Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Enjoying the sun

The weather has been a bit topsy-turvy of late - boiling hot one moment, cold the next. The spring flowers are cracking on despite the temperature differences, so there's no time to delay in getting out there and enjoying the spectacle!

On the Bank Holiday weekend, we made the most of the amazing weather, starting with a shortish walk in Bentley Wood. This mixed plantation woodland east  of Salisbury was once ancient woodland, and so the ground flora still spring into life at this time of year. I've never seen the bluebells looking so good here - stretching as far as the eye could see. There was a bit of debate about whether they were native or hybrids with the non-native and invasive Spanish bluebell. Although there were some dubious patches (less deep in colour, more upright and not drooping on one side, not fragrant, pollen more of a blue/green colour rather than creamy white), we soon found ourselves surrounded by the scent and sight of native bluebells, to the extent we got slightly lost admiring it all!

The next day we headed off to the beautiful Dorset coast - it was bank Holiday Monday, so we thought we'd head to the less touristy spot of Kingston. Here you can walk from the lovely Scott Arms pub - with its amazing view of Corfe castle - to the coast path, and along to Chapman's Pool. Our way to the coast was marked with snow-like ramsons cloaking the vegetation either side of the path, with glimpses of bluebells further down the valley. Then we emerged from the woods, to a high ridge running alongside a dramatic valley, towards the coast. The sea was a deep azure blue, but the horizon difficult to locate due to the haze in the strong sun. We walked along the coast path for stunning views of Chapman's Pool - a small circular bay - before looping back up to the pub!

After a delicious lunch, we decided to have a potter around Kimmeridge Bay - another lovely coastal spot, but much more touristy. We parked in the small quarry carpark (avoiding the toll parking!) and walked down through the village and fields to the beautiful bay. Very different geology here (part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), with hard bands of rock projecting out into the bay, beneath softer shales where ammonite fossils are easily found. The rock pools are also worth a look - the water is so clear you can easily spot several types of seaweed and anemones. In fact, the Dorset wildlife Trust has an undersea snorkel trail on the other side of the bay.

We'd had such a great day, we didn't much mind the awful traffic on the way back. To be expected really - everyone wants to visit this beautiful part of the world, which I'm lucky to have not too far from me.

Monday, 30 April 2018


Hurrah for spring - I always think that no matter your interest in the great outdoors, pretty much everyone in the UK loves bluebells. I mean, you'd be crazy not to right?!

It's always a bit of a tricky balance to catch them at the right time. Now I'm working from home more at the moment, this has meant more quick forays to local haunts, including to track progress of the bluebells. First up was Grovely Wood on the Wilton estate just outside of Salisbury. It's never been up there as my favourite bluebell wood (that would be Garston Wood, but that's a bit further out), but I was surprised to find some good patches. At least, they will be - probably are by now - but when I checked on them, they weren't quite ready.

The next evening, this time based in Winchester, we ventured to Crab Wood, where the bluebells were a magnificent carpet in places. Also wood anemone and primroses spotlit by the changeable sunlight, but not much else going on.

Then this weekend - thinking it was the bluebell peak and visiting a friend in Essex - we requested a visit to the nearest bluebell wood, and were rewarded with a beautiful blue haze. The sweet scent of them was quite powerful in some parts, and what also made the walk great was to see other ancient woodland indicator plants there too - yellow archangel was of particular note. But even the commoner stuff - greater stitchwort - made for a stunning mosaic of blue and white in the dappled light.

I hope to catch Garston Wood this weekend, where the ramsons (wild garlic) should be out as well as the bluebells, and possibly even some early purple orchids to add to the riot of colour.

It's at times like these I simply could not live anywhere else - hurrah for bluebells!

Monday, 23 April 2018

An Aural Amble

Two posts from me this week! I'm just back from a short after-work walk (love these longer days) and simply had to share.

I head out of my road, accompanied by the sound of sparrows, chaffinches, a wheezing greenfinch, and blackbirds. Crossing the road and descending the steep hill, bordered by an overgrown hedgerow adjacent to the neighbouring farmland, I hear a white throat call from the depths of the undergrowth and a yellow hammer 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'ing in the distance.

Reaching the Avon Valley Path - which borders the river with its mosaic of habitats - the air really came alive. As well as the blackbirds, shrill wren and chaffinches, climbing over the stile the chorus was suddenly punctuated by a very loud and staccato series of notes - Cetti's warbler singing from the reedbeds. Another warbler was also making its presence felt - the repetitive two-note call of the chiffchaff, with numerous males calling at each other across the valley. The trio of notes from the song thrush, and the alarm call of the robin, were also emanating from the woodland. Finally, the not-quite-so-evocative calls of rooks, wood pigeons and pheasant.

And this was in the course of a 45 minute walk - actually, the first 15 minutes yielded pretty much all of these, and no doubt I missed a few.

No great rarities, but even so, if you know a few calls, it really brings a whole new appreciation to a simple walk. The RSPB website is very handy for checking you've heard what you think you have, so get out there and see how many you can hear in a few minutes!

Hazy Spring Day

It certainly has been a topsy-turvy Spring so far - my photos range from snow to blistering sunshine, and yesterday was no exception.

Given that it was scheduled to be another lovely sunny day, we headed off to Win Green, highest point in Cranborne Chase, and about 40 minutes west of Salisbury. We started at the pretty village of Tollard Royal, parking by the quaint duck pond, and heading up through woodland and farmland to stunning views across a variety of chalk valleys.

At this time of year, although few flowers were visible (apart from some scattered early cowslips), I could see the various intricate forms of the short-turf loving downland species, such as rock rose and wild thyme. It's going to be beautiful in a month or so's time.

Our route took us through patches of woodland too, with the heady scent of wild garlic or ramsons warning us of a magnificent green carpet of their leaves, almost stretching as far as the eye could see in some places. The flowers weren't quite open - it will be like it has snowed all over again in a few days' time! There were also bluebells - their own sweet scent occasionally caught on the wind in amongst the garlic! And of course, lots of primroses, lesser celandines and violets - the British Spring really is one of the best in the world.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The squelch

It's rained rather a lot over the last few months, with the result that it's a bit squelchy out there. Of course, this is great for wildlife on the whole, but makes for slower progress on one's walks!

I'm recently back from my Cornwall trip, where epic levels of squelch were encountered on our coastal walks. It's always nice to visit a different geology - lots of granite and clay, making for flashier rivers engorged with water from the land, and greatly enlarged-feet when walking across fields! We did also get great views of the craggy coastline - so different to our more gentle and sheltered Solent coast.

On Sunday, expecting drizzle, we headed off to this coast - this time to Beaulieu in the New Forest. parking for free at the Motor Museum, we walked into the pretty and ancient village and onwards along the Solent Way to Buckler's Hard. We encountered a sign saying 'riverside path unusable - follow cycle path'. Well, having encountered the epic squelch in Cornwall and survived, we felt that we could probably make it.

It was rather soggy/flooded in parts, but the recent dry weather had obviously greatly improved things, so we were able to pick our way through. It was rather quiet, given the sign, which should allow the footpath to recover swiftly, and also had the benefit of allowing us tranquility to enjoy the beautiful setting.

On our walk to Buckler's Hard, the tide was in on this tidal stretch of the Beaulieu River, which flows into the Solent. This meant we had to content ourselves with the views of the various boats, as well as the wildflowers in the beautiful ancient woodland - wood anemone, violet, primrose and the New Forest speciality of narrow-leaved lungwort. There were some wonderful ancient old oaks along the way too.

We unexpectedly dined in the rather posh restaurant (highly recommended!0 due to the pub being rather full of people sheltering from the rain outside, then headed back the way we had come. this time the tide was out, allowing waders to move in to feed on the mudflats and remnant saltmarsh. Indeed, the tidal pool in Beaulieu itself had emptied, allowing flocks of oyster catchers, and the odd shelduck and black-headed gull to probe the mud.

All in all, a great walk, despite the squelch and drizzle!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Down to the seaside

Last weekend saw two walks of contrasting landscapes and history.

Being passionate about art, we had a delightful mooch around Messums Gallery in Tisbury. Tisbury is a lovely old village west of Salisbury - lots of thatched cottages, old barns and ancient farmhouses. With the Nadder running through it (a chalk stream that eventually meets the Avon at Salisbury), it also makes for a delightful walking spot. 

Our walk took us along the river and smaller streams, over the railway line, and skirting the lower reaches of an Iron Age hillfort. Although early spring, it definitely feels like the flowers are making up for lost time, with the thick bright green carpet of bluebell shoots, and clumps of primroses in flower accompanying us along the way.

The following day, we headed off to meet friends for a day trip to Brownsea Island in the middle of Poole Harbour. Whereas it had been dull, grey and occasionally drizzly the day before, here the clouds were threatening to part and reveal that long-lost light source, the sun.

For those that haven't been to the island, although it is a bit of a faff (drive to Sandbanks, pay for parking, pay for the ferry, pay for entry to the island unless a National Trust member), it's more than worth it for the beautiful views and abundant wildlife. It's renowned for its red squirrels, and also as the site of the first Scout Camp set up by Baden Powell. I remember it well from my guiding days, but the copious clumps of rhododendrons are long gone, as the Trust embarked on a programme of habitat restoration. It's a mixture of pine woodland, ancient woodland, wetland, heathland and shingle coast. In particular, part of the island is managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust, where you have access to numerous hides bordering a large lagoon. Here we saw shelduck, flocks of dunlin swooping and shimmering around, black-tailed godwit, spoonbill feeding, the odd sandwich tern, and lots and lots of black-headed gulls setting up territories as the breeding season was now underway. Often overlooked, i found their behavious fascinating to watch so close up.

We did spy a few red squirrels as well (including one notable individual obviously not very well and hiding behind a tree right by the footpath), and enjoyed the sun down by on the beach amidst the pottery sherds from 19th century pottery kilns. A wonderful day.

And this weekend we've managed a couple of walks in amongst the deluges, including a trip down to the Keyhaven marshes near Lymington on the New Forest coast. We hadn't realised that the Hurst Castle fort was open, so the walk along the shingle spit was even more worth it - so much to see! I had obviously forgotten my binoculars, but we did squint to see shelduck, red shank, oyster catcher, some lingering brent geese (nearly off to their breeding grounds) and feeding little egrets.

This morning we walked into Winchester via St Catherine's Hill and the watermeadows, making the most of the sun, albeit dodging extremely muddy paths. Tomorrow promises monsoon-like conditions, which will no doubt result in cabin fever. 

Never mind, off to Cornwall and Devon for a few days now