I took Principal Stonebreaker’s suggestion to visit Ot Moor (or Otmoor) to heart and waited for a suitable break in the weather. Her advice came with a rather lengthy digression concerning Plato’s Timaeus and Critias wherein we find the very first account of the island realm of Atlantis. I did not mention that I had already written something about Plato and Atlantis as it would be unwise to draw my employer’s attention to this place, but she did remind me that, according to Plato, the Atlantean Prophets observed the movement and habit of birds as a means of divining the future. Quite what relevance this had to Ot Moor escaped me until Ms Stonebreaker pointed out that it is well-known among the ‘birding’ fraternity for its immense flocks of waterfowl and starlings for whose benefit the Fellowship of Feathered Friends preserve Ot Moor as a wildlife refuge.
So, for my first excursion into Oxfordshire upon Digby’s bicycle, Ot Moor it was and conveniently, my route took me past the Abingdon Arms at Beckley!
Outward bound to Ot Moor I cycled past the inn without stopping, partly because daylight hours are so limited at present and partly because – and I make a hostage to fortune saying this – if there is one aspect of Digby’s bicycle that disappoints, it is the brakes. Beyond the inn a little lane briefly follows the contours of the hillside before plunging leftward whereupon the view opens out above the hedge. I confess to being somewhat unimpressed as I had hoped for something like the grandeur one finds in the view from the Mendips towards Wells and Glastonbury or that from Glastonbury Tor, where I was only a few months ago. Though pretty enough, I thought Ot moor had none of the Somerset Levels’ great expanse and though there was no effort involved in continuing on (it was entirely downhill!) I did so with a question mark against the venture.
I shall say now, it was a question Ot Moor had begun to answer even as I walked to the first of the hides set up by the FoFF. I doubt I have ever seen such a fecundity of autumn fruits and the reeds and teasels against the sky were quite stunning in their intricacy. I am certain one can have a much easier view of a swan on the Cherwell or the Thames, but somehow this seemed another kind of swan: a wild relative of those haughty bread beggars who scorns human company and is all the better for it.
Ot Moor may not be wholly wild and nor is it made on a grand scale, but it is quite charming and indeed its very smallness adds to its charm. The facilities set up by the Fellowship of Feathered Friends are simple indeed but perfect in their modesty and everyone I met was friendly. Perhaps the ancient Atlanteans did indeed divine by the motion of birds for certainly the flock of starlings I observed quite fascinated me. It is true that patience, and, on a November day, quality knitwear are essential, but I have often found that spirituality requires stillness and thermal clothing and though I had sight of a church, I was truly in a church made of the very air itself. I’ll let my photographs tell the rest.
The following are from the first of the FoFF’s hides, a substantial roofed hut with viewing windows overlooking the water.
They proved only the introduction to the main event. The second of the FoFF’s hides was nothing more than a screen of reeds and offered no protection from the elements. Fortunately, none was needed: the sky remained clear and as the evening deepened into twilight and the reeds lost their golden glow, the birds gathered.
And then it was over except for a lone heron flying above the reed beds.
Thank you Digby for the loan of your marvellous machine and thank you Principal Stonebreaker for your advice. I divine from the motion of birds that I shall certainly return to Ot Moor another time.