Sunday, 18 September 2016

Holding onto summer

It just seems to keep going doesn't it? Not that I'm complaining! I've been trying to make the most of it, with the odd foray into the great outdoors when time allows.

It's been ages since I posted - apologies, busy weekends! A couple of weekends ago, as an after-birthday-lunch-walk for a friend, we had a quick yomp in the delightful Cotswold surroundings where they live, including visiting a lovely meadow with the source of the Bristol Avon (not to be confused with the Hampshire Avon, that also confusingly starts in Wiltshire...). Lovely clear water, but quite a different water chemistry, coming from the clay.

Then last weekend I had a great time at the Salisbury Contemporary Craft and Heritage Festival, painting more outdoors scenes, even resulting in someone buying the painting of a tree over the Itchen whilst wet!

I've also been trying to get outside, away from the desk, during work time, which resulted in a lovely day out on the Dorset heaths this week. It was part of a large project to survey the condition of several large SSSI units, and although just past the optimal flowering period for the heather, it was still beautiful.

Three heather species were evident (bell, common, cross-leaved) but the endemic Dorset heath eluded us. We did see lots of round-leaved sundew, its sticky-droplets (used to snare passing insects) glistening in the glorious sunshine, together with spongy mats of cladonia lichen. Our route took us alongside the old experimental Magnox nuclear reactor, which is now being decommissioned. An interesting backdrop! We also saw a clouded yellow butterfly - having crossed the channel from the Continent on the unseasonably warm winds, and a suspected male sand lizard. It was definitely a lizard, and was large enough to make a very definite impression through the heather - a first for me! I started the day thinking that heathland was a bit boring, but was thinking differently at the end.

And finally, I've just got back from a longer-than-usual (and not because I got lost!) walk around Grovely Wood. Sweeping panoramas of agricultural landscapes peppered with remnants of natural habitats, such as hedgerows and chalk downland accompanied me when breaking out of the cover of the ancient woodland. I heard a chiffchaff - surely they're nearly ready to go back to sub-Saharan Africa? - and in the open areas, a great diversity of invertebrates were making the most of the warm spell, with crickets and grasshoppers chirruping from the banks. This was at great contrast to the enormous clumps of fungus surrounding one very ancient tree along a drive.

The walk mainly followed an ancient network of ox droves (used to drive livestock to market in Salisbury), parkland drives and Saxon ditchworks. Clearly the estate are doing a lot of work in some areas to open these up again, with one ancient drove having been recently cleared (the path having been forced to the top of the bank through the drove being impassable), resulting in a lovely old milestone one again seeing the light of day.

It seems that the weather forecast is indicating a more-typical temperature range for this time of year, so no doubt autumn is only just around the corner.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Ups and Downs

The Bank Holiday weekend was certainly one of contrasting weather. We ventured out for a quick pootle around Martin Down on Sunday, but the drizzly weather meant that the final flourish of butterflies were largely hunkered down. Nevertheless, I marveled at the beauty of the raindrops clinging to the seed heads of Traveller's Joy/Old Man's Beard/Wild Clematis (call it what you will - so many names!).

The Monday was stunning weather-wise, and we chose a beautiful route from the lovely village of Wherwell on the River Test, crossing the crystal-clear waters and Chibolton Common, before heading back to the pub! In the afternoon, we eventually found out way to Harewood Forest (paths not clearly marked!), which apparently nobody visits as we had the place to ourselves! It was interesting to see the many concrete tracks through it - the area was used for various things during WWII so it must have been connected to that, but exactly what function the forest played was a bit of a mystery. well worth a visit though - a mixture of ancient hazel coppice, with stands of conifers and younger-looking oaks and beeches. Remnants of the ancient land use remain though, with Saxon boundary earth banks and ancient gnarled oaks atop.

I also managed to get out briefly the following day on my way back form work. I am lucky enough to pass Stockbridge Down on my way to work, and called in on my way back. It's an area of chalk grassland, with much archaeology and absolutely stunning views all around. A lovely way to end the day.