Friday, 23 December 2016

A week of route marches

Yes, Monday saw the beginning of my Christmas hols - I was determined to make up for the forthcoming gorging and inactivity with at least a daily route march.

Monday was drizzly but, kitted up in full waterproofs, I headed off for Figsbury Ring. This is an Iron Age hill fort just outside of Salisbury on the London road. It's owned and managed by the National Trust and isn't very big, but would have had nice views (damned weather). Nevertheless, I continued on the Monarch's Way down the valley towards Winterbourne Earls. Apparently, this long-distance footpath (615 miles!) approximates the escape route of Charles II in 1651 after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester - it runs from Bristol to Brighton.

Winterbourne Earls is on the banks of the River Bourne - a chalk stream tributary of the River Avon, and provided some nice views of it's clear waters.

On Tuesday I met up with a friend north of Devizes at Roundway Hill - a beautiful sunny afternoon, with stunning views across the undulating landscape of this incredible hill, and beyond to the flatness of the plains below.

 Well, I'm surprised it took me until Wednesday to head to Martin Down for a quick yomp with another friend - not much wildlife apart from a buzzard. The raindrops on the hawthorn berries did look beautiful though.

Yesterday was walk-less due to the hellish food shop and cake baking, but today I met up with a friend and walked to Old Sarum. I am so lucky to have this stunning walk on my doorstep, and some starlings (not many though) put on a bit of a show. Mind you, I don't remember there ever being lots around here. Certainly nothing like Somerset or Brighton. The glowing berries of spindle certainly 'popped' in the gloom of the building storm.

This will probably be my last post of 2016, what with Christmas festivities - I'm off to Snowdonia for the New Year, and of course will fit in a few local walks before then I'm sure - got to walk off the excesses!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Seabirds and dormice

Phew! A hectic couple of weeks at work and at the weekends, with Christmas shopping now underway, so I'm having to get my 'wild' fixes where I can!

This week I was lucky enough to have a meeting at North Solent NNR, down on the New Forest coast. The meeting itself was held in the beautiful ancient barn on the Beaulieu Estate, but we did manage a quick foray into the blustery sunshine to do a spot of birdwatching. I'm no 'twitcher' but it was nice to see a variety from the hides and comfort of the warm car at Needs Ore Point - wigeon, a marsh harrier overhead, brent geese gliding by, a little egret flying in front of us, oystercatchers foraging, and curlew and lapwing calling from the marshes. Very atmospheric.

The next day our team meeting was dormouse-themed - their life cycle, habitat management, and mitigation when their habitat is disturbed. We were shown a piece of beech plantation woodland that you wouldn't think would support this protected species at all - however, from looking at the old maps, it was clear it was once pockets of ancient woodland and chalk grassland, with a mediaeval road still connecting one side of the woodland, and harbouring the highest density of nesting dormice. Fascinating.

This weekend I'll by manning a stall on the Salisbury Christmas Market, following on from the weekend just gone, so won't be able to get out into the countryside for a bit. This gives me a bit of time to ponder where I must go next!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Finally at Fritham

A couple of weeks ago, we had attempted to head for Fritham in the New Forest, but road closure meant an unexpected stop at Bentley Wood! There's nothing quite like the New Forest in autumn so second time lucky for our visit last Sunday through Eyeworth Wood.

Although extremely squelchy underfoot, the colours above us were spectacular, with bright yellows and oranges of beech mingling with the dull russet of oak, together with glossy dark green of holly. It was particularly noticeable how the grazing animals had impacted on the holly - almost forming it into a neat topiary-like cube!

The dead wood formed not only valuable habitat for a wide variety of invertebrate species, but also sculpturesque poses, exposed timber weathered into smooth abstract patterns.

We were in danger of not getting back before dark, which meant we needed to head off the path and across the Open Access land to hopefully pick up a path back. Thankfully - and for once - this succeeded and we were soon on our way back, passing over the Latchmore Brook (see for latest news on wetland proposals - very disappointing) and next to ancient Anglo Saxon boundary banks and ditches.

It's amazing to be walking amongst such an ancient landscape - and although the carpark was busy, we barely encountered anyone on our walk. With the passing of Storm Angus, most leaves will now have dropped, making this the last time this year to really experience the dramatic kaleidoscope.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Back to Bentley

It seems I just can't stay away from the place! This time, I met friends at the West Tytherley car park on the opposite side of the wood.

It was a beautiful morning, with the low autumn sun casting bright highlights on the beech trunks. There were plenty of leaves to kick about, and the chilly wind added to them - it certainly feels like winter is just around the corner now.

Still lots of fungi around, mingling with the warm colours of the leaves. We also watched as a large herd of fallow deer - including at least one stag - crossed in front of us. Such is the size of the place, that they just melted into the vast expanse of trees and the tranquility was restored.

Every time I go to Bentley Wood I'm astonished at the size and variety of the site, and heartened by the number of people that take the time to enjoy and explore this valuable resource on their doorstep.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Catching up

Apologies for the radio silence - I've been here, there and everywhere for the last few weeks!

Just before I headed off on holiday, I squeezed in a beautifully-tranquil visit to Langley Woods NNR. I encountered nobody on my loop through the ancient sweet chestnut and small-leaved lime woodland. All the more chestnuts for me - with pockets and rucksack laden, I continued on, marvelling at the beginning of autumn colours, several species of fungi erupting from the ground, and the distant sounds of rutting fallow deer.

It definitely seemed that autumn followed me on my travels north to Scotland via the Peak and Lake Districts. Thankfully, the traditional rain did not - very lucky! I do love a view, and of course there were many stunning ones to take in, but time away from my patch does make me appreciate it even more. As Scotland is largely coniferous woodland (at least in the areas I visited), I did miss the colours back down south. Luckily, my return journey revealed they were very much in evidence still.

And then, the day after returning via a mammoth drive back from Dumfries, I found myself in Bentley Wood once more. We had originally intended to visit the New Forest, but road closure forced a detour. The colours, berries and fungi were distracting, and we would have got lost if it wasn't for encountering a kindly local resident. Every time I go there I am amazed at how enormous the site is, and how much variety there is - plenty to explore!

Now, as I look out into my garden, the walnut and plum are in the middle of shedding their amber leaves, with the apply not far behind, the leaves forming mirror images of the tree on the ground. Soon they will be bare and the inevitable feeling of digging in and riding out winter will be upon us. No wonder the original pagan festival hijacked by Christmas happens now!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The coming of Autumn

Another busy few weeks for me, so apologies for the delay in posting. During that time, however, the mornings are certainly much more autumnal now, and the days are drawing in.

I did manage one last brief final exploration of summer a couple of weekends ago, by taking advantage of the glorious sunshine and heading out to pastures new. Well, the start of the walk was along familiar ground along the Ox Drove by Salisbury Racecourse. We then opted to turn off and walk along the top of the valley for amazing views across Fovant Wood towards the distant enormous expanse of Grovely Wood. It certainly gives you a sense of perspective - no wonder I've barely scratched the surface of walking through Grovely!

We continued on towards a small area of Open Access chalk grassland, featuring amazing ancient earthworks, wildflowers still in bloom (small scabious and rough hawkbit in particular), and stunning views across to the end of the Fovant escarpment - this then becomes home to the Fovant Badges further up. All the while, we encountered nobody - so peaceful and a feast for the eyes!

Last week during work, we held a highly-contrasting by comparison area-event down at Royal Victoria Country Park. This is the site of an old military hospital on the shores of Southampton Water, with 'delightful' views of Fawley Oil Refinery across the water and Southampton Docks. In this busy industrial landscape, it's incredible that wildlife can still find the space to live - part of the shore is Weston Shore Local Nature Reserve, and we observed oystercatchers and black-headed gulls feasting in the mud.

Last weekend I ventured even further afield, visiting friends in Devon. The narrow country lanes and ancient droveways are so different to Wiltshire's, with their high hedgebanks festooned with flowers and gnarly old trees. We also visited the Exe Estuary via the RSPB Topsham reserve - great views of godwits (probably bar-tailed), avocets, wigeon, lapwing and black-headed gulls -a bit early in the season but soon the great migration to our shores will begin.

Finally, this week after work, I managed a quick yomp around Martin Down, walking through the interesting scrub and grassland mosaic nearer the main road. It's a rarely-explored area but very interesting botanically. This late in the season, I was surprised to see wild basil, knapweed, agrimony, red clover, yarrow and hawkbits all in flower still. It will be interesting to see how long they hold on, now the weather has turned slightly.