Ravensroost wood, Wiltshire
Inevitably, it rained. In the summer that has been no summer, on the day of the Wimbledon and European Cup final, the wood sat brooding and silent, caught in a long exhale, even the birds subdued into near silence. There was a tension to the air, a sense of sense of expectation, and I had barely set foot past the gate when the rain began. Desultory stuff, an unambitious but persistent drizzle, the grasses bowing before me, and eventually even the meadowsweet slowly bending in despair. Pattered hazel leaves shrugged it off, while the hemp agrimony, made of sterner stuff, pretended not to notice. I walked on, passing a sole ringlet butterfly, wings closed, its body carefully aligned to the shelter of the leaf above, and a scarlet tiger moth, whose red and black hindwings were carefully shuttered under black forewings, daubed in gold and white, that seemed impervious to the rain.
In the near-silence, it was the hum that I noticed at first. A steady tone, like a distant motorbike that never seemed to get nearer or further away. Tramping up the sodden track, the empty woodlands slowly came to life with darting, soaring shapes. I had thought to seek shelter from the rain in the old wooden shooting hut that sits in the centre of the wood. More lodge than hut, roofed with wooden shingles bent and curled with age, and walled with wooden boards decorated with stripes of split ash branches, it has crumbled and been repaired so often that its age is indeterminate, but is at least a century. But I was not the only one seeking shelter within it. Between two lines of ash, the hut was alive with honeybees, and they filled the air with the sound and movement of ceaseless industry. I tracked one as it flew, circling like an airliner waiting to land, before dropping swiftly down and into a small gap between the underlying boards of the wall. I stepped forwards, and was engulfed in a living cloud that swirled around me and before me, buffeted occasionally, but never stung. Inside the hut, I had expected to find walls glistening with dripped honey but found instead a giant poster put up by the wildlife trust, extolling all of the species you could find in the woodland on drier days, but unfairly making no mention of the bees.
As I left the hut to return home, SW19 and Wembley were still bathed in sunshine and hope, but the rain had hardened into a downpour, a foreboding of the dampened spirits that were to come. The bees, indifferent to weather and dreams alike, flew on.