Caught by the River

Drove Cottage

18th September 2013


Mornings. Words and pictures by Malcom Anderson

It’s impossible not to know, the second that I wake, where I am.

There is a distinct smell to the early morning landscape here. A dew laden, earthy smell; the smell of cut cornfields, wild grasses long gone to seed and of dusty chalk droveways. Behind the obvious scents of late summer however lies something deeper, harder to identify. It’s only lying here half awake at first light that your mind is willing to accept what the firing synapses are telling you; there’s a scent of history, something on the air that feels rather than smells ancient. The morning air, cooled by another clear early September night, slumps down off the tumuli and hill fort laden hills. It snakes its way over the remains of the roman road and then sinks sinuously down along convenient hedge lined droves where the first bit of modern life that it encounters is my cottage.

Since moving into Drove Cottage I’ve become accustomed to falling asleep with the windows wide open, curtains wafting in the listless summer evening breeze. There’s no noise outside at night, and no light pollution so sleep is deep and fulfilling, however wakefulness when it comes, comes early.

I’m woken by something, I know not what, but there is a point when the day intrudes onto my consciousness.

At first I’m aware of sounds. I can hear the buzzards keening above the hill behind the cottage and the wood pigeons rustling in the ivy on the wall outside. In the far distance I can hear the faint thrumming of an old Ford tractor climbing the hills in the early morning light. An earthbound blue and white ship afloat on a misty sea.


Following on from my ears registering the world around me my slowly waking eyes slowly detect the weak white-yellow half-light that picks out the shape of my windows and the world beyond. Funny that the outside world invades my day first, long before a sense of the rest of the room follows as it comes into focus and slowly emerges from the blue-black shadows of nighttime.

If I had company it might be nice to snuggle back in and lie for a while, content with the world and my place in it, but alone as I am, it’s now time to get up. Time to grab a glass of juice from the fridge and sit out in the front garden on a weathered and cracked bench. Resting on a cushion of grey green lichen stained wood, letting the wet grass chill my bare feet and watching the sunshine begin to burn off the night’s damp coat on the flint wall bordering my little slice of Wiltshire.

There’s a fantastic peace to this point in the morning. The day is full of promise, an unwritten page in the notebook, a sandy beach with no footprints.

If I have my son staying I’ll let him sleep on, while I enjoy the tranquility of that early morning slice of solitude. If I’m alone, I’ll grab my trainers and go for a run, starting the day with deep breaths of cool air and a mind free of, well, anything other than the world around me.

I run down through the sleepy village streets, my breath fogging the morning air, disturbing nothing but cats as they stalk the birds feeding on the spilt grain on the road. Most mornings I’ll cut through the farmyard, past the farmer sat in his beaten up blue landrover, a grey bushy beard half hidden behind a smoky, fogged up windscreen. I’ve never seen more of him than that, but each morning a grease and nicotine stained hand will appear from the foggy interior and give me a wave.

I wave back and power on, turning right out of the farmyard onto a muddy road, tarmac cracking like clay soils in a hot summer, slowly being reclaimed by grass along it’s middle. Herds of cows much slowly in the misty meadow to my left, their feet wreathed in tendrils of a warming morning, their black backs shiny with the heavy dew.

I’m slightly out of breath now, sweat stings my eyes and my lungs burn but I can’t stop, I’m not even half way round yet and I’ve got some uphill to face now.

Tarmac is replaced by packed chalk and fallen nettles and my feet slip as I get used to the change in surface. Up and up my feet take me, one foot following another as I pass, noisily under a tunnel of interlocking Ash and oak trees. I run past a hedge of Rowans, heavy in their orange fruited glory and out into the clear sunny morning of the chalk downs and up onto the roman road at the top of the hill.

As I’ve been doing this run regularly for the last month I’ve seen the countryside change around me. At first as I ran across the high fields my hands would brush against the feathery ears of the ripening wheat, my legs were whipped by fallen stalks lying across the narrow path. Now that the invasion of Claas and New Holland behemoths has finished, the steel dinosaurs having stripped the fields of their cereal bounty, only stubble remains. As the sun hits the six inch hollow stalks the dew inside warms and the field sounds like a bowl of rice krispies as the fields come alive with the snaps, crackles and pops of expanding water.


The landscape opens before me as I run along the packed flinty path and I follow its undulations diagonally across the field towards the next drove and my path back down towards home. I pass straw bale Lego towers dotted across the fields and I run through their long early morning shadows. Below me the valley is bathing in the remains of the morning mist, I can see movement down there now as the rest of the world busies itself with their day to day lives. A train set like model landscape with the colour saturation turned down, muted and serene. God’s been playing with photoshop again.

I finally stop, a sweaty puddle of middle-aged man, feeling for all the world like I am melting into the flint wall I lean on. Cheery dog walkers say good morning as they go past on their pre-breakfast jaunts. I can hear radio four from the house down the road, and smell bacon on the air.

It’s a good day to be alive.

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