Bucolic contrasts under low cloud - the land between Sandy and St Neots

December 5th, 2020

Tingling droplets still hanging in the air from the clearing mist, with not much daylight left, we finally managed to find a place to record. A lonely outcrop of oak trees beside the trackway, with a clear view of the surrounding landscape. Magpies circling. The spot had an interesting feel to it. We found later that the track dated back to the Iron Age and then became a roman road. Half a mile back down the track we stumbled upon a long overgrown airfield, a barn in a cluster of trees containing a memorial to the people stationed there. During WWII it was known as RAF Tempsford. Covert missions were deployed into occupied France. Now, from this little outcrop of trees, the air is ringing under low cloud with the sounds of today's bucolic contrasts. Of sounds near and far. Of harsh tchacking magpies and distantly mellifluous starlings. Of a loud croaky wood pigeon at roost in the tree, and of a pheasant making its creaky calls as it roams the nearby field. Of trains skimming the horizon on the mainline from London to Peterborough. And of a noisy farm vehicle as it rattles and splashes and bumps right past the microphones on the puddled trackway. Then by again. Grittily tracing its way back to the far field whence it came. It's a late November day, less than an hour to sunset. There's a horse, echoes of bird scarers from across the fields, and still a bee, buzzing by left to right between the leaf-bare trees.  One for sorrow two for joy, three for a girl four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. 

Tidal water mirror still - a sound view from Canvey Island

November 28th, 2020

A bird calls out. Its cry carries far out over the water on this, a rare day of no wind. Not even a breeze or a whisper of leaves in the trees. Cows low from farmland on the floodplain beside the Thames Estuary. From a hidden nest, little birds flutter in and out. What planes there are pass softly, almost inaudibly, but just enough to reveal the vastness of the bright afternoon sky. It's hanging on, the light, longer for a late November day. Away from the footpath down a thick grassy slope we found the water, at rest between the tides. Shallow over boot stealing mud, it was mirroring the sky. A corner within the landscape of visceral stillness. Tiny bubbles are popping on the surface of the water. Almost too delicate to hear. We lower the tripod to get the microphones closer, then carry on with our walk to let them record alone. To the keen ear, murmurs waft in from out over the estuary of curlew, avocet and geese. Crows caw. A horse neighs. The air vibrates. This isn't just a pastoral landscape beside a wild estuary, it is edgeland too.  On the western horizon, three perhaps four miles distant are tall cranes at work shifting containers. They place and drop, each makes a gentle roll of thunder. It's the London Gateway Port. The still water bubbles and pops. The little birds flutter back. Walkers clink the gate up by the field but this spot is well hidden from view. And what was that? Something plopped into the water. Or jumped out of it? Who knows, there was no one here to see.

Night beside a stream in Wales (sleep safe)

November 21st, 2020

Up in the hills about three miles from the mid-Wales village of Ceri, there's a stream. It runs down into the valley mostly parallel to a road. The landscape is largely uninhabited. It's a very peaceful spot. To make this recording we had to push through thick brambles and climb down into a dell where the stream flows bright and shallow over worn stones. Sheltered within steep banks ankle-deep with dry leaves and beneath budding trees, the stream flows with a crystal clear clarity. We left the microphones to record overnight (see also episodes 13 and 21). This is the hour from about 3 to 4am.  All the birds are asleep, except for a pair of tawny owls that can be heard calling to each other at the beginning. Cars occasionally pass up on the road in front, a reminder that there is an outside world beyond the perfect stillness that exists within this hidden dell. It is rare to have captured the sound of nothing happening.

Gulls at low tide along the River Thames

November 14th, 2020

Where the Thames path draws level with the iconic towers of Canary Wharf on the south side of the river at Rotherhithe, we climb up and over the tide wall, then descend steep slippery wooden steps down onto an empty beach to find a place, to put the microphones. The tide is going out. Lazy waves lap and wash over the wet claggy mud. Flocks of squawking gulls scavenge along the shoreline. The air is humming with a city rumble. A vast panoramic vibration, silky, wide, like hearing the sky in sound. This area is a beating heart of global business, yet from this beach it's an astonishingly peaceful, even tranquil place. We are mid-way through another lockdown. A lone siren wavers along a distant road. Flagpoles rattle in a gentle breeze. A floating landing stage nearby rises and falls on the swell. Each time it knocks against its moorings in deep reverberant cluncks. It swings to and fro, like a slow pendulum. A tug boat gradually approaches from the west, then passes, ploughing its way east on the out-going tide. It's v-shaped bow wave rolls heavily towards the banks, then breaks past the microphones in surges of white wash. The gulls bob and leap.

Low tide on the Thames Estuary at Benfleet creek (no loud noises and best with headphones)

November 9th, 2020

Bonus episode to mark 10,000 Radio Lento downloads. This is a shorter but no-loud-noise version of episode 29 'Trains planes and estuary birds'. Now in high definition sound, this an opportunity to hear the evocative sounds of the Thames Estuary at low tide, without the noisy aircraft which was included in the original episode. Since starting the podcast, we've covered 142 miles on foot with our children and the microphone gear, listening out for peaceful places to record. We don't have a car, so travel out of the city where we live on public transport. Trains can often be heard in our recordings, as they can in this one. It's a cloudy late August afternoon on the banks of the Thames Estuary near Benfleet in Essex. Wild gusts of wind race in over the water. Birds swoop and swirl over the exposed mudflats, hunting for food. Redshanks, gulls, little egrets, oyster catchers, curlew, avocet, crows. When the wind drops, the newly exposed mud and silt can be heard bubbling and popping in the drying air.  

Jackdaws and flooded winterbournes - watery emptiness

November 7th, 2020

On the edge of the Bayford Pinetum in rural Hertfordshire, in view of the surrounding farmland, there's a young birch tree, growing in a secluded hollow. In early September the foliage here was humming with late season bees, feeding on ivy. Now in late October, the land is rain sodden and the dell is flooded waist deep. Rooks caw and kaah, from high in the treetops. The air is alive with the watery sibilances of rushing winterbournes. Flocks of jackdaws tchack tchack over the claggy brown fields, ploughed over since our last visit. The occasional train slides smoothly through the forest, on the line that links Hertford North with London. Propeller planes hum over on their weekend flights. Jets pass, muffled in the cloud. High leaves rustle gently in the cool autumn breezes. They haven't got long to fall.

Tawny echoes in the cathedral of trees (sleep safe)

October 31st, 2020

Night has fallen over the Forest of Dean. In the clearing where we left the microphones, the cool nocturnal air has begun to echo with the calls of tawny owls. Cars passing on the distant forest road hush like banks of wind through the high tree tops. Down on the forest floor, hidden beneath the twisted vines, a stream is revealed. Its watery eddies sparkle brightly through the darkness, reflected and amplified by the broad leaves above. When there's no light in a forest everything sounds different. Sharper. What was close, is closer. Reverberant. What was far, is farther away. But between the echoes, there is silence. Between the tree trunks, branches crack, a creature squeals, a distant dog barks. Murmurs of murmurs seep through from the outside world. Falling softly on the gnarly bark of this ancient tree, in this giant forest where the owls live, these are the sounds of the night-time passing.

Rain in Abney Park

October 24th, 2020

Tucked behind buildings, encircled by busy roads in the borough of Hackney in London, there's Abney Park. It's one of the 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries of London with marble-topped tombs half hidden by vines. It is a designated nature reserve protecting a rich ecological environment. Locals nip in, to take their dogs for a walk, to clear their heads and to get lost on its winding paths. It's home too for a rich variety of birds, including green parrots. Planted as an exotic arboretum in 1840, there are around 200 trees, some still remain from that first planting. It's a mild October day, and the rain is falling. Everything is being drenched. After a long time walking under dripping canopy we find a spot for the microphones. Set back from the path it's a small leafy hollow, bisected by a diagonal spur growing out of an old oak. The rain is falling heavier now, sifting down in waves down through the branches, pattering onto millions of waxy leaves. These old trees are bathing in it. They're pushing away the noise of the city, and sheltering the tranquillity of Abney Park under their boughs. 

Wind over the Bridgemarsh Marina on the Dengie Peninsula

October 17th, 2020

While we went off to explore along the river banks of the Crouch, we left the microphones behind to record on the windowsill of a derelict shed just inside the deserted marina on the leeside of the prevailing wind. As time passes, yacht masts set shaking in the wind ring out, some like bells. Taught lines whistle. Restless halyards knock and settle. A redshank, some cawing  crows, impatient gulls and a curlew. There are starlings too, perched on the power lines. A late foraging bee, a propeller plane, and some distant motorbikes on the B1010. It's afternoon, but a cockerel makes it sound like morning. Two dogs bark distantly while two men tinker in a nearby shed beside some dry-landed rocked-over boats. A jet plane softly rumbles out to sea, far above the marina. There's a flag near to this shed. In the wind it is restless, flapping and furling and unfurling.

Suffolk Wood part 5 - the hour to 1am (sleep safe)

October 10th, 2020

Night has come, and owls, to clear the slate. In this wonderful old wood the August air is still and filled with brightly chirping crickets. A propeller plane hums into the Eastern sky, its sound mixes with the soft rumble of a high-altitude jet, and dissolves away over the wood. The feeling of peace is mesmerising. Hidden in their treetop nests, countless wood pigeons, wrens, robins and rooks are sleeping. Still as statues the trees stand waiting. Dead branches drop, some fall with a single thump, others clatter down through leaves. Sounds float into the wood blurrily from the world outside. Ducks and geese, hints of far-away night traffic on the A12, and ghostly echoes, cows and sheep grazing the surrounding meadows. Is time really passing or is the wood dreaming? It's sifting yesterday away. Then, a bell strikes 1am. Beautiful. Crystal clear. The parish clock, several miles away and barely audible during the day. There are murmurs of a breeze throughout, and hazes of tiny delicate sounds like flurries of dry rain that come in waves. Perhaps leaves microscopically jostling in the cooling air.

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