A day of little surprises yesterday, born out of the initial annoyance of a road closure. Making my way back from a meeting I was diverted off a main road onto a route of lithely wriggling ‘B’ roads, looping and curling round the hills, not sticking to the valleys as elsewhere. These particular country lanes took me up one side of the Malvern Hills, over the top through a wooded col and then down the other side into Great Malvern. Looking east from there is an endless vista; a great plain, with Malvern directly below and Worcester to the north east, Tewkesbury to the south east. The Malverns have a character like a spine – the knobbly vertebrae sticking out from a body that needs a good feed, a generous plate of suet pudding and mash, with spotted dick for pudding. And from these backbones, looking west, it is an entirely different panorama, entirely rural, rolling rounded hills like a tray of green velvet eggs, heavily wooded and hedged.
Autumn is well under way now, and the fallen leaves march down roads in unnaturally ruler-straight lines where the whirls and eddies fight to a standstill allowing them to congregate in the dead air below. The pulpy mulch softens kerbstones and hides pavements, people tread tentatively as if over-stepping onto a bowling lane. And the trees are bashfully nude, a few lingering leaves hide their modesty for a matter of days but as the sap sinks, the inevitable final act of the strip tease is soon at hand.
With it, nature’s first harbinger of Christmas is clear to view – the balls the trees were hiding – Mistletoe. I’ve never seen it in such profusion. Near Eastnor castle a whole stand of trees, slender, reaching vertiginously full of these dappled decorations, like rooks’ nests at the heart of the tree. In Great Malvern, near the outskirts of the town, a tree lined arcade of oaks and horse chestnut, each full, as if the tumbleweed mistletoe had rolled from the hills and bounded and bounced down hill, only to be stopped here, natural run off lanes. A beautiful sight – one which I have never seen in such profusion: Mistletoe is a parasite of course, piercing the skin of the tree, attaching itself then feeding from the tree’s sap, leach-like. Perhaps birds of feather flock together (carrying the seeds with them too) and a new collective noun is needed for the plant. One thing is for sure, it was clearly too early for modern-day Getafix’s to be up in the trees with their golden sickles removing it for the magic potion money reward of today: bundles on sale down the Garden Centre in time for Christmas’s under-tree smooching. I give it three weeks, tops.