Restrictions have been eased a little, but we’re still pretty much in lockdown. Teaching has come to an end for the year (my 26th in higher education), and normally I’d be reporting on a visit to the Lake District. Rewind 12 months, and I was saying the same thing. Back in December I had, rather hopefully, booked a week in the Lakes for April but YHA had refunded my money – ditto last year. I am, however, hoping to get up there at the end of May after the next easing of restrictions – my room is booked and my fingers are crossed.

As I did last year, I took a weeks’ leave anyway. Fortunately (or ironically, whichever way you want to look at it), the weather was perfect for walking and I did manage one day walk on 23rd April; St George’s Day.

It’s a glorious time of year to be walking out on the Hampshire downs. Most of the trees had yet to come into leaf, but below the trees Spring was happening. The woodland floor was carpeted with Bluebell and Wood Anemone, but the star of the show was the Blackthorn blossom – it was at its absolute best.

It had been a busy week, I’d spent most of it in the garden, building a base for Hannah’s greenhouse, and the raised beds for the vegetable patch. It was nice to be doing some physical work for a change. Although I don’t mind sitting at a desk in front of a computer for my paid work, it’s not nearly as satisfying as creating something with your hands, and although I’m not an expert carpenter (by any stretch of the imagination), I still find it enjoyable.

So at the end of the week, with all the woodwork complete, I set out on a 24km (15 mile) circuit from home, taking in Ladle Hill (an Iron Age hillfort), Watership Down, and Caesar’s Belt (the course of a Roman road). This landscape is full of artefacts from ancient history.

Blackthorn blossom against a clear blue sky
Blackthorn blossom against a clear blue sky.

The day was hot but there were few people around. Only the thundering A34 indicated that life was slowly speeding up again. A year earlier, that road had been noticeably quieter than usual. I took the long detour under the road rather than attempt a crossing, only partly to avoid the traffic because the return leg on the opposite side of the road was lined with blackthorn, which looked stunning.

The climb from the A34 up to Ladle Hill wasn’t anywhere near as arduous as I’d remembered, and before I knew it, I was nearing the top. I’d brought lunch, so I sat beneath the trees and reflected on what had been a difficult but interesting academic year.

Trees at the top of Ladle Hill
Trees at the top of Ladle Hill.

This small clump of trees, which appear on the skyline from a distance gave me the opportunity to try out my new 12mm Rokinon lens. Over the previous few months, I’d been remodelling my photographic kit. I’d sold 7 lenses on eBay, and invested in three new ones.

The OS trig pillar at the highest point on Watership Down
The OS trig pillar at the highest point on Watership Down.

Last time I visited the top of Watership Down, the trig pillar wasn’t easily accessible. There was a crop in the field, and a sneaky hop over the fence wasn’t advisable because there were lots of people around. On this visit there were no such problems and the trig pillar was duly bagged.

A Wood Anemone in flower
The beautiful Wood Anemones were at their best.

This time of year is probably my favourite for wild flowers. All the big bullies of the plant world, the nettle and the bracken have yet to make a significant showing and so the small, delicate spring flowers have the leaf-litter all to themselves. This year was also good for the Primrose, which seemed to be everywhere.

I finished my walk with the feeling of a job well done and hoping that it would be enough to keep me ready for more challenging walks in a month’s time in the Lake District. Fingers crossed.