Have you seen the heather this year? I don’t know what it’s like now but, at the time of writing, it’s absolutely stunning. Perhaps, if you didn’t notice the luxuriant, purple cloak that the Forest was wearing, you may have been aware, as you travelled about your business, of the delicious smell of honey that pervaded the air – this was, of course, the smell of the heather and, having spoken to some who are older and wiser than me, it would seem that this year could well be the best heather year in living memory. Yesterday, I came upon an elderly gentleman perched upon a folding stool close to the Canadian War Memorial. I bade him a good morning and he assured me that it most certainly was and went on to ask if I could account for the pleasant smell that was being carried towards us on the light, north–westerly breeze. I explained that it was the heather and, immediately, I could see that he was not entirely happy with my response. He went on to say that he had been coming to the Forest for many years but could not remember smelling the heather before now – I assured him that he was not alone and that several people had told me just the same. Similarly, a friend of mine had occasion to fly over the Forest after taking off from Southampton airport and she tells me that the view from the air was simply breathtaking and so striking that it encouraged other passengers to comment on the sight. The dogs, now unfettered by the earlier restrictions that were imposed on them to protect the ground nesting birds, kick up purple puffs of heather pollen as they charge through the wiry shrubs. Whilst, out on the open Forest, beehives stand in rows like distant tower blocks – taller this year than normal because of the glut of honey from the heather which has necessitated the addition of extra frames. I can’t wait to get my hands on some of the final product!
The August bank holiday is now just a memory and with the start of the school term the pressure on the Forest is somewhat relieved. Fallow and roe deer are seen more frequently around the cottage now that the numbers of visitors have diminished and the dogs bark less frequently at lost tourists who hover around the gate in the hope that someone from within will come to their aid. On the outside Forest lawn grey squirrels are, in anticipation of the coming winter, busily stowing food into secret caches – so secret that they probably won’t find them when they need them!
Meanwhile, in the stable, all is quiet. The swallows successfully reared a second brood of chicks this year and although they departed their nest in early September I’m sure the mild weather and the bounteous supply of food will help them on their long journey to warmer climes.
But all around us are the signs that the Forest and its inhabitants are slowly shutting down in preparation for the long nights and short days of winter. The fallow rut will be upon us before we know it and with a bit of luck and, dare I say it, a drop of rain, we will still have plenty of time to gather a few mushrooms for the store cupboard. The trees are starting to turn and the Forest will once again become a blaze of autumn colours and just think how we will all enjoy clearing all those lovely leaves that will soon be covering our lawns and driveways in the not too distant future! Must go now and brush-up on it