Monday, 26 June 2017

Buttermere and Walbury Hill

This walk was a record breaker. Although not in distance (only 13 miles) it broke my long standing record for total ascent set on the very first walk posted here (8th October 2009). In this case I climbed (and descended!) a total of 1,644 feet (501m) - the London Shard is a mere 1,004 feet high. It also took a total of 8 hours - only really possible near mid-summers day. I took 148 photographs and have had trouble whittling this down to this limited selection. Here is a map of the route:

As a final trek during the main orchid flowering season I decided to visit three nature reserves and three counties (Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire). I started at the top of the downs near the village of Ham. The morning sun and breeze gave excellent views.


Just a few hundred yards from the car a bird was calling from a hogweed plant. I guess it was a Whitethroat but I could well be wrong.


I walked to the village of Buttermere, no not the one in the Lake District, the one in Wiltshire. This one does also have a ‘mere’ but only the size of a tennis court. In the churchyard there was a pretty trailing plant - Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia).

creeping jenny,Lysimachia nummularia

Buttermere church that serves only a dozen or so houses was more like a chapel. It had been recently re-roofed and re-pointed.

buttermere church

That was the last village I passed for the next 12 miles. I then followed ‘Buttermere Bottom’ which runs along the valley bottom. In places there was fine meadows with some wild flowers dotted within it, including Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris).

self heal,Prunella vulgaris

The closest I saw to a ‘mere’ was a rather small pond. However it did have a plant I don’t remember seeing before - I think it is Greater Spearwort (Ranunculus lingua), this is now widely planted in ponds but out here it may well be native.

greater spearwort,Ranunculus lingua

Another nice wild-flower that was growing here and there in the meadow was Musk Mallow (Malva moschata).

musk mallow,Malva moschata

I then reached my first ‘nature reserve’, even though there is nothing to say it is managed for wildlife. There was a very good range of plants including Fragrant, Pyramidal and Common Spotted orchids. There must have been hundreds of pyramidals, many be a thousand common spotted but only a few dozen fragrant. This is an almost white Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

white common spotted orchid,Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Another nice plant to see was Centaury (Centaurium erythraea).

centaury,Centaurium erythraea

And especially Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata).

clustered bellflower,Campanula glomerata

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is a plant usually see at the seed stage, this plant was still flowering.

bladder campion,Silene vulgaris

I could have included many more flowers from this excellent little sloping meadow but will limit myself to Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) with its purple anthers - and a hoverfly.

mullein,Verbascum thapsus

I continued following the valley bottom. As this is chalk country it is completely dry, last seeing water at the end of the last Ice Age. Along the track was patches of the feared garden pest - Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), but still rather pretty all the same.

bindweed,Convolvulus arvensis

I then headed up an ancient trackway into some welcome shade. Along the track there was a remarkable amount of Redcurrant (Ribes rubrum). This is considered an indicator of ancient usage as it spreads very slowly and our forbears must have brought it there long ago.

redcurrant,Ribes rubrum

I then reached my second Nature Reserve - West Woodhay chalk pit. However there was much less to see than I expected - I have visited three years ago and thought there could have been more to see. However I did see four species of orchid so must not grumble! Common Spotted, Fragrant, Bee and Twayblades.

I then followed Wayfarer’s Way to Walbury Hill - my high point of the walk at 974feet and the highest natural point in South East England. Common Spotted orchids were here and there along the path. Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) was coming into flower.

knapweed,Centaurea nigra

Just by the car park for those who take the less strenuous route to the top were about half dozen flowering spikes of the parasitic Knapweed Broomrape (Orobanche elatior).

knapweed broomrape,Orobanche elatior

Combe Gibbet stands on the summit of Walbury Hill and it has fine views over the land that falls away dramatically to both north and south. This is the view to the south, by this time it had started to cloud over.

view Walbury Hill

Continuing west along the ridge there are a few farm buildings and by them used to be a bank of vigorous plants. Unfortunately the farmer had decided to chop them back severely but I did find one or two flowers of what I think is Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris). There must be an artificial pond nearby as this was near the top of a very dry chalk hill.

marsh woundwort

You may have noticed the distinct lack of butterflies in this post. This is extremely misleading as I saw loads on this walk. However it was fairly warm and they did not settle for long. My species list for the walk was Meadow Brown (loads), Ringlet (loads), Marbled White, Large Skipper, Small Skipper (may be Essex could not be sure), Red Admiral, Small Heath, Brimstone, Comma, Meadow Brown, Silver Washed Fritillary and Small Tortoiseshell. Normally I count myself lucky to see three Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) in a day, on this walk I lost count and would say I saw at least 50. Sometimes three or four were busy chasing each other around. So it is appropriate that a highlight of the walk was a pair of Small Tortoiseshells that came and rested close by.

small tortoiseshell,butterfly,Aglais urticae

My last stop was a part of the Ham Nature Reserve which I had visited last August and the year before. Orchid seed heads had been seen there so it seemed an excellent opportunity to see which type they were. They turned out to be Common Spotted with a very good number of Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) too.

pyramidal orchid,Anacamptis pyramidalis

I had vaguely hoped to see a much rarer orchid in these parts - the Lizard orchid. I had read a report of a single plant seen there some years ago and it would certainly have been an exciting find if I had found it, but alas no. I rather wearily climbed back up the steep slope and back to the car - exactly eight hours after I had set out and with only a short lunch break out in the wilds.