Friday, June 05, 2009

A walk on the Heath

I was the last to leave the office Thursday evening, but as my office is on the top floor, folks don't always yell 'bye' to me. And yesterday, the 'last out' actually locked the door and set the alarm! Well, the result was that I could either sit in my chair all night or I had to move, set off the sensors and rush downstairs to stop the alarm bringing a cohort of policemen... hmm, now why did I turn off the alarm?

Thursday was also elections, so our family got in the car to visit the local primary school and make our marks. On the way we spotted our neighbours. we gave them a lift too and, when we reached the school, met some other people we knew. Then, after voting, we bumped into a band Bryan knows (Megson). Just as we were chatting the 'Poll Guardian' (or whatever they are calle said 'Excuse me, are you Carolyn from Shave the Monkey?'. Turns out he recognised us from the 'good old days'.

later on that evening I went to the 'annual outing' with the local Writers' Circle. We had planned to go to the fire station but that was cancelled, so we had a choice between doing the Town Tour or going to Therfield Heath. The Heath is accessible to us by just walking 100 yards to the end of the road where we live, but we met in the town and drove up to the parking places on the Therfield Road and started our walk. Julie, the Circle Chair, is also highly knowledgeable about plants. She told us the medicinal and edible properties of plants such as 'jack by the hedge' and burdock, of the many natural laxatives on the heath and, usefully, what used to be used as a natural toilet paper (silver birch bark).

Julie told us about the plants that you could eat, how members of the mint family (including the white 'nettle' which doesn't sting) all have squarish stems, and the myths surrounding the versatile elder. This was exmtremely useful for me as I am writing a longer story set in medieval times - I can add a few of these plants (common then as they are now) to the diet of my characters, and also use little side stories like the leaf of the plantain being a useful antibiotic 'bandage'. Julie said they called them 'fairy bandages'. And how one plant (I forget which) creates blisters and how beggars used to use it to make themselves look more pitiful. Creative humanity!

The idea of the annual trip is that we use it to find ideas to inspire us for our writing exercise at the next meeting - I have lots of material, just haven't worked out how I am going to use what we learned. I wrote a story about 'Longbarrow Jack' in the past (a fictional encounter with a barrow wight) as there are barrows on the heath, but I think I will write something about someone who tries to use some herbal recipes and gets it a bit wrong.

One of the team was very keen to find any poisons - she loves writing what she calls 'dark' stuff. I've not heard or read any yet. There was no Deadly Nightshade on the heath - no Belladonna. Translate Bella Donna - it means 'Beautiful Lady'. Why call a poisonous plant that? Because if you put the juice in the eye, it makes the pupils dilate - makes them more beautiful. Oh, makes you blind too - but then in times past folks used lead to make their skin white too, didn't they!

It was a very enjoyable walk, the sun setting orange over the fields - we could see for miles across Cambridgeshire - flat open spaces below us, as we stood on the chalky hills. As the seven of us headed along the top of the heath path and towards the golf club end (about a mile) it got a little chillier. I suggested we continued onwards instead of turning back to the cars and stopped at my house (our road was just about in view) and had tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Then I could drive everyone back in my car (7 seater thankfully) back to where we started from.

Now all I have to do is check my notes, look at my plant pictures and remember which is which, and try and have some ideas for writing up at the next meeting. We all liked this tree - maybe there's a starting point!
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