Thursday, 17 August 2017

Walking to reset the clock

FOR wonderful spring flowers, leave Henley by Fair Mile and turn right for Middle Assendon, where there are daffodils all the way, and park near the Rainbow pub.

Then take the road opposite to Fawley, where the verges are spangled with white and purple violets. The fields and woods are full of raucous pheasants and scampering squirrels as you rise gently towards John and Myfanwy Piper’s old house.

Do not turn steeply up to the right to Fawley, but keep going in the valley, so you pass hazel coppices where the sun filters through the bare branches on to the bright green dog’s mercury. There are sheep and lambs on your right and larks singing on the left.

Dog’s mercury has tiny white flowers and thrives in shade on calcareous soil but is highly poisonous. The dog part of the name indicates it is not for human consumption but do check that the ground cover is not perhaps the shiny strap leaves of bluebells which are already well advanced.

As the slope steepens, there are mauve violets, primroses and tiny wild strawberry flowers on the banks, blackthorn blossom in the hedge and a peacock butterfly, sunning itself on the dark tarmac — the only butterfly which posed long enough for identification.

As the road levels out and approaches a white house, you will see a footpath sign pointing boldly to the left. Take this farm track to emerge on a ridgeway path with extensive views over to Twyford and Bracknell and back up the Stonor valley.

Grey partridge like these fields of winter wheat and the red kites cruise above.

Below you in the solitary oaks the crows quarrel (or rooks — they were too distant to see the whiter edge to the base of the bill which indicates a rook, so let us call them crooks). In fact, if there are groups they are likely to be rooks as the rookery indicates a social bird, whereas the crow works alone.

Follow the hedge, good for blackberries in September, as it curves to the right, over a stile into the tangled wood for more primroses, emerging on to a ploughed field and down to the road.

It is only 200m back to Middle Assendon but if the road is busy and you are agile, stay inside the hedge and scramble out over the ditch when there is a verge on the other side.

The best Easter present you can give is a pair of boots for liberation into the countryside, to avoid “nature deficit syndrome” and to allow the children to paddle in the river and jump in the mud.

Plan a camping trip to re-set your circadian clock as fresh air always helps you sleep better.

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