Summertime. The Downs were calling me again. I knew it was time to walk their soft turf once more; I knew it in my head, in my heart and in my bones. The orchids would have their colourful heads above ground by now, and if I delayed any longer I would miss out. A short train ride south, then a hurried walk in which I barely paused for breath, so keen was I to get up on those hills; above the noise, above the people and their buildings and their roads – up to a realm of air, with nothing between the flower-studded sward and the clouds themselves.
The path up through the woods is steeper than it looks and takes a fair amount of puffing to trudge up, but some reward was seeing the plentiful flower spikes of that dour orchid the Common Twayblade; a little past their best but the large, saucer-shaped leaves are distinctive. Emerging onto the open top of the hill is rather like when a plane finally breaks through the cloud layer into the bright, clear world above. Despite the fact it was overcast and a southerly wind was thrashing with gusto across the face of the land, the top of the Downs still felt like the best place in the world to be at that moment.
Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were still singing, perhaps with a little less vim than on my last visit in early spring, but their voices still cut through the breeze as if it wasn’t there and the trilling notes warmed my soul. As I wandered across the slope I could already see the flower spikes of Common Spotted Orchids in their varied shades of pink and white dotted here and there amongst the ant hills and cow pats. Although these flowers are highly variable in shade and pattern, it is not hard in this context to tell what they are even from a distance – as their shape and structure is easy to pick out with practice.