards and whipping side to side – elegant if rather unnerving. I shifted in my seat and set them honking again. Alright, alright, I said. I’m going.
Back to my room to run my bath. And there – beyond the paned window – the wood pigeon in his evensong. After three weeks, I feel I know him well.
By Cal Flyn, May 2018 Writer in Residence