Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Paradise Valley


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This morning I walked all along the base of the White Horse escarpment. It was heavy going across waterlogged fields and along the slippery, muddy ride at the bottom which is still badly churned up by cattle.  It was a beautiful, blustery morning though with a gusting wind driving away the last remnants of mist.

As I reached the eastern end, there was a familiar ghostly rustle and I just glimpsed the very large wingspan of a buzzard moving away from my approach.  Then he soared above me, caught the sou’ westerly and hung there delivering a great shriek which echoed back off the face of the hill and even caused the dogs to look upward.

I was reminded of last night’s David Attenborough programme which showed Kazakhstani hunters using a giant eagle to hunt down foxes every bit as big as Carla.  Fortunately, my dogs don’t have such dangers to worry about and Asda provides their meat ration rather more easily.

I have never seen so many buzzards as have come to populate the valley in the last couple of years. They are magnificent creatures, often hunting in pairs, sometimes appearing to play or flirt with rooks.  Some of them have a wingspan which must exceed four feet.  I watched this one as he hung way above me, just dipping one shoulder or the other to adjust his flight on the wind.

Through my binoculars I could see his head jinking this way and that, watching the ground for prey.  His gorgeous brown plumage ruffled in the wind as his muscles adjusted his flight so casually while his sharp eyes did the hunting.  Suddenly, a great three-pointed, sharp talon appeared and he delighted me by actually scratching under his chin as the hunt continued.

At that end of the ride there is a secret gap in the barbed wire which allows the dogs and I to get through and clamber up the steep slope to meet the main track coming down from the top of the hill.  A few paces upwards and the whole vista of the valley opens up with Portland just visible throuigh the clearing mist.  The sun is really bright now, not quite uninterrupted but flaring across the mist.  The wind is stronger the higher we climb.

There is still only one topic of conversation about the valley and that is the camping planned for the summer.  I am amazed at the near hysteria which the plans have provoked. Perhaps we should consider how fortunate we are. It could be motocross or paintballing.  It could be some very unpleasant agricultural activity which would offend even more those who seek to annex the valley as their personal playground. It is of course a place where the landowners have to make their living. Putting food on their table is always going to be the priority . Our enjoyment of its beauty is a by-product of its real purpose.  It is arrogant to believe we shouid have any control.  We should be grateful for what recreation we are able to enjoy there.

Planning law has a lot to answer for in Britain.  It bears great responsibility for the perverse housing market and the drastic shortage of housing for ordinary people. If the landowner wants to run camping for one month out of every twelve, it is quite right that he should be able to do so without having to answer to either bureaucrats or busybodies. No one wants to see unfettered development in the countryside but when I hear that Peter Broatch is not able to build a house for his family on the 500 acres he farms, I am filled with rage.  This is not an injustice. It is an obscenity.  We should all fight back against such oppression and idiocy.

As spring just begins to suggest itself, the valley is more beautiful than ever.  When the summer comes and we are joined by families and children camping for a few short weeks, it will be at the height of its glory. And afterwards it will still be beautiful, still a haven of peace and tranquility, still heaven on earth.