The weather continues to be the perennial talking point, since the last post it has changed from dry heat to rain storms with flooding up north. Thursday was predicted to be the sunniest and driest and this is how it turned out. To keep off muddy paths I chose a walk up on chalk downs again, the downs are again reach the 260m high level as at the Ogbournes. It extends previous walks on the Inkpen chalk ridge south towards Ludgershall.
At the heart of this walk is the Chute Causeway, quite a curiosity as it is the exception to the rule that all Roman roads are straight and ignore topography. The Romans built a road between their towns at Mildenhall (near Marlborough) and Andover. At Fosbury (Haydown Hill) they met their match. The topography made the route untenable due to the steep slopes near Hippenscombe so the Roman road takes a wide berth on a natural ridgeway that forms a circuit of the Hill. It must have irked the Romans that they were showing deference to an ancient British hill fort Fosbury Camp by making their road go around it. I've put the Roman Road in red together with my 12 mile walk on this map:
View Tidcombe - Upper Chute - New Zealand in a larger map
The area has good views all round. Where I started at Tidcombe where there was a pheasant shoot in progress, and I was a bit concerned about being peppered with lead, so I took a slight detour. The guns don't really appreciate anyone disturbing the birds at this stage so I kept my distance. The view towards the north-east was impressive.
Even though it is after the equinox the season felt more like late summer rather than autumn. Plants like bird's foot trefoil were still doing their thing.
The path took me past a smouldering bonfire that farmer was using to burn the chaff from harvesting.
Another lovely flower complete with a micro-moth were Scabious (Knautia arvensis) .
Views north continued to be lovely.
The path headed east to the Iron Age hill fort at Fosbury and joined up with a walk I made around Vernham Dean three years ago. This time I headed south down a steep slope that makes the hill fort so easily defensible, here were many chalk loving plants. Among them was this Black Horehound (Ballota nigra).
At the Hippenscombe Bottom the wild-flowers gradually became 'farmland' arable weeds. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) was still at its best, with a few small flies too.
The farm had a grey mare and foal and it seems good to include at least some animals for a change. I think the foal is an 'iron grey' and is likely to turn 'white' or more correctly 'grey' in a year or so.
Heading south took me up a steep slope out of the bottom and then into farmland fringed with woodland. I had a fore-taste of autumn with this impressive crop of fungi.
To the north of the path I saw a sight all too rare these days, an actual 'hay stack' in a field (it's actually straw of course). These seemed taller than usual and worthy of a Paul Nash painting.
I'd now reached Upper Chute, a small village with a Victorian rebuilt church. One of the older monuments was to Sir Sidney Medows the Knight Marshall of England who died at the remarkable age of 92 in 1792. The coat of arms is interesting as it shows two pelicans piercing their own chests to feed their young with blood - an allegorical reference to Christ.
What I had hoped most to see on the walk were butterflies. Up to this point I had seen only a Speckled Wood and a couple of Red Admirals. At Upper Chute was a rampant clump of escaped garden mint in full flower, and on them were hosts of butterflies. I counted 7 Small Tortoiseshells and 5 Red Admirals with a few Common Whites for good measure. The Red Admirals proved rather flighty, but I did capture this Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae).
This small village also boasts a pub (the Cross Keys) that looks so well maintained that it is more a country hotel than a pub.
My path west was catching the afternoon sun and a number of butterflies were feeding on fruit and nectar in the hedgerows. There were a number of Red Admirals (my tally reached 12 for the day) but also 3 Commas (Polygonia c-album).
After a slight detour due to poor signage I reached Collingbourne Wood, a large Forestry Commission plantation of mainly young broadleaved trees.
Not much too see; all a little too regimented. One track side beauty was this (tufted?) vetch.
Crossing the track was a beetle, possibly Aphodies Rufipes (a dung beetle).
A shower cloud then came close but generated only a few spots of rain, I then took my trip to New Zealand. The path over to it turned out to be one of the most overgrown I had ever tried to follow, it started off fairly promising but ended with fences and five foot high nettles. New Zealand Farm itself turned out rather run-down, this Chicory (Chicorium intybus) was brightening up the farmyard.
Perhaps the name was chosen by people returning from the Antipodes. Here is my proof of my travels there.
The track took me back up on to the 'high' downs with commanding views all around. The clouds made this view out to the west very paintable.
Looking the other way the sun came out and enabled good views looking east.
To end I can't resist on going back to the highlight of the walk, the mint with all the butterflies. Here's another Small Tortoiseshell, a species under threat from parasites as well as bad weather.