Friday, 6 February 2015

Whitchurch Hill and Chiltern Way

The first walk of 2015 took in a few sections of the Chiltern Way (Southern Extension) that I have not previously walked. My excuse for missing January has been the weather, the first part was of January rather wet and since then there has been little sun. Here is a map of the walk (11 miles):

As often is the case in villages, the easiest place to park is by the church. At Whitchurch Hill the church is rather strange. With the rounded apse making it look Saxon, however the church of Saint John the Baptist was designed by the Victorian architect Francis Bacon built in 1883. It has quite a pleasing shape, but was locked so I could not look inside. The village of Whitchurch Hill (to distinguish it from Whitchurch-on-Thames down the steep hill) is a relatively recent community as up until a hundred years ago there was no water and so there are only a few old houses around with deep wells.

Whitchurch Hill church

Setting out west on the Chiltern Way (just a network of joined up old paths) I immediately spotted a pheasant lying still, and I thought dead until it started moving; it must have been lying low to keep warm.

pheasant

The paths took me as far west as the land just above the Hartslock nature reserve with good views over the Thames to the Holies. I include this shot as for once I have a caught a train in motion - in this case a cross-country train on the line from Bournemouth to Manchester.

Hartslock

The flowers I had seen on my Christmas Day walk had all gone with several sharp frosts and a few dustings of snow. Only ivy had berries remaining in any numbers.

ivy berries

The overnight frost did not thaw at all during the walk and there was a keen easterly breeze. In some puddles the ice had formed into straight crystals.

ice

The only woodland flowers I found that were in bloom were Dog's Mercury on a warm spot facing south.

dogs mercury

The main point of interest of a walk at this time of year are the birds. I saw all the 'common' birds Great tit, Blue tit, Long tailed tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Blackbird, Crow, Rook, Red Kite, Buzzard, Redwing (I think). Few birds were co-operative about having their photo taken, this blue tit was about the best.

blue tit

The low winter sun and cool breeze created ideal conditions for distant views. This one was near Elvendon Priory.

view

On a south facing bank, wild honeysuckle was the first shrub I saw that was bursting its buds.

honeysuckle

My route took me near Crays Pond and then east into woodland south of Woodcote. The pond at Crays Pond provided a welcome drink of water for horses and travellers on the long trek over the dry chalk downs.

woods

A horse chestnut was showing some signs of Spring with its very sticky buds.

horse chestnut bud

Walking down through more woods I came down to the Thames valley at Hardwick. Here a number of trees have the round growths of mistletoe on them.

river thames

And a close-up of mistletoe with some white berries on it.

mistletoe

Another unusual plant is Butchers Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) which is in the same botanical family as asparagus and is a monocot but with un-grass like spiky foliage. It gets its name because it was tough enough to be used as a broom by butchers). The bush had one or two bright berries/seeds on them.

butchers broom

The late afternoon sun lit up the houses on Path HIll.

Path Hill view

Finally a grizzly sight to end on. I missed my turn in the approaching gloom and ended up at a farmyard guarded with geese. On either side of the high metal gate was a dead fox, presumably left out to warn off others to be so foolhardy to try to catch a goose.

dead fox