Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ewelme and Brightwell Baldwin

The first long walk for some time was spurred on because of a forecast change to the weather - with hopefully some much needed rainfall.

The excuse for this particular route was yet again to extend the exploration of a long distance path, in this case Shakespeare’s Way. It follows a route that Shakespeare was most unlikely to have followed from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. Here is a map of the 11 mile route.

I started off at Ewelme. I have previously reported walks around this ancient village with its strong links to Chaucer. I looked at the magnificent church again - built in ‘Suffolk’ rather than local style and also at the grave of J.K. Jerome of Three Men in a Boat fame. Rather then repeat the same pictures, here is a detail of a gargoyle at the western end of the church.

Ewelme church,gargoyle

Following the Chiltern Way from Ewelme I climbed up to Swyncombe Down, a rich chalk downland. Here there was masses of Chalk Milkwort (Polygala calcarea).

chalk milkwort,Polygala calcarea

One of the rarer British butterflies is the disparagingly named Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). I saw six individuals on the sunny south facing side of the nature reserve.

Dingy Skipper,Erynnis tages

Good views into Oxfordshire were to be had from this northern edge of the Chilterns.

I then followed the Chiltern Way to its junction with The Ridgeway. The ridge that leads to Swyncombe Down follows an ancient boundary with many veteran trees and woodland plants including carpets of Woodruff and Sanicle. As it is May, hawthorn was coming into bloom.


This stretch is not a Ridgeway and not an ancient route. I turned north off this excuse for a Ridgeway onto Shakespeare’s Way which here is an ancient track with some interesting plants along the way. The more common plants include Germander Speedwell.

germander speedwell,

The track brought me to the village of Britwell Salome and this time I remembered to take a look at an old yew in the churchyard of its small church. A recent survey (2013) considers the tree to be 1,400 years old. This is quite a good age but the oldest yew tree in the U.K. is now considered to be 5,000 years old so this tree is a mere teenager but it is still one of the oldest yews in Oxfordshire

Britwell Salome,yew tree

Shakespeare’s Way then continues north towards Brightwell Baldwin (the term ‘Brightwell’; ’Britwell’ refers to the clear, pure chalk stream water). It is another ancient track lined with trees and shrubs. Just leaving Britwell Salome the grass verge had a nice display of the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers. It was introduced from Europe and grown as a medicinal and ornamental herb; however there are closely related species that are native to Britain.

Star of Bethlehem,Ornithogalum umbellatum

A nice surprise was to see thee hares (Lepus europaeus) that I disturbed, one dashed off to my right while the other two ‘hared off’ across a field but one of them paused giving a brief opportunity for a photograph.

hare,Lepus europaeus

I joined up with a walk I did last December at Brightwell Baldwin. The small village has a number of fine houses including the pub - the Lord Nelson and the church is noted for having an inscription that may be the earliest written in the English language: 1371.

Lord Nelson,Brightwell Baldwin

I then took a track west towards Berrick Salome, on a pile of muck and straw was a bird, which I struggled to identify but with assistance now believe is a female wheatear on route to more northern climes.


On the edge of a field I came across a plant that I don’t think I have come across before. I believe this very prickly customer is Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis) not be confused with the distantly related Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare), Bugloss is not native but was introduced so long ago it is definitely naturalised.

bugloss,Anchusa arensus

Walking south I walked past a field of hundreds of ‘free range’ pigs. I have concerns about how ‘free range’ this actually is, but in this case the young piglets were chasing each other around over a wide area and seemed fairly content. One sow had thirteen piglets, quite a handful. Probably a much less idyllic scene after periods of wet weather.


I saw a good number of butterflies, it was the first warm, calm, dry day for some little time. The butterfly tally was brimstones (20+); orange tip (20+); dingy skipper (6); peacock (2); red admiral (1); comma (2); small tortoiseshell (5). Here is a female orange tip (that has black rather than orange tips) with its mottled pattern on the under-wing.

orange tip butterfly

When I was approaching the village of Ewelme I decided to take a slight detour so I could explore the main street of this ancient settlement. The reason the village was founded here was because of water. A number of springs feed a duck pond and from there a stream flows east towards Benson where it joins the Thames. It’s name comes from Old English ‘Ae-whylme’ meaning ‘waters whelming’ and so probably should be pronounced ‘e-welme’ rather than ‘welm’. The water seeps out of the chalk downs to the south-east and is pure and clear. For this reason Watercress beds were built along the stream. Ewelme was the centre of the British Watercress industry in the 20th century but is now managed as a nature reserve by the Chiltern Society.

ewelme,water cress beds

The school at Ewelme has the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning school building in the U.K.. It was founded in 1437 and is now a primary school. This is all rather appropriate for a village with such strong links to Chaucer. The coat of arms on the left -side of the right window is of William de la Pole, fourth Earl and first Duke of Suffolk. He set up a charitable Ewelme Trust with the King as patron, and so escaped the threat of seizure over the centuries.

Ewelme primary school

Last but not least I returned back to the car just by Cow Common at Ewelme. Ignoring the car with a radio blaring out at high volume I took a picture of Pineapple-weed (Matricaria discoidea) which looks and smells like a pineapple. It grows by paths and is a foreign import from N.E. Asia. It is a plant that tells you that you are back near human habitation as it seems to only grow on well trodden paths.

Pineapple-weed,Matricaria discoidea