Saturday, 25 September 2021

Flora and fauna advertising the beauty of Wye Valley

OVER the Cotswolds, where the bluebells are not yet as bright as in the Chilterns, to the Wye Valley and Goodrich Castle, closely related to Falaise castle in Normandy.

Goodrich stands on a bluff above the River Wye, of red sandstone instead of the white of Caen, with a generous barbican equipped with a stone bench and its own privy, indicating that visitors could be kept waiting some time.

Up Coppet Hill for a view to Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons and Sugar Loaf in the Black Mountains, through bluebells interspersed with with primroses, wild garlic, celandine and orchids(!), early purple and possible hybrids. Beside them the keeled shiny leaves of triangular stalked garlic, I think, not yet in flower but with a fat bud and, the book says, “naturalised in South Wales”.

As we descend to the meadow facing cliffs above the Wye, three curious white faces examine us over a tumbled stone wall until the ewe baas them back to her side.

A peregrine falcon eventually appears, soaring on scimitar wings, then folding them and stooping towards the cliff, disappearing into one of the holes on its face. While waiting, we have seen two buzzards, ravens, crows, jackdaws and lesser black-backed gulls.

Strolling along the bank, we find Canada geese have colonised the Wye as well as the Thames and one is sitting on a nest on top of a 2m high flat rock in the middle of the river, while a swan sits among a tangle of driftwood on the opposite shore.

A grey wagtail chirrups over the water, darting up to snap a fly and we startle a small wader, perhaps a sandpiper but it did not pipe as it took off from under the bank.

The Wye is low as there has been no rain in March and April but a brief shower chases us back round the hill. We chase off a few fallow deer through the brilliant yellow gorse which flourishes on the limestone, while there is broom on the sandstone. Beside the paths are yellow archangel (a deadnettle), purple bugle, pink herb robert and white stitchwort. In the shady groves are spurges, luxuriant ferns and cuckoo-pint.

All possible species of trees flourish but with fewer wild cherries and horse chestnuts than in the Chilterns. Instead there are the long white racemes of the bird cherry which is also flowering by Greys Road in Henley. Fallow and muntjac deer move off quietly as we approach. Only the roe deer is panicked and dashes at a fence while a young thrush cowers under a bramble as we pass.

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