The Last Post – of 2016

Gosh, 2016 was a strange year. Reason took a back seat and rationality seemed in very short supply. I also have a nasty feeling that 2017 probably won’t be that different, either. Heaven alone knows how the Euro is going to fare, as the French and Italian economies are looking increasingly shaky. And then there’s Trump. It baffles me how somebody who has made no effort whatsoever to hide his personal ambition and greed can be considered a populist. Using those criteria, Sir Philip Three Yachts Green is a populist too. To be honest, I don’t know where to look for something cheerful and inspiring. And when that happens, I usually fall back on the tiny realms I inhabit: my books, my garden, my sheep and my family. And to hell with the outside world!

Seen from the bunker of my own little world, 2016 was actually rather a good year: lambing went well, my second Alan Cadbury book reached its target of subscribers, I landed two new contracts for non-fiction books and my Stonehenge book was well reviewed and I’m delighted to say is selling very briskly. And gosh, I still can’t get over what a lovely job the design team at Head of Zeus have done with the artwork, the illustrations and the layout. It really is a very handsome volume – and damn good value for money, though I say so myself. Oh yes, and before I forget, a HUGE thank you to everyone who came to our Open Garden Weekend in mid-September, which was a great success and raised some £1,400 for charity.

Meanwhile life continues on its relentless way. On December 28th, on a horribly cold and foggy day, we housed all the ewes and last year’s female lambs (known as gimmers) in the main barn. I went out a few minutes ago to take this picture and I can assure you they’ve settled into their new home very well. All I could hear was the chewing of cud and one or two snores. Those are the sounds a shepherd always enjoys.

1-sheep-in-barn-dec-16-lo-res

On the Bank Holiday that followed Boxing Day, the weather forecast predicted unbroken sunshine, so we decided to get away from the house for a couple of hours. It was a great opportunity to get some photos for a web piece I am writing for the Royal Geographical Society. With luck I might also get some pictures for one of my current non-fiction books, too. So I took my very best camera, a Nikon D300, plus some good lenses. And it proved well worthwhile, as I have always reckoned that winter sunshine gives the most magical of light, especially for views of the landscape. Here are a couple of the pictures.

Dog-in-a-Doublet Sluice

The River Nene from Dog-in-a-Doublet bridge, just north of Whittlesey. This view is looking upstream towards the tidal sluice gates. In the foreground is a pill-box of the GHQ Line – Britain’s major defensive work, built in 1940, when the threat of invasion was very imminent.

Nene Washes

The Nene Washes from the Green Wheel cycleway bridge, a couple of miles upstream from the previous picture. This photo shows the extent of the Flag Fen basin, with the uplands of Stanground and Fletton on the far horizon. Although not visible, Fengate and Flag Fen are to the right, and Must Farm to the left.

I must confess that even after forty years, I have never quite got used to the loneliness of the Nene Washes so close to the large modern city of Peterborough. You’re in another world. I well remember seeing a grey seal nonchalantly paddling his way beneath the place where they would eventually build the cycleway bridge. We now know of course, that the area was very well populated in prehistoric times. But, if anything, that adds to the atmosphere of remoteness and, yes, of melancholy. It’s one of my favourite landscapes.

And on that wistful note, I shall bring the blog year to a close. I do hope that you, and all my readers, have a very Happy New Year. And remember: you mustn’t let politicians get you down!

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