Thursday, 23 September 2021

Ancient hill full of histoy

AN expedition to Whiteleaf Hill Nature reserve, for a chilly picnic, overlooking Princes Risborough, with views from the Chiltern escarpment 20 miles across the Oxford Plain, but first we must explore the paths through the beech woods and over the downland, taking in the Neolithic barrow grave and White Cliffe Cross, first mentioned in 1742.

This hill carving of a cross on a triangular base is of unknown origin and is in need of whitening at the moment, so that the most attractive feature is the chalk bank beside it, dotted with purple scabious, harebells, red clover, and the most delicate of the umbellifers, Queen Anne’s Lace or wild carrot, Daucus carota.

The root is edible but only when young and fresh. The curiosity of this umbel of white flowers, so like hedge parsley, is that in the centre is a tiny black flower, resembling an insect, which attracts other insects to alight and fertilise the flowers as they search for nectar.

The story is that it looks like a drop of blood spilled by Queen Anne as she was making lace.

When the umbel matures it curls into a ball and dries, breaking off to disperse as a tumble weed, rolled along by the wind. Like carnations, this white flower will take on the colour of the water in which it is placed by using food colouring.

At Hambleden Mill the swallows were flying low but steadily to the south.

On the river at Medmenham a desperate young grebe was begging shrilly at its parent, who casually preened a few feathers to indicate that the youth should dive for itself and start earning a living!

This is a charming grassy riverside walk (turn right at the church) with plenty of river birds but limited parking, quiet and rural when Henley is crowded.

Look out for the pink and white autumn cyclamen on shady banks and under hedges all around the town.

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