The Ancient Music of Hedgerows

This week I have had the very great fortune of parking my tiny home right next to an abundantly wild and tall hedgerow. I have often been inspired by the beauty and complexity of hedgerows; there is one in particular that I have had the pleasure of walking slowly along, almost every day for several months in a row, and watching the seasons changing from winter to spring and onwards into the beginning of summer. It is such a delight to see the new buds appearing, slowly growing and then as if by magic they suddenly burst forth into life, wearing their beautiful fresh bright green delicate new leaves.


Old Man’s Beard, Photograph by True2Source (Source:Flikr).

Each day as I walked along that hedge line I slowly collected last seasons dry brown grass, carefully pulling it out from amongst bare twigs and thorns and winding it around itself until I had made a fairly substantial neat nest shaped ball which I would use later on as my fire lighting bundle, as I did this I sang a traditional Scottish folk song (Low down in the Broom) I am intrigued by the idea that this very hedgerow, and the ancient trees around it, may have heard this song before, (many traditional songs spread all over Europe) perhaps many times and for many hundreds of years, indeed somebody like me may have even sang it as they walked along collecting the dry grass to light their fire in the evening, I like to imagine the folk, singing all over the British Isles, singing in harmony as they worked and played in the fields. Some of our hedges are even more ancient than the songs; what they may have seen and heard, if only they could tell me;

“A thousand years of history

Have been eaten from within me

And there’s nothing that I haven’t seen

Here I have forever been,

Here I have forever been.”

From my song ‘The Millenium Oak’.

I would also pinch out the fluffy bunches of Old Mans Beard to use as tinder in my bundles and with great satisfaction stuff the whole lot into my rather ineffectively small trouser pocket, (carrying a bag just spoils the fun, although it does alleviate the unsightly bulge which seems to entertain the odd curious passer by, but I do love to have my hands free on the occasions when I have no children to carry).

One morning as I walked along that particular hedgerow I had the joy of watching swallows swooping up and over the hedge from one side, then flying round in a big loop before they dived back down over the hedge again, it is a remarkable thing to witness and I am certain that a major motivation for this activity is the pure thrill of the flight. Of course they were probably catching insects but I’m pretty sure that insects are not so stealthy that they need to be snuck upon at such great speed, or with such grace and daring (yes I know I am assigning human emotions to birds, but pleasure is pleasure and you just have to watch them to believe it, and anyway we must have invented the word anthropomorphism for some reason!). I was captivated by the show and watched for some time before they flew away in search of another reason for a daring aerial display.

Another day I stalked down the same hedgerow as slowly and silently as I know how to be, this is something I practice when I think I have extra time and don’t feel like singing, at a pace of around one step per minute and it takes me a while to actually slow down to such a speed (if it can be called that). My intention with this activity is one of nature connection, when one is silent and still inside and out, the world around can get on with its business, animals and birds are more visible and we blend into the same reality. On this day I turned my head in just such a moment to see a mouse trotting along a network of branches that ran parallel to me, it looked across at me nonchalantly and continued on its way inside the hedgerow, the buds were not yet open and I was able to watch it scuttling along for quite some distance, stopping every now and then to nibble or perhaps smell something, before it finally disappeared around a bend in a branch.


Harvest Mouse, Photograph by Helen Haden (Source:Flikr).

A few days before I had, in the same stretch of hedge, seen my first Goldcrest up close, such a tiny bird, which I did not even know existed until a few months before. I had become very interested in the Wren and was seeing them and hearing their song very frequently on my morning walks, they had become a bit of a companion to me fluttering along in the trees or sometimes the hedgerow beside me, they are magical birds with such beautiful songs and they are so tiny, I was amazed to find that the Goldcrest is even smaller. Britons smallest bird in fact! The Wren is the king of the birds, and was sacred to the druids, and was rather unbelievably ritually sacrificed at midwinter, leading to the rather unfortunate and ridiculous hunting of the wren that became a tradition for a time. I really can’t imagine how on earth anyone could catch a wren, they are so small and hard to spot and so elusive, there really is nowt as queer as folk!



My favorite hedgerow of all, on that particular walk is part of a kind of corridor, where the path is surrounded on both sides by bushes and trees and they meet in the middle above like a natural tunnel. There one day I discovered an Elder tree with hundreds of dead perfectly straight shoots all growing upwards from a horizontal branch and I snapped off a few to take home for Dan to do hand drill (fire by friction); when I went back the next day to get some more, the Elder had upped and left and was no where to be seen!

Further along after standing still for about ten minutes, which I must say is no mean feat for me! I have always been a fidget, standing or sitting still is a challenge, but I read that some animals come out depending on how still you are, and some according to how long you stand still for, so I decided that it had to be worth practicing. I was rewarded on this occasion by a small mouse coming out of the hedge right next to my toe and ambling nonchalantly across the path (do mice do nonchalance? Apparently so), followed by the flash of a small bird darting into an unbelievably tiny hole in a small Elder tree about six feet away from where I was standing. I waited for long enough to watch this little bird and its mate go in and out of the tree several times, but at the time I was unable to identify it. In the following weeks I went back many times and watched this occurrence before I found out that the nesting birds were Great Tits, their speed, my lack of knowledge and my poor eyesight made identification a very slow process. One day as I waited and watched I was rewarded with the sound of their babies twittering away while the parents flew around collecting food for them.

Ahhhh there is such peace and joy to be found in silent wandering, when I am alone and it is early and there is no one around! I delight in those times.

I haven’t had an early walk since I moved house, our life has changed on such a large scale, that even though it is what we chose, it is still taking me some time to adjust. I am now outside far more, and as I said at the beginning, as I write this I am sitting next to a beautiful hedgerow, but night has fallen, the moon is up, and for the time being the delights of the hedgerow are hidden from view. It must be time for a song!

I saw a troop of long tailed tits dancing along the top of the hedgerow not long after we arrived here…….


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