Nature moves fast at this time of year. At the start of lockdown, my daily runs were cheered by a landscape awash with the sunshine yellow of rapeseed.
Those flowers are now mostly spent, turning the fields a duller shade; but the hedgerows that border them have erupted with the white blossom of the abundant hawthorn, or ‘may’.
This is the may of maypoles and may queens – traditions that celebrate a time of year when everything should be bursting with life – the cusp of spring and summer. Its unruly branches cut jaunty angles against the sky; its petals swirl like confetti in the breeze.
I skirt the fields that drop down towards the river, muttering ‘welcome back,’ to a pair of swallows (it’s not as if anyone will hear me…) as they glide and swoop in a joyful dance that doubles as an aerial buffet of tasty insects.
This stretch of the River Rother floats through a wide, flat-bottomed valley of lush pasture, crisscrossed with ditches and canals. A parade of pylons march along its far bank; the nearside is crowded with reeds and rushes. I used to find it a dull place to run – flat, monotonous. But these days, the river’s sedate pace instils me with a sense of calm. I slow… walk… stop… And each time I retrace my steps along this river bank, I notice more.
A heron motionless, its neck a fierce italic ‘S’. A flash of blue butterfly wings on the meadow grass. The acid-house pips and bleeps of an ascending lark asserting his territory.
A pair of swans have taken residence on one of the tributaries. I always look out for them, keen to see if there’s any sign of cygnets yet – earning an angry shake of the tailfeathers. Yesterday, there were four new arrivals.
The Rother runs a lot further than I do – 35 miles from source to mouth. I leave the riverbank at Iden Lock, a couple of miles from Rye, to close my loop, climbing the steep hillside that was once part of the coastal cliffs that extend all the way to Dover.
In a broad ribbon of woodland, where the last few bluebells remain, I stop to listen to a cuckoo’s resonant call and the creaky-saw song of a great tit. I seem to have lost the urge to hurry during lockdown.