Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Warborough - Berrick Salome - Brightwell Baldwin - Chalgrove - Newington

As the winter solstice approaches (only a week away) it is a time to seek delights in buildings rather than flowers and fungi. So I chose to explore a group of South Oxfordshire villages on the one sunny day of the last fortnight. I was over ambitious with the length of walk - it turned out to be 12.5 miles which is quite hard to fit in to such a short day, I rather hastily completed the walk just as the sun set. Here is a map of the walk:

My start point was Warborough that is just east of Shillingford Bridge over the Thames. I last visited the village eleven years ago before I started the blog. The church of St. Laurence looked fine in the bright winter light. A sexton was busy re-erected a gravestone in the churchyard. The church has elements from early 13th century as well as 14th and 15th with the tower dating to 1666.

Warborough Church

Inside was a lovely old font. I have been collecting pictures of fonts for some years and already have quite a collection. The font is usually the oldest thing in the church and the designs are many and varied. These embossed lead fonts are quite rare, I have seen only two others at Long Wittenham and at Sparsholt. The lower 'ghostly' figures are abbots or bishops.

Warborough Church,font

I then headed out over the fields following a rather muddy track east. Along the way were some attractive looking fir cones.

fir cones

The next village was Berrick Salome which is not that far from Britwell Salome and is a village I had only once driven through in the dark. It is a small village with some nice old houses and cottages. I took pictures of over a dozen thatched houses on the walk, this will stand for them all. ‘Salome’ (pronounced Salem apparently) is a corruption of ‘Sulham’ and as that is the nearest village to home I feel a bit of a connection it means ‘hamlet in a narrow valley’. It seems ’Aymar de Sulham’ was the owner of ‘Sulham’ ‘Britwell Salome’ and ‘Berrick Salome’. ’Berrick’ is a barley field.

Berrick Salome

Nearly opposite the cottage, the sun was highlighting a weather cock. When I walked closer I could see rather than a cockerel this one has a whale to make the weather vane.

Berrick Salome

The detour to the church was well worthwhile. The church of St. Helen (quite a rare dedication to the mother of St. Constantine and for a long while considered of British ancestry) looks more like a Tudor mansion than an austere church. It looks homely both inside and out. It has a 13th century 'bee' in stained glass but the remaining glass is plain and that adds to its charm. Apparently Berrick Salome is on the old route from Dorchester-on-Thames (once a bishopric) to St. Albans.

Berrick Salome

The church has an interesting early font too. The rather crudely carved circle design is not one I have seen before. The date could be Saxon or Early Norman so a thousand years old.

Berrick Salome

I struggled to see that much of interest in the countryside at this time of year, the paths go through farmland with very little space set aside for wild-flowers. I saw lots of birds though. On top of a post I did find this lichen which has an interesting form.

lichen

The next village on the trek was Brightwell Baldwin ('bright well' - clear chalk spring water), a hamlet that is on quite a busy road. The large church is manorial - on the edge of the estate of the Lord of the Manor so that his tenants could come to services and be reminded of his control over their lives. The church has some rather bold and creepy monuments to the ruling Stone family.

Brightwell Baldwin church,church

I then joined Shakespeare's Way long distance footpath, this runs from Stratford to London via Oxford and Marlow. I had done a section of it through Russells Water and Cookley on my last long walk. The first portion goes through the fine parkland of the manor house and had some very old Lebanon cedars.

Lebanon cedar

Also in the parkland a red kite was perched on top of a dead tree. It got bored with me trying to get a good picture of it and to my delight just caught it as it was taking to the air.

red kite

The next village I came to was Chalgrove. When I planed the route on the previous night I had noticed there was a war memorial just north of it. I went to investigate even though it cost some precious daylight time. It is a monument to a battle of the English Civil War that took place on 18th June 1643 and was a significant victory for the Royalists under Prince Rupert. The monument is to one of the Parliamentary leader John Hampden who died at the battle, it was erected in 1843 to mark the 200th anniversary. This was an important battle because the Earl of Essex's methods were shown to be deficient and the Parliamentary side turned to Oliver Cromwell for a new style fighting force. The Earl of Essex had moved up from Reading towards Oxford. It is probably a little known battle because the losing side won it.

Hampden Chalgrove monument

I visited Chalgrove church which is still in the process of renovation, but not as interesting as the previous three churches. I passed a Mahonia bush in full flower and it was buzzing with honey bees who had been tempted out in the very mild temperature for a winter snack.

mahonia,honey bee

The village of Chalgrove has a rather strange arrangement. There is a chalk stream running along one side of the main street and there are a number of old 'black and white' houses intermixed with modern ones. Quite a few ducks were living a precarious life a few feet from the road. When I left Chalgrove along Shakespeare's Way I found myself walking through a set of allotments and here I spotted one plant in flower - it is the herb rosemary so it probably does not count.

rosemary

I then had to trudge across a recently ploughed clay field. My map reading was then challenged by a poorly marked out path taking me back south. I saw in the distance two roe deer looking my way and holding their ground, they were joined by two more. As I got closer they tried to leap over a fence - two managed to leap six foot or so but two could not make the jump and instead fled down the field I was in, I managed to catch one showing off its white rump.

roe deer

Towards the village of Newington I spotted a pheasant on the fringes of a farm.

pheasant

I visited the church at Newington - another manorial church in the estate of the local lord but it was locked and the churchyard too small to get a good picture. Still five churches in five different villages is not too bad for a day's walk. As I approached Warborough again the sun was just about to set. On the horizon are the Sinodun Hills (Wittenham Clumps) on top of which are Iron age fortifications.

Wittenham clumps,sunset

I couldn't resist including one final shot. A pair of border collies were soaking up the last bit of winter sun (a very mild day) on top of a wall. I was amused to see them bark at an HGV as it thundered down the road passed them.

dogs,collies

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Cookley Green - Park Corner - Russell's Water

While writing up my last walk I discovered there was another small section of Chiltern Way I had managed to miss. This runs from Park Corner towards Maidensgrove. Another project of the year has been to start retracing the Ridgeway as I did that over ten years ago so I included a missing section of that at Swyncombe. I started at Cookley Green and followed the Chiltern Way through the woods. Autumn had already changed to winter.

winter woods

Here is a map of the 8.5 mile walk:

The church of St. Botolph at Swyncombe is one of loveliest in the area. I have posted pictures of the interior before here is the outside with the old round apse.

Swyncombe church

Outside the church is a bell which I had not really noticed before.

Swyncombe church,bell

I then headed south on the 'Ridgeway' (this is not the route of the ancient track - it followed the modern road from Nettlebed to Christmas Common see Ancient Trackways post). It has been 13 years since I last did this section that links to my more recent Nuffield walk. It passes the grand Ewelme Park which had peacocks last time I passed. Today I thought the mansion's gate house looked good.

Ewelme Park

Having linked up with a previous section of the Ridgeway I headed east along the valley bottom through very pleasant woodland. The multitude of fungi I had seen just four weeks ago have gone - recent frosts have finished them off. All I could find was on a sawn tree trunk which had some fairly old bracket fungi covering it. I think it may be 'Turkey tail' (Tramates versicolor).

Turkey tail,Tramates versicolor

I haven't mentioned the weather, well the clear skies in November often bring frost and this year November has been colder than of late. Our normal wet Atlantic weather systems have headed north to heat up the Arctic rather than keep us mild and damp. Frost was on the ground for the whole day, but with no wind it did not seem too cold.

frozen leaves

At Park Corner I crossed the road which is the 'real' Ridgeway and continued east on the Chiltern Way. I was determined to find a plant in flower on the walk and white deadnettles (Lamium album) rarely let me down, they never seem to stop.

white deadnettle,Lamium album

I had not visited the hamlet of Park Corner on foot before and it has some attractive buildings.

Park Corner,house

This led to the uncharted portion of the Chiltern Way which turned out to be an attractive walk through fields and along hedgerows with fine views.

Chiltern Way view

I rejoined the section of the Chiltern Way I had walked amid vibrant autumn colours four weeks ago, all the leaves had now fallen. Rather surprisingly I found some blackberries still ripening and looking unaffected by the frost.

blackberries

With less than a month to go to the shortest day I was anxious to not to be left walking in the gloom, so I abandoned plans to revisit part of the Warburg Nature Reserve at Bix. Instead I headed up to Maidensgrove and enjoyed Russell's Water Common in the winter sunshine.

Russell's Water Common

I went to look for ducks at the famous Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang pond at Russell's Water. The ducks quickly swam away, I suspect a fox has been trying to get at them recently. A moorhen was not coping too well with the thin ice, he (or she) kept falling through.

moorhen,ice

The sun was going down as I returned to Cookley Green, the only deciduous trees with some leaves and still showing autumn colour were the oaks.

oak autumn

I am hoping for some snow this winter as it totally transforms the countryside. It is now seven years since we had a decent fall around here. However the forecast seems to be for it turn milder.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Nettlebed - Bix - Pishill - Russell's Water

I decided to complete a couple more missing sections of the Chiltern Way (Main and Southern Extension) to the north of Reading and also walking a fair deal of the Oxfordshire Way (which runs all the way from the Cotswolds to the Chilterns).

A recent switch to colder northerly airflow had brought on autumn all of a sudden. Beech woodlands give spectacular colours for only for a brief, few days, the leaves change rapidly and immediately drop. I seem to have chosen the right day for best colour this year. Here is a map of the 9.5 mile walk.

I started at the evocatively named village of Nettlebed, which is blighted by the busy Oxford-Wallingford road running through it. Nettlebed is famous for its bricks and pottery, this only came to an end a hundred years ago. The local deposits of Reading clay proved very suitable and a number of kilns were in operation. The only bottle kiln in the country that remains is preserved in Nettlebed, hidden amongst modern housing. A lot more about the Nettlebed kilns can be found here.

brick kiln,nettlebed

I walked west to Crocker End which also produced bricks. Here I found a maple/sycamore (ornamental) was in good yellow colour.

maple

I then followed the Chiltern Way (Southern extension) east through Wellgrove wood. There were a good range of fungi here .

fungi

At Bix Bottom I then picked up the Oxfordshire Way and followed it north. The Warburg Nature Reserve was showing fine autumn colours. I had caught the trees at just the right time - some are still green while others are deep red - no colour enhancement needed! The combination of green and red emphasizes the richness.

Warburg Nature Reserve,autumn woods

Flowers in bloom were in short supply, this dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) seem to think it was early summer.

Dogwood,Cornus

Continuing north the path took me to Maidensgrove (another evocative name) where beside Lodge Farm a garden had let Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) escape into the edge of the path adding to the autumnal colour theme.

Physalis,Chinese lantern

Oxfordshire Way then continued into some ancient woodland which had a good range of fungi. I had thought the camera would have chosen to focus on the mushrooms but it latched onto the foliage - but it still created an interesting effect.

fungi

My star fungi of the day was picked out by a ray of sunlight. I think it is False Deathcap (Amanita citrina var. alba). Not considered poisonous but so similar to the real Deathcap that it is not worth taking the chance.

false deathcap,Amanita citrina

The path then emerged into farmland and along the hedgerow I spotted a butterfly in flight and then tracked it down to where it settled. I was delighted to find that it was a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas); this is the latest (2nd November) that I have ever seen one. I did not see any other butterflies on the whole walk even though a Red Admiral is still around in my garden back home.

butterfly,small copper

Oxfordshire Way then continues to Pishill - a hamlet I had admired last October - and in the sunlight the little church/chapel looks much more attractive.

Pishill Church,church

I continued over fields and then into woodland to complete a new section of the long distance path. The managed woodland had less in the way of fungi but the autumn light was quite striking when it hit the odd tree in the woods.

autumn woods

I then left the Oxfordshire Way (I had previously followed its continuation towards Watlington) and turned onto the Chiltern Way. More woods and a few more fungi here and there were to be found. I think this is a form of funnel mushroom (Clitocybe) but not sure which one.

fungi,clitocybe,funnel mushroom

After a couple more miles I emerged onto a road and had managed to follow the full Chiltern Way correctly for once (there is a permissive path that you are encourage to take as it avoids walking along the road) and it was worth the detour - there was another woodland edge full of amazing colour.

autumn woods

The Chiltern Way leads through Russell's Water which I had visited in 2014 and 2015 so I need not add another picture of its famous pond. It then leads steeply down and on the path I found to my surprise a dead grey squirrel. Turning south onto what was clearly an ancient track there were old coppiced trees. I spotted this snapped off tree trunk and thought it looked unusual in the sunlight.

tree trunk

My ambition for this walk was to complete a missing section of the Chiltern Way (Southern extension), this is quite hard as the O.S. map says 'Chiltern Way' on lots of bits of path that are not entirely correct. I reached the point where the Chiltern Way (Southern extension) splits off from the Chiltern Way and followed it up the side of a valley towards the west side of the Warburg reserve. Here once again the colours were truly spectacular. You can see that the trees had already shed a number of their leaves to colour carpet the field edges. The path with the stile is the Chiltern Way - a section I have not walked so no doubt I will be back here again some day.

autumn woods

The walk then fringes the woods of the Nature Reserve heading back south to Crocker End. Along the way bryony fruits were shiny in the hedgerow. I think this is black bryony (Dioscorea communis) rather than white bryony - not so easy to distinguish now the leaves have gone.

black bryony,Dioscorea communis

I took in all 142 photographs, so this is but a very small selection. A memorable day full of autumn colour.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Peppard Common to Stoke Row: Woodland fungi

Mid-October is usually the bumper time for fungi and this year is no exception. I had mapped out this walk in July so I could go on a hunt for helleborines in deep, dark beech woodlands. I didn't manage it then but I thought the same route would be good for fungi. Here is a map of the 11 mile walk.

I started off in Woodland Trust's New Copse just to the north of Sonning Common. It has only a few old beech trees along its edge but had a good range of fungi. This was about the first one I saw. I had seen the woods for the first time last year and thought they deserved further exploration.

fungi

I do not believe in picking fungi either to eat or identify, there are just too few around for that to be a good idea. I would only be tempted if there were hundreds of them - and you rarely see that. Without picking them it is impossible to safely identify many of them. The next ones were tiny, just appearing out of very decayed wood. I think they may be an immature form of the jelly cup group of fungi. I suspect Beech jellydish (Neobulgaria pura) or Anemone Cup (Dumontinia tuberosa).

Beech jellydish,Neobulgaria pura,fungi

I crossed over from Old Copse to what else but New Copse and along its eastern and northern edges I found another good range of fungi, including Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) as you can tell from the Latin name this used to be Jew's Ear and has been renamed to spare our blushes.

Jelly ear,Auricularia auricula-judae,fungi

Also Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) with its fine wispy edges.

fungi

Squirrels were active in the woods. Some were too busy stashing nuts to take too much notice of me.

Shaggy Parasol,Chlorophyllum rhacodes

I then headed north along a quiet lane towards Stoke Row. In the banks were quite a good range of fungi. The Magpie inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea) seems fairly common in this area of the Chilterns, it likes chalky beech woods.

Magpie inkcap,Coprinopsis picacea,fungi

I then followed Judges Road before cutting north to Stoke Row. I stopped for packed lunch on a bench by Maharajah's Well (pictures no better than ones I previously took here in 2009 and 2011) and then set off north over farmland. A reminder of the season came from berries already out on holly.

holly

Following various paths, I had the unfortunate incident of ripping my trousers while negotiating a stile. Fortunately I was able to continue without outraging public decency any more than usual. I then came to English Lane that was one the one spot there were one or two hedgerow blooms still in bloom. This is Field woundwort (Stachys arvensis), one of the last nettle family members to see still in flower. I had hoped to see some butterflies on these flowers but regret to report I did not see a single one all day.

Field woundwort,Stachys arvensis

One of my perverse delights in these walks is linking up with previous walks, this is particularly pleasing when I manage to join from a new direction. This time I revisited English Farm that I had been to on my previous long walk. The old barn was still looking glorious but for a change I include the picture of the farmhouse.

English Farm

Following a path east along hedgerows and spinneys I noticed an oak tree had considerable mildew and on looking more closely on the underside spotted the strange lumps that are the homes to tiny wasps inside the galls. In this case probably Spangle gall wasp (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum).

Spangle Gall,Neuroterus quercusbaccarum

Howberrywood has the misfortune of a public footpath going straight through their front garden, a new 'permissive' path has been created to take you on a detour but there was only a map showing this after you have reached the far end. The track then enters Nott Wood. I had walked through here five years ago on the way to Nettlebed. This turned out to be very rich in fungi with mushrooms of one sort of another wherever you looked. It was here I spotted a good example of one of my favourites - white coral fungus (Clavulina corallloides).

white coral,Clavulina corallloide,fungi

Very close by, along the same bank and ditch, was another strange fungus. This is Elfin saddle (Helvella crispa) that looks like it has a disease to make it so distorted. The traditional flat mushroom head has become a series of curves and lumps.

Elfin saddle,Helvella crispa,fungi

Here is another example of an Elfin saddle that is more recognisable as a 'mushroom' with its fluted stalk.

Elfin saddle,Helvella crispa,fungi

Through economy of space I shall miss out many of the more 'standard' mushrooms growing there, without picking them and seeing the gills they do not make good pictures. The lane led me down to Newnhamhill Bottom with a glimpse over fields to the woods beginning to turn autumnal.

woodlands

Along the bottom of the dry valley I spotted another favourite fungus, pure white Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) which is fairly distinctive because it is glistens with a film of 'mucus'.

Porcelain fungus,Oudemansiella mucid,fungi

A very common fungus that grows on very decayed wood is Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) {I refuse to use Sulfur}. The yellow/orange tints make it look attractive. It often forms spectacular displays like this one.

Hypholoma fasciculare,Sulphur tuft,fungi

I took a track along Greyhone Wood and here were another spectacular group of white coral fungi.

white coral,Clavulina corallloide,fungi

The last section of walk back to Peppard Common was through Great and Little Bottom woods. By now clouds had come over and the low sun made for insufficient light to spot many fungi. When I paused to look at a map I did find one tiny little fungi. I would not have found it in my main Fungi book had it not been featured on the cover of another book. I think it is Little Wheel toadstool (Marasmius rotula) looking unusual as it grows out of a tiny plant stem.

Little Wheel toadstool,Marasmius rotula,fungi

When the sun did come out it showed the beech woods still pretending it was late summer.

woodlands

The shafts of sunlight highlighted some fungi I would not have otherwise spotted. I think this little beauty is Rosy bonnet (Mycena rosea).

Rosy bonnet,Mycena rose,fungi