Saturday, 31 August 2013

Woodcote and Checkendon

A shortish walk (six mile) through chalk downs and woods around the villages of Woodcote and Checkendon in Southern Oxfordshire.

The first thing we saw was a village cricket match in progress at Woodcote. Good to see such a traditional summer event in full swing and not yet over.

cricket match

It was then off north on the Chiltern Way path into the woods. The first wood is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust (North Grove). From the edge of the wood was a view north-west to Didcot power station and Wittenham clumps.

view

From the path a patch of red was spotted in the hedgerow, going over to investigate it was suggested it was Guelder Rose with black Elderberries near by. In fact this shrub was not Guelder Rose but another Viburnum the Wayfaring Tree (V. lantana).

wayfaring tree

A lane running along the bottom valley led, appropriately to Bottom Farm, here late summer was evident by the conkers born by a Horse Chestnut tree. This year the ravages of the leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) moth larvae have been less severe.

horse chestnut,conker

The Chiltern Way gave good views along the valley.

valley view

Back into the woodland and there was a convergence of many public footpaths as you can see from this post indicating some of the many options available. Here we left the Chiltern Way and headed East.

path signs

In the woods by the side of the path was a low growing plant that looked like a balsam. It turned out to be Small Balsam (Impatiens parviflora).

Small Balsam,Impatiens parviflora

In places the afternoon sunlight lit up the woodland.

woodland view

Out again onto a lane and Scot's Farm had a number of attractive farm buildings. This rather decrepit barn had a very old oak (at the stag's head stage) growing next to it.

Scots Farm,barn,oak

Back into another wood and this time there was the unexpected bonus of some modern sculptures dotted around.

sculpture

Another sculpture, or could it be that one of my companion's has the Medusa touch?

horse,Paul Kerswill

The path led to Checkendon church, one of my favourites. It has many historic features. I like the round Romanesque arches (it is 12th century) with the apse behind the chancel. You can see a view of the outside on my previous posting.

Checkendon church

One of the features I missed out on last time, is one of the most modern features, a stained glass window by John Hayward. I don't know of any other which has music actually in the window. Appropriate as the window is dedicated to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians.

Checkendon church,stained glass

The walk back to Woodcote took us through a field of maize (or corn depending) six feet high.

maize,corn

The final section was through the grounds of the Oratory School, where acorns were ripening.

acorn,oak tree

The walk brings my total mileage of just the walks in these posts up to 992.8 miles, so the next one should take me past the fairly impressive thousand mile mark.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Holies in Late Summer

Normally I stay in on a Bank Holiday to avoid the traffic grid lock. This time the warm sun tempted me to out to look for an Adonis blue butterfly that I saw three years ago on a local National Trust nature reserve: The Holies. I went there at the end of May this year, when I bemoaned the late Spring and lack of flowers.

To extend the walk a little I included a section out to Stichens Green to form a three mile circular walk.

The first part took me through an old beech wood and then out onto a lane with many wild flowers still out. I get confused with the mint/nettle family still. I am told this is probably Black Horehound (Ballota nigraha).

hemp nettle

Further along and another striking flower, which this time I could identify, it is Common Burdock (Arctium minus).

burdock

The weather was of cumulus 'fair weather clouds' slowly moving south. I took this shot of the sun about to burst out from behind a cloud. I was not too sure how it would turn out.

sunburst

Another plant and another mystery. I reckon this in the vetch family, probably Crown vetch (Coronilla varia). It could be a garden escape as it was in the verge of a lane.

vetch

The aim of the walk was to track down the brilliant blue Adonis blue butterfly. Regrettably all I got to see were many hundreds of Common Blue butterflies. I chased quite a few glimpses of bright blue only to be disappointed. I may have seen one Adonis, but it disappeared before I could get close enough to be sure.

common blue butterfly

Snaking up through this area was excavations for a new water pipeline. I included this 'artistic' shot partly because it shows the thin soil over solid chalk rock and also because it is so striking.

pipeline

Now while I was disappointed with Adonis Blues I did have more luck with Small Copper butterflies (Lycaena phlaeas). These are a pleasure to see and my firm favourite as at last I have a reasonable shot of them.

Small Copper,butterfly

And not just one, but two.

Small Copper,butterfly

The other butterflies I saw were Meadow Brown (hundreds); Gatekeeper (loads); Small white (hundreds); Large white; Brimstone; Small Tortoiseshell; Common Blue and Speckled Wood. There were so many Meadow Browns that they were a bit of a nuisance because when I approached a clump of flowers they would all take to the air, together with the ones I was trying to sneak up on.

Back to flowers, and I do like the tiny flowers of Vervain (Verbena officinalis). Apparently a common name is 'Holy herb' due to its medicinal properties that are reputed to have been used on Christ's wounds.

vervain

My favourite flower at this time of year is the tiny orchid-like flowers of Eyebright (Euphrasia).

eyebright

Another flower that is fairly small yet striking close up is Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens).

pale toadflax

One sure sign of late summer is the appearance of Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella), I prefer to call it Felwort. Now these could be Chiltern Gentians, they are quite hard to tell apart, and also hybridise to complicate things more.

felwort,autumn gentian

From 'The Holies' you get some good views across the Thames to Hartslock and Goring, reminding you that this is the 'Goring Gap' which is the closest the Thames ever gets to running through a gorge.

Hartslock view

Just by the car was another harbinger of autumn, the seed cases of White Campion (Silene latifolia).

White Campion

Finally a couple of 'cheat shots' to sneak in. Two days previously I went on a Natural History society walk north of Reading. It was rather damp and the light was poor, however there was a star attraction: Violet Helleborines (Epipactis purpurata) a strange member of the 'orchid family' that seems to like deep ditches in chalky woodland. The violet colour is because the amount of chlorophyll is very low, they do not need it; instead they feed by mycorrhizal symbiosis - tiny root bound fungi. Flowering is irregular and plants long lived. If they happen to grow in a light area they will be greener. They are rather rare plants and good to see about 30 plants in all.

Violet Helleborine,Epipactis purpurata
Violet Helleborine,Epipactis purpurata