I drove home from the station tonight into the soft fire of a luminous sunset. It has been a busy few days and a lovely weekend. Friday was a late one; dinner wasn’t till ten and then there was wine and much to discuss… largely whilst throwing balls and playing fetch with a small dog determined to make the most of her visitor. Not a bad way to end the week. Saturday began with a red kite flying right across my bedroom window almost as soon as I opened my eyes. It was, I thought, good omen, and proved to be the start of a weekend where the great birds were part of almost everything we were to do.
It was raining heavily so we didn’t rush, our plans of climbing hills a little washed out. On the other hand there were one or two places we had a mind to revisit that had roofs and a little old pub in West Wycombe seemed a good place to start.
The rain had abated a little by the time we headed towards the first church on our list; a ‘new’ one for us. The yew hedge smelled wonderful in the rain, but the Victorian building didn’t look too promising. The first thing we saw though as we opened the door was the Stations of the Cross around the walls. Fairly unusual in an Anglican church and timely as we had been working with them that morning for the new book, Dark Sage, now almost complete. This too we took as a good sign. There were few stained glass windows; a St Michael, a Good Shepherd in the east and a modern one by John Piper in the west, which was odd as we had first come across his work at our next destination. A wrong turn meant we took a tiny, single track road to our next destination. These roads run for the most part between high hedges and passing places are few and far between. You would not expect to meet much traffic, but sometime between the third and fifth negotiation of the narrow space with other vehicles we realised why we’d ‘had’ to come that way. The birdlife was incredible both in sheer numbers and variety. At one point the hedge fell away and I braked… a red kite was sitting in the field beside us! It rose to flight as I grabbed the camera, missing it completely but revelling in seeing the beautiful creature spread its wings.
We were heading towards the ‘Virgin of the Ridge’, a church we featured in The Initiate and which had caught our imaginations. It had Templar connections for a start and retains some medieval wall paintings as well as some lovely stained glass and an unusual central tower. Our original visits had been marked by a very conspicuous absence of kites, yet half a mile or so further down the lane the kite swooped in low over the car and played above us for a while.
The church was open and we went in to renew our acquaintance with the place. We have had little time to spend in the landscape of the south this year; most of our time at this end of the country has been focused on the Glastonbury talks and our explorations have centred around the old Saxon kingdoms and the more ancient stones and circles of the north. Revisiting the sites here that had played such a part in the birth of our writing partnership was like calling on old friends. As we wandered round the churchyard the keening cry of a kite heralded their presence and two flew over the treetops. We shared a smile; when the hawks are with us, it is always a good day.