Friday, 23 March 2012

Newbury, Hampstead and Greenham Common

The weather is now not only dry but hot for March, uncomfortably so on a long walk with no breeze to help. This is the time of year when birds are at their easiest to spot, as the leaves are not out; and yet they have to stake out territory and find a mate. So the walk had a background soundtrack of continuous birdsong.

My route this time was principally along the Kennet and Avon canal through Newbury. As loyal followers of this blog will have come to expect, it joins up two previous walks I made last year, the one around Chieveley and the one from Brimpton. Here is a map of the 16 mile route:

View Thatcham - Newbury - Greenham in a larger map

I started at the Nature Discovery Centre on outskirts of Thatcham. A rather exaggerated claim as for most visitors the extensive children's play area, the tame ducks on the pond and the numerous dogs are the closest they get to 'discovering nature'. Still no doubt the high footfall justifies the maintenance of reed beds and ponds round about that are spared much disturbance.

Thatcham Discovery Centre

I crossed the Newbury-Exeter railway line, one of the few places that you cross without any barriers. And so to the Kennet and Avon canal, there were many shrubs with catkins along the banks


The scene along the canal is one of tranquillity.

Kennet and Avon canal

Spring plants such as Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) were lapping up the sunshine, rather a confusing plant as it has nothing to do with 'ivy'.

Ground Ivy,Glechoma hederacea

I am not a great fan of canal banks for walking, the combination of straight tow paths and still water leaves me bored after a while. Occasionally you come across pretty scenes such as these colourful boats.

canal boats

One boat had both a cat and a solar panel.

canal boat,cat,solar panel

For such an expanse of water you might expect to see quite a few waterfowl, not so, it was only close to the centre of Newbury with lots of free food that I saw them. Instead of my usual geese and swans I have chosen to include this photo of a Moorhen.


And so to the best scene on this stretch of the canal, a repeat of the shot I took last November.

newbury centre,canal

Continuing out west from Newbury along the canal, it was wild flowers that took my eye. Here and there the unusual looking flowers of butterbur (Petrasites hybridus) always close to the canal edge.


I can't resist including the brightest flower at this time of year even though there are so many of them: Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).

Lesser Celandine,Ranunculus ficaria

Also early are red dead nettles (Lamium purpureum) - dead because they don't sting

red dead nettle,Lamium purpureum

Coming up to Hamstead bridge I saw a dove in a dovecot which played peek-a-boo with me for a while.


Crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal the view back was suitably quiet and calm.

Kennet and Avon canal

My path then took me along the driveway through Hamstead Park. According to a plaque in the grounds, the U.S. 501st Parachute Infantry trained here before they took part in the D-Day Normandy landing in 1944.

Hamstead House

The path through farmland took me past a number of large, old oak trees which I think should be recorded as 'notable trees'.

notable oak

I was pleased to catch this squirrel having a good look back at me. Just along from here I heard an irregular dull tapping noise. When I looked up I could see a Greater Spotted Woodpecker hammering away for grubs in a dead portion of a tree. Regrettably it flew off when I almost had it recorded on film.


On reaching the road, I made a sad discovery, fairly recently a yellowhammer had probably struck a car and died. Its plumage is so delicately coloured.


My paths took me from Wash Common to Greenham Common with the sinister overtones of Cold War nuclear annihilation.

Greenham Common bunker

I walked right across the old base and out down into the Bowdown Nature Reserve, a very attractive spot, but as with woods at this time of year not that much to see.

Bowdown woods

I made my way down to the canal and back to the Discovery centre.