Under lowering skies, the lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea in the village commons at Brill, Buckinghamshire. We were there to attend a big garden party with extended family, friends and assorted villagers, preparations for which gave us just enough time to wander around this extremely picturesque English village.
“Brill” is a conflation of two different words for “hill” in the ancient dialects of two native tribes, breg (Brythonic Celt) and hyll (Anglo Saxon). A local author named J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have based his fictional village of Bree on Brill.
Brill is aply named. The view takes in all or part of three counties in the heart of England, a rolling countryside reminiscent of southeastern Pennsylvania, only with a lot less corn (maize) and a lot more sheep.
This was my first visit to rural England, and several things stood out for me. One was the English love of gardens, here demonstrated by a small corner of Rachel’s father’s garden bordering a 17th-century brick wall and dovecote. I’ve been impressed by this in London, too, but in Brill, it was easier to observe how gardened spaces transition into wild and agricultural spaces.
Wild volunteers such as this hart’s-tongue fern seemed to be tolerated in many places. This wall, by the way, bordered a designated public footpath — something else that really impressed me.
Where footpaths crossed pastures, they were outfitted with so-called kissing gates.
The Common turned out to be a good place to botanize — and also to baptize a new pair of wellies, which I bought in a farm-supply store in a neighboring village.
Brill is famous for its springs. This one harbored a small colony of ragged robin.
Nearer to the road, we watched a bumblebee with an orange abdomen visiting a stand of orange hawkweed,
and red campion thrust its blowsy blooms above the grass.
The centuries of intensive land use seem to have selected for very human-tolerant species. We saw and heard numerous blackbirds — my favorite singers here so far, thrushes and woodpigeons (above).
This stately ash is part of a fenced and pastured woodlot.
A pair of jackdaws posed beside a pair of chimneys.
The Brill windmill is “one of the earliest and best preserved examples of a post mill (the earliest type of European windmill) in the UK,” as the Wikipedia puts it. It’s been preserved as a kind of town mascot. Apparently, a near-by landowner is exploring the possibility of installing a modern industrial wind turbine, which would rather dominate and diminish the local landscape,
and perhaps spell trouble for the red kites, which swooped and hovered low over the rooftops of the town all afternoon.