It’s Just The Place For An Ambush

We’ve started our next renovation project. After addressing the damp on the walls by installing a curtain membrane and channel for any moisture from the stones to drain away, we’ve fitted a replacement window and started the studwork. Next we will fix insulation, lay the floor, hang walls, and address electrics and plumbing.

The first time I looked out of the newly fitted window, I was greeted with a wondrous sight. Not just a stunning view through clear glass; there was something especially cheery about the landscape.  The Gorse bushes, which are everywhere on the hillside around us, had burst over night, as if by magic, from evergreen into their golden floral display.

Gorse lining the track to Crockern Farmhouse.

Gorse lining the track to Crockern Farmhouse.

In late autumn and into the harsh winter months, there are always a few flowers dotted about the moors, but it is April and May when these plants erupt into their full flowering. There is an old saying, “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion.” So, it’s always a pleasure – nay, a thrilling relief — to see these little yellow flowers in and amongst the snows of winter. At this moment, the showy flowers are everywhere, so pucker up!

The bloomin' gorse.

The bloomin’ gorse.

Gorse blooming in winter snow.

Gorse blooming in winter snow.

What an impact this plant has on the landscape, both in colour and scent. There is a distinctive coconut smell, fragrant to some (Roger) and weak to others (me). Along with heathers, these are the plants we think of on wild, windy, and open moors and this landscape certainly would be lacking something significant without them. It characterizes the scenery, and with its spiny, needle-like leaves, provides dense shelter and food for insects and birds such as Warblers, Stonechats and Yellowhammers, the last of which will return soon to our bird feeders. Even the wild Dartmoor ponies forage gorse, eating the thinner stems especially in winter.   Since the flowers are edible, I may throw a few into a salad.

In addition to this first bloom of gorse, and completing one major project only to start the next, we have kicked off the warmer seasons by firing up the hot tub. We gave the hot tub a little clean, filled it up and had our first soak of the year. We sat in the warm water; occasionally feeding logs onto the fire to heat the water, and watched the light fade over the hills. The bats emerged from their roost zooming past with such speed the insects didn’t stand a chance.

To bring the hot tub up to temperature and maintain the warm water for several hours takes about the same amount of wood we would use in an evening in the wood burner. But unlike the need to burn seasoned hard wood, we may consider using some of the dead gorse to heat the hot tub. Before the Industrial Revolution, the highly flammable gorse was used as fuel firing traditional bread ovens and kilns. So, why not our hot tub?

After two years of living at Crockern, we’ve discovered a few things that are predictable, namely the weekend parade of tourists. Every Saturday and Sunday we witness people miss the footpath running next to the leat on the other side of the valley. Rather than make their way along this gentle path into the dark woods, they seem to choose what, at first glance, must appear an easier path, if only because you can see the road in the distance.

We watch lost hikers spend time negotiating their way down the very steep hill covered in reeds, gorse, followed by low lying bog water. We watch them encounter the river, which then needs to be crossed. We watch people contemplate false trails through minefields of ankle twisting ground. We watch as arguments commence, despite the blooming gorse that permits kissing. We watch as some return back up the hill and start over. We watch as others throw their packs across the river and then take their first step onto a slippery rock surrounded by cold water. We watch the occasional splash.

On one occasion out in the yard, Roger was sanding a door and I was planting potatoes when we spied a couple with their dog clamber down toward the river. “It’s just the place for an Ambush.” remarks Christopher Robin as he leads an expedition in Winnie The Pooh, along a similarly steep, rocky, and treacherous non-path. Winnie the Pooh, who believed an Ambush was indeed a Gorse bush, was sternly rebuked by Owl “My dear Pooh,” said Owl in his superior way, “don’t you know what an Ambush is?” But for Pooh, the true meaning of Ambush is the gorse-bush, the very one which sprung up suddenly when he fell from a tree. The man in this couple may well agree with Pooh, as a prickly gorse bush following his rather unfortunate, yet spectacular, misstep ambushed him too.

Later, as Sam and I walked down the track, surrounded by very old, tall thickets of yellow gorse and budding Rowan trees, I heard a familiar sound. Looking up, I saw the first of our returning swallows. They are back and we are looking forward to their summer visit. I joined Roger at the picnic table. We sipped our wine, watched the swallows and Roger worked on carving a spoon out of a piece of oak. Perhaps his next spoon will be from gorse?

Roger's latest creation.

Roger’s latest creation.

Gorse in bloom, and not, on Dartmoor.

Gorse in bloom, and not, on Dartmoor.

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23 comments on “It’s Just The Place For An Ambush

  1. kiwiskan says:

    a lovely post. Gorse is considered a weed over here, but there’s nothing like the smell of gorse flowers on a hot summer day…

    • I suppose in certain places here it would be considered an invasive weed, too, but up on the moors it is necessary flora. I love it, except when I bump into it! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you.

  2. Another lovely ramble, thanks Catherine. Gorse can get out of hand, and on Roborough Down where I used to ride my horse as a teenager, there is so much high gorse I no longer know where I am. Without grazing the moor would be a very different place, and when swaling was stopped in some places even that isn’t enough.
    A friend of mine makes wine from the new gorse flowers!

    • I marvel at the controlled burning of gorse and know that it is essential for its healthy growth. I’ve considered the gorse wine, too, but suspect I am more likely to toss those flowers into a salad. Glad you enjoyed the blog and thank you.

  3. jllevitan says:

    Delightful post as always. Very impressed by Roger’s spoon. I feel like I’m right there next to you when I read your posts. I find it relaxing and restoring. Thanks for nourishing my soul.

  4. bridget says:

    I too love the cheery appearance of gorse after the dullness of winter. Apparently a lovely wine can be made from it. 5 litres of flowers are needed.

  5. RobP says:

    Lost Hikers? That will be me on more than one occasion! I suppose I’d better post my apologies in advance 🙂

    • Not likely Rob. I’m guessing you know how to read a map — and see a yellow marker for the trail ahead. Have a great adventure on your next time in Dartmoor — mind the midges.

  6. ann dawney says:

    ‘When the gorse is in bloom, kissing is in tune’. And what a lovely spoon!

    Could you ask wildwomanswimming what swaling is? I’d love to know.

    Your pics make my mouth water…. so much beauty.

  7. Paul Blaney says:

    I like that spoon, too. And the forsythia (which always makes me think of dear Bruce) is doing for New Jersey what the gorse is for Dartmoor. Not sure the Forsythia increases osculation however.

  8. Oh great. Another glimpse of life at Crockern. Always look forward to these. The spoon may be my favourite part to be honest, though I’d enjoy seeing the struggling tourists… (however that could so easily be me / us)… RH

  9. Brenda Skinner says:

    Ah, dang… we decided to put off our spring UK trip this year, and now your post is making me regret that. We always enjoy a walk or two on Dartmoor with the uplifting sight of the gorse in bloom. But thanks for taking me there just the same. If I can’t be there in person, a visit to Devon via your blog is enough to keep me going for a while.

  10. Fancy that! An appreciation of gorse. Considered a noxious weed around here, I am happy to hear about its finer qualities. The only positive attribute I was aware of (until your post of course) is that being in the Fabaceae genus, it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I will look upon gorse more kindly from this point forward.
    And I do so hope that Roger carves something out of ambush, er I mean gorse-bush.

  11. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts
    and I will be waiting for your further write
    ups thank you once again.

  12. […] It’s Just The Place For An Ambush […]

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