Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Chase, Woolton Hill and Highclere

An opportunity to fill in another blank piece in my patchwork of local walks. This time I chose the woodlands just south of Newbury close to Highclere. Here the A34 Newbury by-pass takes a curve to avoid the Highclere Estate.

I wanted to visit a National Trust nature reserve called ‘The Chase’ as it is one I had never heard of, let alone visited. I was particularly concerned that the species list for plants was just Heather and Wild Candytuft - surely there must be other things there! I have not included a map of the route this time as I followed such a tortuous route that I can not really recommend.

Most of The Chase is woodland, mixed species but nothing that ancient. The reserve was gifted by Sir Kenneth Swan in 1930 to the National Trust in memory of Anthony Collett; he had a particular interest in birds, so it was appropriate that about the first thing I saw was a baby thrush.

song thrush

The area has acid clay soil and there are many small streams and damp areas.


I was then delighted to catch a roe deer in fairly sharp focus at close quarters.

roe deer,deer

I walked to the north-east corner of the site where there is a pool; along its margin was a good range of plants that like it damp: gypsywort, water lily, mint, meadowsweet and here Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata).

Skullcap,Scutellaria galericulata

Just close to this was a patch of orange flowers. I don't think it can be anything but Orange Balsam (Impatiens capensis). This is a non-native species that has escaped but it is not as invasive as Himalayan Balsam - later on I saw a whole wood taken over by this thug of a plant.

orange balsam,Impatiens capensis

It was then I had the main excitement of the walk, I was exploring the western edge of the pool and heard a couple of plashes followed by ripples. After waiting a minute or two there was activity on the opposite bank. I saw a small brown creature (a few inches long) busily moving and diving into the water. It could only be a pair of water voles - the first I have seen. Unfortunately I was not fast enough with the camera.

I then walked over to a more open area, the National Trust are now using cattle that helps create a more diverse habitat.


In this more boggy bit where was a brook running through there was a good deal of Brooklime with dainty blue 'speedwell flowers'. Its Latin name is Veronica beccabunga which is always a cause of slight amusement as I can't help thinking of Berlusconi...

Brooklime,Veronica beccabunga

There were some water mint plants in the area that had attracted butterflies, including Gatekeepers.


And a Red Admiral was sunning itself close by.

butterfly,red admiral

Reminding me that autumn fast approaches was a Red cracked bolete (Boletus chrysenteron) which is supposed to be 'edible'.

Red cracked bolete,Boletus chrysenteron

I left The Chase Nature Reserve and headed south following tracks, lanes and paths to skirt the village of Woolton Hill. I passed through Hollington Park which has a fine view of Hollington House.


Crossing over a field with a warning about a bull (there wasn't one) I headed for Highclere. Three friendly ponies barred the way, there large feet suggest some 'Shire' horse DNA?


In a small area of nettles within a wood there was a nice clump of Yellow Lousestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris).

Yellow Lousestrife,Lysimachia vulgaris

This was close to Highclere Church (St. Michael and All Angels). It was built by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1870 in high Gothic style on the foundations of a 13th century church. This would have been commissioned by the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, father to the famous one who went to Egypt and discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. Highclere Castle was of course the set used in Downton Abbey and you needed to book months in advance to visit it.

Highclere Church

I then walked north to Great Penwood. This is a large Forestry Commission conifer plantation. Just before the turning into the woods I could not believe my eyes as there was a solitary Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes) hiding underneath the Rhododendrons.

Green-flowered Helleborine,Epipactis phyllanthes

Here is a close-up of the orchid's flowers, one of them has grown two lips rather than one. It also shows the yellow 'blob' of pollen on the top flower that is intended to stick to the back of any insect venturing into the flower.

Green-flowered Helleborine,Epipactis phyllanthes

Dense conifer create a notoriously poor habitat for wildlife so there was not that much to see, here and there was some boggy ground with some wild flowers. This Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) was about the most interesting picture. It is in the same family as the Yellow Lousestrife and you can see the similarity in the flowers.

Yellow Pimpernel,Lysimachia nemorum