For a miracle, both Rosie Roo and Brythen are present and correct, ready to have the leads put on when we leave the woods and make our way down the lane. The woods that used to fold around that lane were felled when the fields were bought by a new owner: for a while they were a tragic waste of stumps and brambles, but the trees are coming back now: young birch and hazel springing up from discarded nuts and old roots. I hope the bluebells will come back too.
I think perhaps the owners of the fields wanted to bring the sun into the steep valley for the benefit of visitors to their new holiday cottages, but they may have underestimated the work needed to keep the land clear. They describe the area as a 'wildflower meadow' now on their website, which is something of a triumph of marketing over reality : there are certainly plenty of wildflowers and butterflies, but I think 'meadow' implies an area which could be grazed by something other than deer, or at least goats. Still, I quite like flowering wastes. They remind me of the 1970s, all ragwort and stripy caterpillars and purple thistles.
Up the lane, and the hounds suddenly become stiff with excitement. I can't see what they are reacting to - a squirrel? They both bound up the earth wall of the lane and stand on the top, quivering, restrained only by the leads. I am leaning backwards to hold them. Then I smell something sharp and unmistakeable - a fox. The hounds insist on standing there hopefully for several minutes, in the hope that Mr Fox will return, before finally I manage to persuade them that it's time to go. On the way back up the lane, I notice a pear lying in the path. There are no pear-trees anywhere about, so I wonder if the fox was carrying it off before we interrupted him.