Illustrations by Rachel Holmes
It was a windy day in North Norfolk and not a soul was in sight…but, up in the fields something was a foot for a joyous celebration of the wonders of the world around.
For it was here – with views seemingly stretching for miles across rolling hills that a brown hare was heading. Glorious golden fields brimming with a magnificent cast of barley, their millions of ears swaying as one in the wind, first this way, then that – creating an effortless spectacle of ever-changing colour and sound.
In the distance the land meets the sea, as waves gently lap the golden sands and join in the rhythmic chorus of sound, the soothing whooshing rhythm of the sea and the land.
Above this orchestra of nature Norfolk’s big blue sky, with a pair of buzzards effortlessly circling in the thermals as if conducting the performers below.
This is his stage, his favourite place – the place he comes to celebrate, and out of the field margins, he comes – the hare they call Jigfoot.
His long ears upright, his shining brown and black eyes glisten in the sun but aware of all that is around him. He emerges from the rich green field margins with a somewhat cumbersome, awkward gait.
The field margin displays an abundant richness of colour; the pink and white of the campion, vivid yellows of oxe eye daisy and birds foot trefoil and deep purple of thistles.
As well as bringing colour these plants bring life, buzzing as they do with myriad insects from hover flies, bumble bees, honey bees, moths and butterflies and in turn they add to nature’s orchestral performance, adding as it were the brass section to the background rhythm of barley and waves.
A flurry in the hedgerows sees a flock of field fare arrive, always flitting as if they are too late, no time to stop, but they skirt along the hedge chirping to complete the score – the stage is ready for Jigfoot now.
By now he has made his way to a clearing – his orchestra in full tune, and then, as the sun breaks through the cloud – the rays of light from the sky reach down from above as if to embrace a loved one.
Still seated – but now as if to attention, Jigfoot starts to move his back legs to the rhythm of nature, at first it’s a tip, tap, tip, tap, tip, tap, the whooshing barley, calming waves, the buzzing of insects and chirping of birds… tip, tap, tip, tap…
A flock of sparrows arrive on queue with their shrill chorus upping the tempo and Jigfoot responds…. His foot changing the rhythm and going ever faster..tip, tip, tap, tap, tip, tip, tap, tap.
As the pace increases and his shiny brown fur starts to ripple with the movement of his muscles.
Tip, tip, tip, tap, tap, tap …. Faster and faster – a smile fills his face; his fur is rippling, his muscles trembling, his heart pacing until he can contain himself no more – and so he leaps high up in to the sky.
His body is alive, no longer does he walk awkwardly on four legs he his jumping this way, that way, up, down, left, right – he is dancing with unbridled joy – this is Jigoot he who dances to celebrate all that is around him.
Across the marshes is a sea of purple and green, as sea lavender and sea thrift bask in the early summer sun and proudly put on their colourful displays. Their call to nature does not go unnoticed and the sky is enriched by the sight and sound of butterflies, bees and insects gathering to feast on their treasures of nectar.
Adding to this display are the occasional patches of vibrant yellow courtesy of birds foot trefoil. This is the understated caretaker of wild flowers – oft called the meadow maker – as it works to keep the grasses down, with little or no thanks from its more ebullient flowery neighbours, who’s very existence rely on its work.
But, as trefoil is one of nature’s farmers, this part of North Norfolk has its own human variety creating their more manicured patchwork in the countryside.
Look inland, beyond the marsh, and over the dunes, rustling with their tall drying grasses and a gently sloping hill lies ready to provide its own bounty.
However, for now, this field is but a neatly laid out nursery, freshly sown, and looking like a giant Kit Kat with row after row of perfectly formed seed beds. In a few months’ time these rows will overflowing with rich green carrot tops, but for now they lay still.
This is his stadium, his playground, his favourite place – the place he comes to perform – the hare that they call Jumper.
As he steps out from the Hawthorn hedge – it’s inhabitants of a flock of sparrows shrill with excitement, their chirping growing ever louder and faster – all trying to speak at the same time, all vying for attention, all desperate to be heard.
Jumper remains still, soaking up the sound and its attention – he is fully aware that his audience awaits, and he won’t disappoint.
He takes his first steps, his back arched and starts to walk down the field margin and the hedge seems to bulge and sway alongside him as the sparrows keep up, moving in and out of the hedge, never straying to far from the comfort and shelter it offers.
He quickens, no longer walking, now a jog. The hedge is alive alongside him, his heart races until suddenly he is off. Turning the corner on the field margin, brushing aside the Oxe Eye daisies without a care, zig zagging this way then that until he turns sharply and on to the field.
To him these neat rows are for fun, as at full speed he heads towards them and leaps full stretch – front legs pushed forward, back legs lifted as high as he can. He clears the first row with aplomb and the moment he lands jumps again across the next, before landing and turning sharply. Now he’s sprinting up the furrow between the rows.
He speeds up the hill, the sparrows now content to watch more quietly from a distance.
As reaches the top he turns again as if to give one last display and leaps over one row, then another and another before coming to a stop.
He stands still, the sun behind him. He looks down towards his adoring crowd and across the marshes, then turns and disappears from view.
The show is over – for today at least – this is Jumper – running and jumping for joy.
As the sun sets away in the distance, we look across the sea – a chill quickly replaces the early spring warmth and the big blue sky, so bright and resplendent during the day gets set for its all to brief, yet spectacular evening display – its nightly signal that another day is passing.
Suddenly the light blue expanse peppered with soft, wispy white clouds become a mosaic of pinks, purples, blues and grey – slowly darkening, the pinks turning to orange and the greys ever blacker. The night, and its darkness is coming.
Beneath this canopy of colour, all is still and quiet, save for the gentle rustling of leaves from the woodland and the grasses chattering in the field margins. But soon a distinctive sound breaks the silence.
At first it sounds like a rusty bed spring – ‘eeking’ in a pulsating rhythm, two beats then one and then repeated; eek-eek, eeeeek, eek-eek, eeeeek.
The maker of this sound is not alone, one quickly becomes two, two becomes four until within just a few short moments there are 40,000 creating a cacophony of bed springs and the sky is filled waves of black speckles spreading out like a ripple in a pond – all heading out to sea.
These are the pink footed geese which feast by day on North Norfolk’s countryside riches before heading out to the sandbanks – far away from the jaws of foxes and other predators – a place to rest and sleep in safety, and silence. Its as if their sound is a call to celebrate the night and a somewhat cheeky chorus of ‘you can’t get me’ to the hungry foxes below.
The spectacular display of colour and sound – acts as a nightly signal – and up on the hilltop – watching the cast of thousands – sits the hare, and out from the woodland edge he steps. This is his table, his favourite place – the place and time he comes to dine and delight in his world – the hare that they call Nibbler.
Its as if the geese ring his dinner bell, he is aquiver with excitement as he hops towards the long, lush green grass now casting a luminescent glow in the arriving moonlight.
He pauses briefly, sits on his back legs and vigorously rubs his front feet together, before carefully licking each one, and wiping over his tall, black tipped ears.
His attention is captured briefly as a muntjac deer scurries by in search of his own dinner, the two exchange a fleeting glance, but no more than that – as if two diners visiting the same restaurant with each preferring to eat alone.
Nibbler continues with his grooming for a few moments – well it would be rude to go to dinner dirty now wouldn’t it? This is Nibbler known for his love of food but of keeping himself looking dapper – the proper dinner time gent.
In front of him his patch of ground – neatly laid out. But where to begin. He sits upright, sniffs the grass a little, then with a knowing wiggle of his chin he starts to nibble. As precise and choreographed as a concert pianist running his hand along the ivory keys – Nibbler’s teeth quickly make a meal of the grass, as he moves from blade to blade – occasionally taking time to hop a few inches to bring more delights within his reach.
This is Nibbler – dining under the Moon.
As the sun rises to cast its warming glow on the land below, the patchwork of fields seem content as if embraced by a protective hug from Norfolk’s big sky.
As the giant sun awakes, it does so slowly, as if reluctant to rush its glorious display – and seemingly hanging on to the sea below casting its reflection from the horizon all the way to shore, before finally rising above into solitude overseeing all below.
The grass and hedgerows soon lose their crisp frost coating as the sun turns the white ice into crystal clear dew drops, reflecting all around them before dropping quietly to the ground.
This late winter scene has a soundtrack of birds chirpily heralding in the day and the imminent arrival of spring – from the light shrills of song birds to the unmissable loud call of the geese making their presence known and enjoying the last of their winter home before flying off to cooler summer climes.
Crushing the frozen grass below are the feet of a hare – not for this hare the rush and excitement of late winter and a time for finding a mate. This is a measured step, a step which signifies someone who has seen it all before and knows time can wait, just for a moment while he breathes in the day.
In front of him is a different sight, with younger hares unable to contain their excitement at the change of seasons and the joys they know lay in front of them.
A bundle of excitement is Jigfoot – dancing his way around a playful Pintail who is well prepared and won’t make life to easy for here young admirer. He weaves around her, turning this way, then that using the full power of his legs to create great speed before standing and approaching her.
She is a match for him as she raises her arms and sends out a fast jab, left, right, left, right becoming a propeller like frenzy. He drops down and circles her again – while nearby the scene is replicated by other members of the drove – a ritual bursting with excitement and energy but none the less a majestic site full of the promise of new life.
Returning to the observing, measured hare – he steps atop a stone as if taking to his throne.
This is Bouchart – the noble one – the elder statesman of the drove of young hares.
His brown fur turning increasingly grey and faded, but his strength and majesty sill very much evident. He may be slowing down but his air of power shows no sign of waning – not just yet.
He looks approvingly at the young ones – while for their part they feel his presence and break very briefly from their courtships as if to acknowledge his approving glances – reminded of Bouchart’s ancestral motto ‘Fais Honneur’ – do honour.
It was a sweltering summer’s day which encapsulated perfectly why North Norfolk is so famed for its big skies.
The cloudless sky was an expanse of hues of blue as far as the eye could see, the sun resplendent high above. Today, so intense is its summer heat, that no longer is it a shimmering ball of yellow but rather a hazy glow of pure white, with shafts of light reaching out as if to touch the earth below over which it casts its life-giving gaze.
At ground level the rolling fields contrast the blue sky with swathes of straw gold. These fields sit in near silence now – save for the chirping birds. The annual deep, murmuring, mechanical sound of combines has moved on – their work done – having interrupted only briefly the natural peace to gather in the annual harvest, leaving behind the short stubble as evidence of the richness which once stood here. Now there stand stubble where once stood fields of barley swaying in the sea breeze, as if dancing a waltz.
The scene is a beautiful reminder of the seasons which we are blessed with, the stubble fields signalling the move from summer to the fast-approaching autumn.
However, far from a scene of sadness this is one of joy. Where once barley stood – there now lies a golden playground for wildlife.
More than that there is a veritable feast of seed left behind by the harvest. Chirping flocks of sparrows and other small birds flit here and there with such excitement and enthusiasm for the feast which lays before them. Pigeons too arrive, less active than their smaller, noisier neighbours, simply content to walk slowly amongst the stubble eating all they can letting out a satisfying overture of cooing as they go.
At the top of the field, looking downward and sea ward, stands a hare, whose bronzed, perfectly groomed fur, is the mark of a very dapper fellow indeed.
The birds offer this hare some passing amusement, but he doesn’t waste time watching them, nor does he allow himself to be distracted by the scurrying of fellow hares darting across the wide expanse to the safety of the hedgerows.
No, this hare is one who has witnessed many a passing of the seasons, and is therefore wise enough to know now is not the time for feasting or scurrying – now is the time to sit and simply breathe the beauty in. To embrace all that is around him.
Slowly, he moves his head left then right, checking all is safe and quiet, before sitting upright to do nothing other than admire the stubble filed, his stubble field.
The sun casts a shadow on his upright ears and makes them look like the antlers of a stag – indeed this is the hare known as StubbleStag – majestic, magnificent and wise.
High above the meadow, the joyous calls of the skylark fill the skies for miles around. Fluttering furiously and chirping endlessly this little bird has unbridled enthusiasm for the arrival of spring and announces it to all around.
The skylark looks down as the river below winds leisurely towards the sea, no need to rush as it winds its way like a snake through the lush green meadow.
The gentlest of ripples provide a spectacle of glimmering light dancing above the water as it catches reflections of the sun, while the bulrushes sway gently on the side with a whispering sound of approval.
The rich green grass, speckled with bright yellow buttercups stands next to a small woodland, looking majestic with its blue carpet of bluebells, while clumps of nettles are bedecked with pure white blossom blown gently off the blackthorn bushes by the breeze as they give way to the young leaves which now adorn the bushes.
Sitting quietly, her brown and white face, and glossy brown eyes bathing in the soft warmth of the spring sun, is the hare they call Pintail. She finds joy in this place, taking delight in observing a collection of creatures acting out cameo performances in this her favorite of all nature’s amphitheaters.
She trots in delight alongside two orange tip butterflies as they dance together, twisting and turning above the grass. Then, she stops, since another demands her attention, when she spots a lone bumblebee meticulously inspecting the flowers of a comfry plant, as if trying on little white hats.
Above the water hovers a swarm of midge flies all as one but appearing as a bundle of buzzing chaos – she imagines the sound of that buzz is the sound of the flustered flies all chattering sheepishly as they try to avoid each other – ‘excuse me, so sorry, don’t mind me, I’ll go left, no right, , no left, up, no down, sorry, excuse me.’
Suddenly into this chaos flies a swift, giving a high speed acrobatic display with aplomb! No sooner had it arrived that is was off down the river darting this way and that as it feeds on the wing, a spectacle to behold.
As she looks across the meadow she notices her brothers have arrived; Jigfoot, Jumper, Nibbler and Stubbletstag feasting on the riches the meadow has to offer.
A mischievous grin grows across her face and her brown eyes light up with excitement.
She imagines her brothers as the midge flies , and herself as the swift. She cant contain her excitement as she sets of apace through the grass heading straight towards them. Faster and faster she goes and out of nowhere darts into the hares forcing them to scatter in surprise and fright, as she turns left and right chasing them as if they were her prey.
She stops and turns to walk away. As her brothers catch their breath she gives a confident wiggle of her white and black tail as if to say “gotcha” – knowing she had made an impression.
This is Pintail, young, mischievous and fun loving.