Saturday, 29 July 2017

In the tropics?

Last weekend was one of torrential deluges and steamy humidity. And to go with these tropical/monsoon-like conditions, I ventured into Grovely Wood with a friend.

Hardly a tropical rainforest I know, as it's a mixture of commercially-harvested conifer plantation and pockets of ancient woodland. However, in one of the many woodland rides, prior to the deluge that was to follow and soak us through, we encountered some silver-washed fritillaries.

These beautiful butterflies specialise in woodland clearings, basking in the sun and feeding on the flowers blooming. Their enormous, bright orange forms, swiftly flitting through the sunlight, is reminiscent of a butterfly house.

sadly, the experience wasn't to last - we left the ride and the rain started and never stopped. Not even the tall, stately beeches lining the main drive could hold back the torrent.

Oh well - such is the British summer!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

In raptures over rampions

Hurrah for summer, when our beautiful chalk downlands are at their kaleidoscopic-best.

Last Sunday I was very grateful to Marin Cilic for a bit of a damp squib of a Wimbledon Men's Final, resulting in a longer walk on Old Winchester Hill NNR. It was humid and overcast, but somehow this only made for a more atmospheric yomp.

Situated on a chalk escarpment in the South Downs National Park, it's notable for it's myriad of wildflowers and insects, and ably grazed by a herd of hardy Herdwick sheep from the lake District.

They need to be hardy - on a bleak winter's day, there is little cover, apart from the large blocks of woodland near the bottom of the slope, including an ancient yew woodland. And some of the paths are on some formidable slopes!

We walked across to the Iron Age Hillfort, where the ramparts are wonderfully defined and smothered in all manner of beautiful plants - betony, small scabious, ox eye daisy, ladies bedstraw, hawkbits, knapweed and marjoram. But to top it all off, now is the time to view the spectacle of the bright blue flowers of round-headed rampion.

Every time I've been on the reserve - and I've done a fair bit of surveying up here - it's been earlier, missing out on seeing this beauty. So, my reaction was rather predictable! Apparently, they are most common in the South Downs than anywhere else in the country.

Looking further than the flowers, the views from up there are spectacular, across much of the downs inland, and out across to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

Our route back to the carpark meandered along the slope, down through dark, ancient woodland, then up an incredibly steep slope - much pausing to admire the view along the way!

So, with National Parks Week about to start, use this opportunity to get out there and explore this wonderful park and especially the NNR.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

There and back walks

I don't know about you but I crave a nice circular walk when I'm out and about - I usually get bored retracing my steps.

Last weekend we spent much of the day in the Test Valley - starting at West Down and walking to the beautiful Chilbolton Common. unfortunately, although a circular route is available, we didn't have the time due to impending barbecue. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful walk and actually, going back the same way gives you a new appreciation of the route, noticing different things from that different angle. The Common is a SSSI and a great swimming hole for the surrounding villages - lots of people out that day as it was hot! The wildflowers were blooming - yellow swathes of ladies bedstraw in particular, and the fluffy, creamy clouds of meadowsweet in the wetter spots. The clear chalk river water had a healthy growth of water crowfoot too - I hope the locals appreciate how lucky they are!

 After lunch we had a longer walk along the Test Way (which we had also travelled a short way along earlier in the day) - this is a 49 mile route tracing the course of this prized chalk river - the birthplace of fly fishing. People travel from all over the world to fish along its banks. The footpath, though, is actually the route of a dismantled railway, and largely shaded with trees and scrub - handy for the day we were walking along it! It does pass through some lovely bits of countryside, notably, alongside Stockbridge Common Marsh - another SSSI for its wetland plants and insects. These wetland areas usually have peat deposits under the vegetation, and it was noticeably bouncy walking along the marsh that day.

Thankfully, yesterday featured a short but circular route at Martin Down. We are now in the 'purple' season - masses of knapweed and small scabious spread throughout the site, with tonnes of yellow hammers, skylarks and even corn buntings - all declining species, and all finding a haven at the NNR.

I think by the end of the day on the Test I'd learnt to love the there-and-back walk - noticing new things along the same route, making me even more grateful we live in this country and have these beautiful places nearby.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Ancient ramblings

So I've been making sure I'm able to get out and enjoy this lovely weather we've been having, and trekking slightly further afield to share some of the beautiful sites we have with others.

Last Sunday was just that - a trip to Cerne Abbas in Dorset, not just to view the Giant on the hillside (see previous posts) but to admire the ancient tranquil village buildings and the beautiful chalk grassland upon which the Giant sits.

We started with a wander around what remains of the ancient Abbey - not much is the answer! Then, heading on up the back of Giant Hill, we encountered a myriad of wildflowers and insects, including 6 spot burnet moths feeding on small scabious. I love June/July on a downland - the 'purple season' of knapweed, thistles and scabious acting as watering holes for a mass of butterflies and other insects.

The lovely riverside walk back into town followed a beautifully-clear little chalk stream, with abundant water crowfoot, and buzzing with damselflies.

Then yesterday we headed up along part of the Clarendon Way (which runs between Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals), walking through Clarendon Park, up the hill to the ancient ruins of the mediaeval royal hunting lodge grazed by llamas (see previous posts!), and along the path to the village of Pitton. The ruins are actually very valuable for a variety of wildflowers, including dark mullein, self heal and hawkbits - slowly returning to chalk grassland under the llamas grazing! The footpath also had some beautiful chalk grassland margins with orchids, scabious, knapweed and ladies bedstraw - such a kaleidoscope of colour.

So get out there and enjoy the colours now before the sun scorches them all away in this drought!