Monday, 16 October 2017

Ashampstead and Aldworth

Normally mid October is a good time for fungi in the woods so I headed for some of the woods around Ashampstead. It was the day of hurricane Ophelia, that was battering Ireland at the time, its chief effect here was to bring in very warm air so I could wear a T-shirt for probably the last time this year. The route was a complex network of paths and lanes of around 10½ miles in total. Here is a map of the route:

I have explored this area quite a bit, other walks I have done include Jan 2011, June 2012, March 2014, Dec 2014. This time I was pleased to see blackberries were still in flower.

blackberry

And also in fruit.

blackberry

I walked north-east to the old village of Aldworth. It has a delightful church some distance from the centre.

Aldworth church

Its most noted attraction inside the church are the carved sandstone effigies of the de Beche family, known as the Aldworth giants because of their unusually tall stature.

Aldworth church,giants,tomb

Churchyards can be good for wildflowers as the soil is left undisturbed however many are mown too regularly to let 'weeds' prosper. At Aldworth there was some wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare) still in flower.

wild basil,Clinopodium vulgare

To my delight on the verge just by the church there were some somewhat rarer and more attractive flowers - Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens).

pale toadflax,Linaria repens

At the village of Aldworth I saw another unusual thing, this time an old Fiat 500 Topolino (c. 1940) looking rather splendid.

fiat 500

Up until now there had been periods of sun and pleasantly warm if not hot but then cloud came over. The sun became an orange glow, people around the UK were wondering if this might be the apocalypse. In fact it was a mix of Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian wild fires that had put particles in the air that diffuse the light.

sahara sun

I walked over fields to Westridge Green and just by the busy Streatley-Hermitage road was a mass of ivy in flower. There were two Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on the ivy somehow coping with the gusty wind. It was too windy to expect to see many butterflies, I only saw one other, probably a Small Tortoiseshell. May be the last I will see this year.

red admiral,butterfly,Vanessa atalanta

I explored a number of strips of woodland but regretfully no sign of fungi. There were plenty of pheasants though, I even saw a trailer full of beaters moving into position for a shoot. There are many still around including this female of the species.

pheasant

The cloudy conditions did not allow for many good panoramic views. The autumn colours were not yet very strong, and with the high winds many leaves had already fallen. This view gives a guide to the general view - lots of trees over undulating downs.

My hunt for fungi proved to be in vain. It has just been too dry in the last few weeks for them to choose to come up. I had deliberately chosen a walk through areas with clay that are somewhat damper, but no luck. I saw a few field mushrooms and this amazing area of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). The air was sickly sweet with the smell of them.

honey fungus

Walking back from Ashampstead Common back to Ashampstead a sweet chestnut had shed most of its fruits, luckily the winds didn't bring any more down while I was taking this photograph they most certainly would hurt a bit if they hit you on the head.

sweet chestnut

By the side of the track some splendid late flowering Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) were found.

self-heal,Prunella vulgaris

A final treat was a few clumps of what I hope is Wood Barley (Hordelymus europaeus).

wood barley

The sun came out again right at the end of the 11 mile walk. I was able to pop in for tea with a friend at the village of Ashampstead.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hartley Wintney and Three Castles Path

After a rather special 200th posting I set out on a less ambitious mainly farmland walk to the south of Reading. It remains an ambition to walk all the way around Reading (in sections), I have reached Basingstoke, Newbury, Wallingford, Henley and Wokingham. The missing sections are mainly to the south and east. It ended up being 14 mile walk.

I started off at Hazeley Heath. This is an RSPB reserve with large areas of boggy ground as well as heathland. Much of the walk was on acid soil as it overlays clay, quite a contrast to my last walk on chalk downlands. The views make you think of Scotland rather than somewhere only 35 miles from London.

Hazeley Heath

Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) was still out in the heathland area.

Bell Heather,Erica cinerea

Walking down to the Hart River there were fine Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) still in flower. A very invasive plant, that is pushing out native wetland plants. Current research is looking into a rust fungus from its native habitat that may help control it.

Himalayan Balsam,Impatiens glandulifera

I then picked up the Three Castles Path as it emerges from Warren Heath. In a field catching some warm midday sun was a horse and a goat. I immediately thought of ‘the lion lying down with the lamb’. Looking up the phrase I was astounded to find that there is no such Biblical quote, the closest is from Isaiah where wolves are with lambs; leopards with goats and lions with calves.

horse and goat

In early October you can easily imagine it to be late summer if you look at the oak trees. It will about another month before they lose their leaves.

oak leaves

I then came to the village/town of Hartley Wintney. I remember the late Frank Muir saying it sounded like a posh friend rather than a place. According to Wikipedia the origin of the strange name may be from ‘forest clearing where the deer graze by Winta’s island’. It is blighted by the busy A30 road running through the middle. It has appealing green areas near the centre. The modern church of St. John has a tower that reminded me of a minaret. A service/event was going on so I did not venture into the church.

minaret

The original church of St. Mary's is out on its own up the hill. It has some medieval wall paintings and was in the process of being extensively renovated. It is early October, and some harvesting was still taking place. If you ever wondered where potatoes come from, well this should help. The tops are mowed off first and then the tubers dug up and processed.

potato harvest

After taking another unintended detour by misinterpreting a blatantly clear sign I eventually arrived at Winchfield Church for lunch. It is a small church but unfortunately locked. It has one of those crazy early Norman doorways that make it seem you are in the land of Noggin the Nog or entering Hell.

Winchfield church

Continuing on the Three Castles Path I reached the Basingstoke Canal. It would have been good to walk as far as Odiham Castle and so meet up with a walk made a month ago but that would be too great a distance for one day.

Basingstoke Canal

I headed off to Odiham Common. This is an area I have never been close to before. The common is now a managed forest but with some old trees dotted here and there are some open areas. I spotted this Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) in one of the clearings.

Tormentil,Potentilla erecta

On the railway bridge over the main Basingstoke-London line there was many harts tongue ferns (Asplenium scolopendrium). Looking underneath the fronds the fruiting bodies (sori) were very evident.

harts tongue fern,Asplenium scolopendrium

Walking over more fields I came to the hamlet of West Green. It has a 'stately home' West Green House now managed by the National Trust. The hamlet had some other appealing buildings too.

West Green

Just opposite this house was a tree stump with a bracket fungus growing all over it. I guess it is of the Ganoderma family. The spooky effect is just down to the chance position of a couple of gaps.

Ganoderma,brakcet fungus

Well Green has a Common that is mainly mature oak trees. However it was the notice that really caught my eye. To have a woodland map as a wood carving seems a brilliant idea.

carved notice

I made my way back over more fields and close to a house found some Autumn Crocus (Crocus speciosus) out in flower.

Autumn Crocus,Crocus speciosus

There was also a lovely late flowering dog rose (Rosa Canina).

wild rose, dog rose,Rosa Canina

Coming back to Hazeley Heath I spotted a dozen or so Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) on the way suggesting it may turn out to be a good year for fungi.

Parasol mushroom,Macrolepiota procera

Friday, 22 September 2017

Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway

To mark my 200th posting to this blog I thought I would revisit one of my favourite spots and also do another section of the Great Ridgeway in the area between Swindon and Marlborough.But my start was delayed because I spotted in my garden not one but two Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum), these are not native - it is too cold in winter and they fly in on southerly breezes from the continent. They were feeding on an Abelia x grandiflora bush that is very good for late summer/early autumn bees and butterflies.

hummingbird hawkmoth,Macroglossum stellatarum

It is back in September 2004 that I last walked the route and little has changed. September is usually a good walking month - not too hot but this year there has been persistent cloud with a cool northerly breeze so I have only managed two this year. It is a 14 mile route:

I parked in the charming old village of Ogbourne St. George. It has some quaint old thatch cottages. These houses creating a difficulty with parking - they were built right onto the road with no thought in mind of space for cars!

Ogbourne St. George

I went passed the church and joined the Great Ridgeway on the track up Smeathe's Ridge. This is an attractive walk as there are good views to both sides. Feeding on the haws along the track-side were a party of meadow pipits. One of them allowed me to get close enough for a snap.

meadow pipit

The weather was 'sunny spells' and this can give interesting landscape views with dappled shade.

Smeathes Ridge,view

Many flowers were still out including Ladies Bedstraw (Galium verum).

ladies bedstraw,Galium verum

The whole area is vitalised by the horse racing industry. Lambourn is not that far away and there is a prestigious racing business up on the Barbury Downs. Usually the horses are out for a gallop earlier in the day, but I did see two horses in an energetic uphill exercise.

gallop

Barbury Castle is probably the most impressive hill fort in the whole area. It has great views north to Swindon and far beyond.

barbury castle,hill fort

The deep ditch around the hill fort was an ideal habitat for wild-flowers. I saw a good range: Knapweed, Small Scabious, Harebell, Eyebright, Thyme, Hawkbit and in place groups of Devil's bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). In the distance you can see a vast array of solar panels that have been erected on Wroughton airfield.

devils bit scabious,Succisa pratensis

I then headed east on what must have once been an alternative to the Ridgeway as it makes a short cut across the valley, saving a four mile detour. I liked this view of a small copse on Burderop Down.

copse

I then started to see the chalk downs on the other side of the valey of the river Og. The eastern arm has Liddington Castle hillfort at its northern tip.

liddington hill,view

Along the track a resplendent Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) was showing off the eyes that are often hidden away on its underwing. On the whole walk I saw Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Commas (quite a few), Speckled Wood and a few Cabbage Whites - unfortunately no Painted Ladies or Small Coppers. The track is called 'Gypsy Lane' that often indicates that it is a long standing route.

peacock butterfly

Having crossed the busy A346 Swindon-Marlborough road I started climbing up on the eastern side. A freshly ploughed field had a good show of poppies still flowering along the edge.

poppies

I joined the Great Ridgeway and headed north for a mile just so I could join up with a previous section I walked six years ago, almost to the day to Aldbourne and Upper Upham.

Turning back to head south, the Ridgeway is for three miles a rather uninteresting track with high hedges obscuring any view. However the shelter and warmth had attracted butterflies. Here I saw a number of Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) as with this one on elderberries.

comma butterfly

The Ridgeway then leaves the chalk downland to head to Southend where it crosses the River Og. I joined up with previous walks I did through Mildenhall and Ramsbury as well as Ogbourne St. Andrew and Rockley. On the way I saw spindleberries (Euonymus europaeus) about to burst open.

spindleberry,Euonymus europaeus

Soon enough I was back at Ogbourne St. George. The clouds cleared and I was able to get a better view of the church - which is of course dedicated to St George - than I had in the morning.

Ogbourne St. George

Walking down Church Lane a cat was wondering what I was up to.

cat

The high street of the village has one or two more old cottages that looked good in the late afternoon light.

Ogbourne St. George

Friday, 1 September 2017

Greywell, Mapledurwell and North Warnborough

I decided to tackle the longest standing planned walk that had lain un-walked for over five years. I seem to remember a vague plan of extending my network of walks as far as Farnham to complete the rather neglected south-eastern part of my local area. Here is a map of the walk:

I started at Greywell which is close to the source of the River Whitewater where fresh spring water flows from the chalk downlands to the south of Basingstoke. The water is nice and clear and water cress is one of the common plants.

path

The marsh-loving plants were still in flower including Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Purple Loosestrife

The stream is dammed to form a millpond and there is an attractive looking mill house, but this section is popular with walkers and so there is little privacy.

greywell,mill

The walk by the stream is part of the Three Castles Path that runs from Winchester to Windsor. I had by chance walked a part of the Winchester section through Itchen Abbas exactly a month ago. It seems like a reasonable long distance path to try to follow from end to end. The section began along a quiet lane and then along a track from ‘Four Lanes End’ to ‘Five Lanes End’. There was a good range of flowers in the hedgerows including a lovely Nettle-leaved Bellflower (Campanula trachelium).

Nettle-leaved Bellflower,Campanula trachelium

In fact this area had far more wild-flowers than my walk a week ago in South Oxfordshire. I then left the Three Castles Path and headed over fields to Mapledurwell. As the crop in the fields was potatoes the farmer had not sprayed with herbicide and there was a good range of ‘arable weeds’. Poppies were still flowering away.

poppy

September can be a good month for butterflies but this year with cool weather in August there does not seem to be that many. The Meadow Browns have gone and I only saw Speckled Woods (several); one Red Admiral; one Comma and a number of Cabbage Whites - this one is I think a Small White (Pieris rapae). So far this year I have not seen any Clouded Yellows, Small Coppers or Painted Ladies, but it is not yet too late.

Small White,Pieris rapae

Among the arable weeds still very much in flower, was a nice clump of what I believe is Lucerne (Medicago sativa) - which is grown as a leguminous fodder crop.

Lucerne,Medicago sativa

In the hedgerows the signs of autumn were showing - ivy in flower and plenty of haws and here, sloes.

sloe,blackthorn

I walked down to Mapledurwell which has another spring that feeds the River Whitewater. Along the emerging stream was a bank of bright yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus).

Monkeyflower,Mimulus

At Mapledurwell I hoped to see a good range of plants in a marshy area I saw seven years ago. It was not to be, a new housing estate has been built and the stream has been canalised so there is no nice marshy area any more. The only plant I could see really was watercress. So I set off back towards Greywell and to avoid a busy road followed a little used path on the edge of the M3. However, like last week, I had to run the gauntlet of cattle. Instead of bullocks this time it was cows with calves - which can be equally dangerous. So I was a little concerned when they galloped over to check me out - my path took me directly through the herd. After a little talking and arm waving they kept their distance, although I am sure they were just being inquisitive.

cattle

The path led to the end of the Basingstoke canal, the final section into Basingstoke has long ago been removed and built over.

Basingstoke canal

The canal is now mainly silted up with barely any water in places. Wildlife has moved in and now bulrushes occupy the main channel.

bulrush

I followed the canal path up to the entrance to the famed Greywell Tunnel at 1,230 yards which is quite a length. There was no tow-path so a boat had to be pushed through by using your legs to push on the walls - it could take six hours in virtual pitch dark. The disused canal has been taken over by important colonies of bats and because of this happy chance has been made an SSSI.

I then followed the rough overground path of the canal and saw in front of Greywell House a group of guinea fowl.

guinea fowl

At Greywell I joined up with the Three Castles Path again at the other tunnel entrance. Here the long distance path follows the tow-path of the Basingstoke canal for quite a few miles. Along the way is one of the reasons it is called Three Castles as this is the remains of Odiham Castle. The other two castles are Winchester and Windsor. Odiham Castle was built at the time of King John - conveniently half way between Windsor and Winchester which were then top seats of royal power. It then became a royal prison - for King David II of Scotland 1346-57. However it was already a ruin in 1603 with the fine facing stones re-used in other local buildings - only the 'rubble' core remains.

odiham castle

Here I decided there was not enough time to complete my full route, I has clocked up 9 miles and the whole planned walk looked like it would be double that and it was clouding over. So instead I headed back via North Warnborough. I explored a marshy area to the north-east of the village and there spotted a Grey Wagtail - always a delight to see these busy creatures.

grey wagtail

To the north of the village is a very good marshy area through which a small stream flows. It had a great number of wild-flowers that prefer damp conditions. I believe this is Blue Water-speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica).

Blue Water-speedwell,Veronica anagallis-aquatica

Another marshland plant that I was pleased to see still in flower was Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).

Ragged Robin,Lychnis flos-cuculi

I also found one plant of Marsh Marigold or King Cup (Caltha palustris) still looking like it was May rather than September.

Marsh Marigold,King Cup,Caltha palustris

Having completed this section I am left with quite a large gap to link it with my other walks. I have followed Wayfarer's Way to Dummer which is over 8 miles away to the West and I have reached the outskirts of Hartley Wintney six miles to the north-east. So there is plenty of scope for more walks in this area.