Celebrating the seasons

Celebrating the seasons

Recently having divided 11 days in England between Somerset and the North where the trees were just beginning to change colour and farmers still cutting silage, it was neither summer nor autumn but a glorious celebration of both.

Warm enough to wear light clothing and my suitcase contained little else but winter-wear. Having raided local charity shops for shirts, rain and sea mist came in like a sauna to last most of the holiday and such a delight after months of being baked under the cloudless skies of Algarve.

I flew to Manchester by Monarch airlines to stay with No.2 daughter in Bolton and to meet my great-granddaughter for the first time, and the following morning we drove down to a hotel in Somerset to join No.1 daughter up from the Isle of Wight. This should have been a five-hour trip.

As it was we joined a long queue on the M5 at the front of which, miles ahead, a coach had caught fire and we were stationary for nearly an hour. Eventually leaving by the first available exit we found all secondary roads clogged by escapees on a hiding to nowhere, the situation exacerbated by trains of enormous tractors with trailers full of new mown grass. Plunging deeper into country brought us to Church Stretton, a thriving market town in Shropshire dominated by The Long Mynd.

Thereby hang tales of my youth, when in 1935 my father joined the newly-formed Midland Gliding Club based above the south slope of this seven mile long, 1,693ft high hill.

Part of the outstandingly beautiful Shropshire range, its geological history is a microcosm of our planet’s development. Research suggests it to have been situated near the Arctic Circle originally, land masses moving south and finally coming together to form what is now the British isles.

While the Stretton Hills were volcanoes 560 million years ago and a deep rift behind the town the result of a mighty earthquake, Long Mynd was formed by sedimentation.

The area has undergone several ice ages, each followed by global warming during which those volcanoes, erupting repeatedly, have been under the sea, set in ice or covered in volcanic ash many times.

Within the Mynd itself, patterns of large raindrops in ancient layers of sediment bear witness to how erosion came about. Archaeological remains dating back to the Iron and Bronze ages litter the place with tumuli and a couple of man-made dykes, while the ubiquitous Romans also left their mark.

As a 12-year-old I knew none of this but Sundays spent up there were the highlight of school holidays. The family left early in the morning armed with picnic, large kettle and foul weather clothing for the 103km drive west, my sister and I keeping shtoom on the back seat because father had a very short fuse.

Once there we had freedom to roam, with the world laid out at our feet as far as Cheshire, the Cambrian Mountains and Birmingham on a clear day. My mother built a fire from stuff we collected, filled the sooty kettle and hung it on a tripod over the flames. When it boiled, tealeaves were poured in, the picnic laid out and we had a hot, sweet brew to wash it down, whatever the weather.

In early days, gliders bore little resemblance to those now used, but the method of launching remains the same in some clubs. A thick rope with rubber core and spiral cotton cover would be attached to a quick release hook on the glider, which was faced into the wind near the edge of a hill. Several people stretched the bungee while the tail plane was held down, the hook opened once enough tension had been achieved and a combination of wind and up-currents from the valley below launched it into flight.

Beginners were on a fast learning curve, some failing to make it back and having to be retrieved by a manhandled trolley. It was exciting to watch although I wasn’t there to see my father crash land in a field of cows, his legs through the fuselage but only sustaining cuts and bruises.

The formation of the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942 drew on such people as these who, after a period of training, were to pilot troops into nine battles and after touching down, to join them as they fought. The gliders were flimsy, casualties were high and I was privileged to be a driver for one unit prior to both the D-Day and Arnhem invasions.

Meantime, at last the weather has broken in my neck of the woods, a Tuesday of torrential rain that swept accumulated pigeon droppings from the roof and washed both cars squeaky clean while surrounding the house with water.
Aestivating insects washed from their summer hideaway appeared as the torrent subsided, large snails littered the patios heading for a dry spot and pink footed millipedes getting down to some serious reproduction.

Always harbingers of rain, the day before many ants were busily working round their nests as clouds hung overhead. Right on cue the deluge swept through my land in a torrent. At midday following, a great cloud of flying ants emerged only to be hit by a sharp storm.

Accompanied on her nuptial flight by many suitors, just one would reach the Queen’s bedchamber, the remainder losing their wings and dying in short order. A thick scum of ants struggled on water tub surfaces and puddles, their gossamer wings drifting away on the ripples.

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Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.