Monday, 25 July 2011

Making hay while the sun shines...

Sunday - a day worshipping the wonders of nature. And where better to do that than in Swaledale one of the northenmost of Yorkshire's dales. The walk from Muker along the Swale takes in the hay meadows - perhaps past their best now if you're a wild flower fan (but maybe not so bad if, like me, you're a hayfever sufferer) and you can wind onto the top of the hill there to look back down the valley. A dale that shifts - almost abruptly -  from steep-sided, wooded and close to wide, sleepy slow and sheep grazed.

And it was busy. Not just with the walkers and trial bikers. Nor even with the lazier tourists enjoying the sunshine in Swaledale's villages. But with hay-making. From the top of the hill you could look over the fields below and in every direction - as if in some competition - hay was being made. Tractors scuttling up and the fields, cutting, turning and baling the hay - the food for all those sheep and cows looking on with their perennially bemused expressions from neighbouring fields.

All this - the meadows, the sheep, the walls, the paths. And especially the tractors making hay. All this reminds us that the beauty of this dale is not just a random bounty from nature but has been shaped by man. Indeed, is still being shaped by man as we look after the paths, add new fences, plants woods and make sure the river stays in its banks through the villages. Nature needs business - the frantic scrabbling of humans - for it to show its wonders best. Just as the gardener carefully tends the rose so it shows best, the farmer, gamekeeper and forester shape the countryside's beauty in a way that makes for what we cherish.

And we get it for free. Perhaps we should consider that more when we're stuck behind a tractor or help up by some sheep or when the muckspreading leaves a little odour hanging in the air. Without these things, would those places - that countryside - be quite as wonderful?


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