British weather is famed for being predictably unpredictable – rain one minute, sunshine the next, with the mercury up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. The poor Met Office struggles to keep pace with an ever-shifting forecast. It’s no wonder the weather is Britain’s favourite topic of conversation – that and the footie (but best not go there). But so far this summer the weather has been predictably wet, windy and miserable even here in the driest county in the land (usually). A few warm days and a couple of BBQs in early June does not a summer make.
We may sit around the house in shorts trying to pretend it’s summer but who has the heating on in July? We do, that’s who. As more benevolent foreign climes are off the agenda this year for obvious reasons, we try to make do with what old Ma Nature chucks at us but please, old girl, stop pissing on our parade.
Every cloud, as they say. The damp and dismal weather has at least provided a bumper crop all around us, particularly now it’s become de rigueur to let the grass grow to encourage wildflowers, bees and other pollinating insects. And the ducks quite like it too.
Fleeting spring warmth, the partial easing of lockdown and the Easter break brought villagers, young and old, out onto the streets to make the most of the fine weather. And we were no exception. Downing tools for the day, we trotted off to Pyes Mill for a spot of lunch by the sparkling waters of the River Chet. The most direct route to the waterside clearing is across a boggy field which the owner has since barred after (allegedly) irresponsible dog walkers allowed Fido and Rover to trouble his cows. These are the same cows who troubled us the first time we ventured across his field forcing us to run for our lives. Just saying.
So we took the circuitous route via graves ancient and fresh, a tunnel of wild foliage, a babbling brook and a couple of country lanes. Pyes Mill was less busy than expected, though there was a swan having a good lick (and who wouldn’t if they could?), a few young families mucking about on the grass and a gang of naughty lads sharing a spliff. Liam can smell a joint at twenty paces.
We found a bench among the molehills and unpacked our picnic. When I say picnic, it was a meal deal from the Co-op. After months under house arrest, alcohol was first on the menu. Drink was drunk but rather too quickly. We regretted not picking up a second bottle when we had the chance. Lesson learned for next time.
We’ve all got bills to pay and everyone everywhere has been forced to adapt quickly to the new reality of these troubling times. This is as true in sleepy Loddon as it is anywhere. A case in point is Rosy Lee’s Tea Room. For many years now this tiny café has thrived on passing trade from sailors and cyclists stopping off for coffee and cake. The delightful owner, Caroline, is a bit of a local celebrity who, more than 20 years ago, floated down the River Chet, liked what she saw and stayed. But now, social distancing means the café can only accommodate one customer at a time. So what was Caroline the tea lady to do?
Extend the little secret garden she has created tucked away by Loddon Staithe*, of course. We got the call from Tom, the nice young man who renovated our cottage and sold it on to us. Would we help out? Hell, yes.
Tooled-up Tom with his broad shoulders and impressive equipment did all the butch work, constructing tables and erecting metal poles. All we really did was mow down the bramble and hold things while he wielded hammer and drill. In the meantime, Caroline kept us fed and watered. I can recommend the bacon sarnie.
Now lycra’d bikers can gather in gangs (of no more than six, of course) in a secret grove to rest and replenish with enough space to keep an eye on their fancy cycles.
Yes, that’s Liam and me with our backs to the camera. We were pleased to do our bit for a village institution.
*A staithe is a landing stage for loading or unloading cargo boats. That ship sailed long ago round these parts. Loddon Staithe is now used by those who like to muck about in pleasure boats.
Despite a charming and traditional appearance, Loddon Village comes with all mod cons – well, almost. A decent mobile phone signal would be nice. So imagine our surprise when we stumbled on this classic thirties Austin Seven in the church car park.
A few days on, feet up and glasses clinked, we settled down to watch the newly rebooted ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ on the telly box. Imagine our surprise when we spotted this classic Austin Seven taking centre stage.
Must be a rural thing.
All Creatures Great and Small is based on the books of the British country vet Alf Wight, writing as James Herriot. The hugely popular original series was made by the BBC and ran from the seventies all the way through to the noughties, so the Channel Five remake has a lot to live up to. So far so good – classy and timeless, just like the cars. And it wouldn’t be the same without James Herriot’s arm up a cow.
I’m all for people stepping out of their cars and getting on their bikes. It’s good for the body, good for the soul and even better for the environment. And pedal-power has gone into overdrive since the pandemic. With quieter roads and cleaner air, people are turning and returning to cycling in their droves. New bike sales are up and old bikes are getting a makeover after years of rusting away at the back of a shed.
The flatlands of Norfolk provide an easy ride for cyclists and there are few better places to pedal push than the highways and byways hereabouts. On sunny days, it can be the Tour de Loddon along the high street with riders top to toe in fancy kit dismounting for coffee and cake. It ain’t always pretty. Okay, we can’t all look like six-times Olympic champion Chris Hoy with his thunder thighs and buns you could butter. But if all your spare tyres are wrapped round your waist, it’s best to go easy on the lycra. It’s enough to turn the milk in my flat white.