|Out on the bike - 7.00am|
|Dawn - Leicestershire - 28/01/2011|
I have been noticing the hedge lines of late, I find the history in these divisions fascinating. Each has been shaped by the years and with the leaves down it is clear to see that every length has its own story. Some have been eaten away and barged by the cattle and where they have become thin all manner of ironmongery has been employed to plug the gaps. The corrugated iron, pig wire, old gates and rusted bedsteads are as much part of the hedge as the weave of living limbs.
Not all the hedges are as idiosyncratic, few have been 'laid' in parts as winter work. the wood cut at the base so that it is severed but not completely cut, to leave a lifeline of bark for re-growth come the summer. The partially severed limbs are "laid" to the ground, the dead and unwanted material removed and then the hedge is reconstructed. A laid hedge has time to flower and to fruit and to build up an ecology. A good hedge is a lifeline between low and high ground, linking streams and woods as a connective ribbon. It is a place in which to shelter and forage and nest, or to travel out of harm's way, as the field mice do. Some hedges can be as old as 1,000 years and the old timers reveal their age with dog's mercury and bluebell in their shadows, and lichen and fungus in their limbs. A "good" hedge is like a forest in miniature, with an upper canopy blooming and fruiting, an inner cage for protection and an understorey in the hedgerow perennials.
On any of my regular routes there is a variety of hedgerows, some are high and envelop me as I pass through their tunnel like forms, more commonly though the hedges are low and from the elevated position of a bike saddle the whole countryside is opened up to view. Trees, woods, cottages, churches all can be seen, unlike journeying in a car where mostly the hedge impedes the view.
This time of year sees farmers out trimming the hedgerows, I've seen many tractors lately pruning away at last years growth. For cyclists this is a problem; the shards of thorns that spew into the road cause punctures - I've had two already this year, its quite amazing how hard and sharp those thorns are - like small steel pins that slice through tyres indiscriminately. Certainly hedgecutting machines need a wide berth and the road avoided for a few days, preferably until there's been some rain to wash away the debris.