I’m in a bad mood. It’s been one of those days at work and at home, with weather to match – late June, but only 12 degrees and overcast. I am in a car park in Huntingdon with two hours to kill, which would normally be a good thing. Killing time is what I do best, but this evening I am at a loss for what to do.
I’ve eaten, so the chippy up the road can’t offer the solace I seek. I don’t want to spend two hours sulking in my car, but there really isn’t much to see round here. I reach for the atlas (much to the children’s bemusement I have so far resisted the emasculation of a SatNav) and start looking around. There must be somewhere I can go. Huntingdon itself isn’t much cop, and I have already explored Godmanchester, which has its charms, and the water meadows of Houghton Mill, which are terrific – but I feel the need to see something new. The atlas shows motorways to the West, the A14 and its constant improvement works to the South and the familiar territory of Houghton and St Ives to the East. So far, so unpromising. To the North, however, the blank space in the atlas is suggestive of open countryside and small villages. Not only that, but a nature reserve too!
Still slightly huffy, I head up into the boondocks and, almost immediately, after nipping round a couple of roundabouts, I find myself deep in the countryside. L’Angleterre profonde. The roads are getting narrower, barely the width of a car, as I pass through tiny villages of thatched roofs, red phone boxes and duckponds. I seem to have moved back through time – a signpost points me in the direction of the Great North Road but Ye Olde A1(M) doth not appeal. I go the other way. I leave the village and drive off towards where I think the reserve might be. To be honest, I’m not confident of finding it – my atlas places it vaguely in the middle of three villages so I am pleasantly surprised when I spot a sign at the top of a long and bumpy track. I inch my way along to a tiny carpark by a frankly underwhelming field of young bullocks.
It doesn’t matter. My mood lifts the minute I get out of the car and even more so when I read the information board – I have happened upon a wildflower meadow! The board claims 180 plant species, a meadow thick with enticing and exotic flowers – I am being offered green-winged orchids, creamy-white dropwort and devils-bit scabious. None of this means anything to me being, as I am, entirely ignorant of Britain’s wildflowers, but they all sound wonderful and I am quite excited by the prospect.
The cow field doesn’t have much going on, but I am not really sure what it is I should be looking at or looking for. I stroll through with an increasing degree of scepticism – no exciting flora here, and the cool air and gloomy sky are not encouraging me to linger. Out of the first field, through a stile and I follow a hedge round to the left, and a kissing gate this time. And then I see it. The extraordinary sight of a field, roughly the size of two football pitches, chock full and knee high with grasses and flowers. Even in this light it looks spectacular – there is a light wind and the field is dancing and alive.
Of course, I don’t know what anything is (apart from the ox-eye daisies, which appear in cheerful bursts of brilliant colour) so I wander around marvelling at the variety of shapes and hues in happy ignorance. Each step brings something new, often in little clusters, occasionally great swathes – stories of floral success and failure writ large (and small) on the landscape. Tall plants with myriad white blooms sway in the wind, whilst amazingly ornate purple flowers hide away at ankle level – and tiny white flowers, pinpricks of light in the gloaming, appear to be growing out of nowhere. It’s really something else.
But gosh, what must this place be like in the sunshine! I can’t begin to imagine the smells and fragrances, the buzz of bees and insects (they are keeping a low profile this chilly evening) in the heat of summer – it is a delicious thought and I decide there and then to return as soon as possible.
The cows are all lying down when I get back – I know this means something, but can’t remember if good or bad weather is on its way. No red sky to help me out either. I should be going but I have a moment to spare, so I follow a path through the hedge to the west so that I can see how far Lady’s Wood is. Not far, but too far for this evening – it’s time I returned to the real world. I pause and watch a field of barley moving in the wind. It’s like watching the sea and I stand for a long time, mesmerised by what I see.
The website for Upwood Meadows can be found here: