It was a happy accident that the house I bought when I moved to Exeter is very close to Ludwell Valley Park. It is my slice of countryside in the city, where I can wander down enclosed lanes, through fields of nodding purple grasses. Where people can walk their dogs, and occasionally grass board down the precipitous bowl edges, or toboggan if there’s the right sort of snow. Where I can pretend for a few minutes that there isn’t a business park just over the brow of the hill and the M5 isn’t a few hundred metres beyond.
Ludwell is one of five Valley Parks within Exeter. It’s a working farm, so from spring to autumn there are cows grazing, churned up mud around the gates, and cowpats a-plenty. A couple of fields are ploughed each year, by shire horses, and sown with barley and linseed to provide food for birds such as the rare cirl bunting. Other fields are maintained as wildflower meadows or scrub, or left as rough grassland. There are two cherry orchards, one new, where traditional varieties of trees are planted each year, and one Georgian, where the old trees are gradually being renewed. The plantation woodlands from the 1980s are being thinned and replaced with native species, and new woodlands planted. The hedges are full of ash, elder, hazel, blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose and bramble, a real Devon mix allowing wildlife to move around safely.
Yesterday evening, under the sunshine and gentle cumulus, the Park was thrumming with life: luminous fragrant sprays of elderflower; bramble and dog rose bursting with pale pink and the promise of future fruit; hazelnuts and cherries swelling to maturity; rabbits flitting in the edges of the new orchard; a buzzard hunting on the thermals. But in the midst of life, a white calf dead, lying on its side with legs outstretched, eyes half open and swollen tongue lolling from its mouth. And, strangely, not another soul to be seen.