There are some things which we all take for granted and one of them is the simple feeling of Summer in a country town. In a technological age, when we all feel economic and economic pressures in our every day lives, something which is basic and free should be savoured.
It starts with that first-thing-in-the-morning feeling when you sense that you are awake but don’t open your eyes. Almost everywhere in our town you will hear birdsong. It may be the steady cheep of house sparrows, the repetitive inquisitive conversation of urban chickens, gently cooing woodpigeons, or even the shriek of pheasants. On a Sunday morning, and depending of your ritual, you may even hear church bells but it is extremely unlikely that you will hear traffic. We sometimes feel we are plagued by traffic jams and heavy goods vehicles but in the whole scheme of things that early morning sound of the countryside is a luxury we enjoy.
We look over to the curtains and invariably there is a stream of sunlight coming in and casting shadows in the room. I do think Ashbourne is a morning town. There are many days where it seems we have blazing sunshine until 11 o’clock and then the clouds start to form. Country light is clear and bright. We don’t suffer from the background level of pollution that larger towns and cities face. Somehow everything is a little sharper and more colourful. How apt the Derbyshire flag is in its choice of colours which seem to mimic the colours of the countryside around us. That eggshell blue sky with barely a vapour trail in sight is classic.
When you venture out you realise just how friendly the town can be. Lots of people will say hello – not just dog walkers or friends but even people whose routine somehow matches your own. You don’t need to know their name and address but the fact that you see their face occasionally is enough to share a nod. Walking into the town centre is a pleasure in itself regardless of where you live. With hills either side of the town centre many people have a downhill gravity-fuelled stroll with views across the town. You quickly notice just how green our town centre is and how the architecture frames everything. St Oswald’s dominates from almost all viewpoints but the Recreation Ground and the school stand out from the surrounding geography. The park is a thing of beauty while there are still very few people around. It is large enough for some peaceful solitary walking and to let a dog off a lead for some early morning exercise. You may easily stumble across joggers or tai chi practitioners. In the afternoons the distant whistles and cheers from the sports fields can be heard across in the town centre.
The unobtrusive tourism is evidenced in the town centre. Cyclists and touring motorcyclists will stop off and enjoy outdoor pitstops on the market square cafes. Cars with bicycle racks or even canoes, and those towing caravans seem to outnumber regular traffic at times. These aren’t your yellow-trousered, loud, camera wielding sight-seers: our tourists are here to appreciate the summer way of life we have. They are people who envy the fact we have this healthy outdoor life on our doorstep. That is a wonderful thought for me. I have never lived anywhere else where people go on holiday. We are fortunate too that Ashbourne is still a living, breathing town which, unlike Norfolk, Devon and. Cornwall, hasn’t been affected by holiday home owners who dominate in the summer months but disappear during the winter. You can enjoy the bustle by sitting at a table on the street outside a cafe or observing from above in Bennett’s. Rather than just observe I love the way that local people enjoy the things the tourists come for: the roads when I come home from work are full of local cyclists, runners and walkers enjoying the summer evenings. Whole families, elderly couples and budding athletes alike make their way into the surrounding countryside.
At the end of the working day as I drive home I can imagine the iconic view from Madge Corner down towards St Oswald’s in a golden evening light with maybe a hint of haze. The sunlight shines off the well-worn cobbles and the smooth flagstones look golden. The bunting casts a beautiful and mobile shadow on the roads and, at some times of year, the flags rustle slightly in the breeze. When I stop daydreaming I have to settle for the view from the A515 near Clifton looking at the sunshine on Thorpe Cloud with Ashbourne in the foreground and framed by trees.
On a weekend the air can be suddenly full of the smell of barbecues being lit and the bluish smoke takes to the air around the town as if we are about to spontaneously combust. We love getting out into our gardens and parks to make the most of the weather at the drop of a hat. It seems that we all have the necessary ingredients on standby ready to be used as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We really are a sociable lot – we like to share with friends and family. From behind wooden fences and hedges comes the sizzle of chicken, sausage and steak, the chink of glasses and the low murmur of friendly reminiscence and the squeal of excited children.
As the Summer Day rolls on we get to the early evening and I think of the beer gardens and the pubs with doors wedged open. I think of nights upstairs in the Bengal with the windows open to the streets below. Typically the roads are quite quiet and there are regular bursts of laughter from people enjoying themselves in the various bars and restaurants and occasionally the sound of music drifts across. It echoes off the stone and brick frontages. The town is just the right size so that you can walk out from one side of the town to the other without the need to drive – you may even benefit from a brisk end-of-evening climb up a hill to clear the head. By the Methodist Church there is a different sound with swifts noisily wheeling in their hundreds as they catch an early supper – a really distinctive summer sound. During the week the bell-ringing practice can accompany the evenings and at weekends the distant sound of motor racing on the land or microlight engines can be faintly heard occasionally.
When it finally gets dark at night I think of lying in bed with the windows open and hearing the occasional good-natured stragglers making their way home. As someone who has lived in cities it is easy to forget the contrast with the late night traffic, yobbery, regular emergency service sirens and house parties. Enjoy Summer in Ashbourne – it may not be a major event and hit the news but it is ours and it is a joy.