Thoughts on Badger, Bees, and Re-wilding at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

View of Anne Hathaway's Cottage
A walk at Anne Hathaway's Cottage was a immensely satisfying. I met the bees and speculated on the return of a badger to a wilding area.

A walk in Anne Hathaway‘s Cottage gardens got me to thinking of Badger, bees, and re-wilding. The cottage and gardens are kept open by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. My daughter works there and was stationed in the cottage garden the afternoon I visited. The gardens of the all properties administered by the Trust are splendid. But the one at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is my favorite.

In the orchard, apples dotted the trees and were in glorious heaps of color on the ground. Later in the season, they will be harvested and made into cider that will be sold in the shop. I’m really sorry that I’ll miss the cider.

The Wilding Area

Not only does Anne Hathaway’s Cottage have a formal garden with lovely plantings of flowers and vegetables and a marvelous orchard, but there is a wilding area, or perhaps it is better named a re-wilding area.

Here in the wilding area, the apple and quince trees are surrounded by native grass and wildflowers. Our first stop was at the beehives where my daughter introduced me. Honey from these hives will be blended with that from other hives in Warwickshire and sold in all the Birthplace Trust shops. 

Telling the Bees

There are seven beehives at Anne Hathaway's Cottage.

It was my daughter’s solemn duty to tell the bees of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. “Telling the Bees” has its roots in antiquity.  Bees were thought to be messengers to the spirits. Unless they were told of important family events, they might quit making honey, leave the hive, or perhaps even die. She told the bees that the Queen had passed, but there was a new king, Charles III, so they could continue their important work uninterrupted. 

When Queen Elizabeth II died, the royal beekeeper, John Chapple, placed black ribbon on each of the six hives at Buckingham Palace and the two hives at Clarence House. He announced the Queen’s death. ‘You knock on each hive and say, ‘The mistress is dead, but don’t you go. Your master will be a good master to you.’ 

The Badger's Way

Badger, bees and re-wilding at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage? To the left of the beehives, there is a patch of tall grass, fenced in and with a gate. A sign on the gate reminds the staff to leave it open at night for the badger. During the Covid 19 lockdown in 2020, a badger moved in, making a home in this wilding area. The badger has made a path through the tall grass, through the gate, and into the orchard. I can imagine how much that badger must enjoy foraging for apples and quinces.

Looking at the path set me to thinking of Badger, that fearsome but kind character in Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I wonder if this enterprising badger has built a home on the ruins of an old city and what is served for tea? Apple dumplings, perhaps? Or maybe apple and quince sauce?

You can see the path that the badger has cut through the wilding grass. It leads directly to the gate, barely visible in the picture, and through to the orchard for apples and quinces.

‘Who can tell?’ said the Badger. ‘People come—they stay for a while, they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.’ Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame. 

What wonderful news, that Badger was right. Creatures of forest and field are an enduring lot and with patience and waiting, they, too may come back to make a home in wilding spaces we leave for them just as this badger has returned to live near Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

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