As afternoon mellowed to evening, a skittish east wind began to play. And with it, the unmistakable smell of smoke made its now-nightly debut.
It seems some people get a kick from lighting fires on our tinder-dry moorlands and natural spaces.
Some in ignorance, perhaps, enjoying the freedom of wild camping, not appreciating how quickly a fire can spread in this dry weather (I’m being kind, I actually think it is the height of selfishness and stupidity).
But some – I find it hard to believe – do it deliberately. There have been arrests.
Emergency services are stretched and coming from far and wide. Dwindling supplies of reservoir water are being dumped by helicopters on widespread fires on peat that will burn – and burn – and burn.
That’s tens of miles away. But even here, in our beloved dunes and pines, a fire was started – and, thankfully, put out.
I just don’t get it.
But anyway. Back to my Sunday evening.
It was some hours since we had walked on our local dunes. I took with me my latest toy, a new old camera. New, in the sense that I bought it on Saturday, old as in second hand.
In fact, I think for once ‘pre-loved’ is a valid description. Although it’s electronic, with touch screen and megapixels, it came with an old leather carrying case, all the instruction booklets, the guarantee (long since redundant) and a lingering air of reluctant parting.
I was frowning over the manual when the prof went inside for the first of two pre-arranged evening phone calls – this from a nephew who will be visiting him in Zambia this summer.
I gave up in exasperation and instead started examining the first crop of photos. And as I did so the battery ran out. Clearly I need a back-up.
It was then …
… but no, first, let me share our dune walk.
The soft, silky sand was hot underfoot, the going hard up the steep inclines. But early on we began to notice how varied the effects of the weather have been.
While grasses were parched and bleached in most of the upper areas, there were also sides of dunes that were lush and green. Valleys with leafy trees and, as we discovered, cool remains of brimming pools in the dappled shade of the slacks.
We disturbed a large bird of prey, I saw only the shadow of its departing wings – the prof saw a yellow beak – and it flapped off to find better sanctuary. Or to hunt.
Unfortunately the slack was also home to horse flies and we departed in a hurry.
The scent of honeysuckle wafted over us from time to time and pointilistic clumps of flowers spattered occasional bursts of colour amid the arid patches of sand.
The neighbouring golf course looked dry. The golfers hot.
And so it was, a cold beer in our local village and a selection of appetisers later, that I sat with my battery-devoid-phone, perusing the camera’s manual, when a little piece of wonder descended upon our outdoor table.
A small, pale brown butterfly settled on the booklet. My hand was sitting next to it, so rather than frighten the creature I left it there, in the hot sun that the butterfly – a rather moth-eaten (so to speak) Wall Brown – plainly craved. Their wings being organic solar panels, generating the heat that keeps their warmth-craving bodies happy.
And as I sat and watched, the butterfly moved. Adjourned to my hand.
I bent quite close and watched, but it seemed unperturbed.
It uncurled its little proboscis, into the gap between my ring finger – the one wearing a silver copy of Charlotte Bronte’s wedding ring – and my little finger.
I was a human reservoir! A secret reserve of salty water for my thirsty little companion.
The coiled and uncoiled strand of butterfly anatomy was so delicate, so tiny, so gentle, I felt nothing. Though I did feel the fleeting touch of the creature’s movements.
And as it finally flew, its wings brushing my hand, I was back on my mother’s knee. A child of four, or five, or six.
‘Give me a butterfly kiss,’ she would say, bending close, just as I bent over my butterfly.
And I would bat my lashes against her cheek.
I’ve always wondered if butterfly kisses were a ‘just our family’ thing.
But now, I know. They’re real.
If you are interested in the wider local wildfire situation, here’s a recent report from a Manchester newspaper.