When not working at the Priory, my commute to work is a drive through the South Downs National Park. It has to be one of the loveliest of drives, through woods and fields; past flint built farmhouses and cottages and a Saxon church in a nothing-happening village; under a great arc of sky with tantalising glimpses of my beautiful “blunt, bow-headed whale-backed Downs.”*
The tiny lane that I drive along (usually whilst humming the theme music from “All Creatures Great and Small”) bears virtually no traffic so, if I see something of interest, I can just stop. No indicating, no pulling over; just stop. Which is what I did today – when I saw a kestrel.
I leant out of my car window and looked up at him. And he looked down at me. I heard on the radio that kestrel numbers have declined recently, in possible correlation to the amazing success that buzzards now enjoy in southern England. Competition for prey? No one seems sure, though I certainly still see plenty of kestrels. As a boy though, I never saw a buzzard. Now, the plaintive mewing of them circling high in the sky (like a far distant, benevolent Nazgul) often keeps me company at the Priory.
I looked at the kestrel a little longer. And he at me before, growing impatient to be up over the fields and along the hedgerows, he flew off. I put my camera away, wishing I’d had time for some better photos, started my car and resumed my humming.
* Rudyard Kipling, from the poem, “Sussex”. The whole verse is: