Friday, 22 February 2019

Alive or dead, this winter woodland is filled with natural wonders

Alive or dead, this winter woodland is filled with natural wonders

THE other day I bumped into an old friend who I’d not seen in years. We discovered our shared love of nature and walking, so what better to do than get out into the great outdoors?

On a chilly day we drove to Highmoor and parked outside the sad-looking shell of the once great Dog and Duck pub.

We decided to walk up the bridleway that leads north-east towards Merrimoles.

We had barely made any progress alongside Highmoor Common Wood when a young lady on horseback pointed to a group of about 30 fallow deer (Dama dama), all does, about 90 yards away in the very corner of the wood.

Sadly, they were too far off to take a photograph and we didn’t want to scare them into the main road so we stood and admired these gracious creatures for a minute or so and then left them in peace and moved on.

I could have kicked myself for leaving my binoculars at home.

Highmoor Common Wood is “open access” and leads all the way to Nettlebed Common across the A4130 Henley-Nettlebed road. I shall definitely be exploring here come the spring.

Further along the track some weird-looking beech trees loomed like a creepy backdrop to a horror film.

Our path continued, passing an old common. There were still some indications of its past as there were some splendid gorse bushes in flower.

Crossing Highmoor Trench (part of Grims Ditch), we entered Oxlands Bottom. Like the woodland we had just skirted, this is classified as ancient woodland, having existed since the year 1600.

Beech and oak dominate but plenty of other species of tree are to be found too. Old birch and cherries can be told from their shape and their bark.

These are lovely old woods, relatively open with plenty of decaying timber that is so important to the wood’s overall health.

Encountering a crossroads, we took the path to the south-east that leads gently down to join a bridleway that will take us to Bix.

As we descended, we encountered a very strange thing among the trees, a large mound of earth resembling a mini Ayers Rock. Whoever created this and why is a mystery.

The land opened to our left and as we descended the gentle slope along the path the ground crunched beneath our boots. Iced-up puddles and frozen mud made the going somewhat difficult but then we were still in January after all.

After about a quarter of a mile we chose to head southwards up another bridleway towards Westleaze Cottages. The ground here does not drain very well (flint on clay maybe) and there was an abundance of pendulous sedge (Carex pendula).

Passing the cottages, we found ourselves in open country and the sky was full of red kites, especially over Scaffold Wood.

A conifer plantation, it looked gloomy and threatening but the birds seemed to like it and the bolder of them will nest there and raise their brood in the spring. All along the way blackbirds and robins sang and fought for territory. Otherwise there was little avian activity but this will all change come warmer weather. At the next crossroads we headed westwards and passed a wonderfully laid hedge, a true work of art. Along the way Corsican pines stand proud of the ground as if they own it.

Re-entering the woodland near Holly Grove, we found a small pond. Remarkably, little patches of water like these often contain fish. How does this happen?

Aquatic birds such as ducks and moorhens visit these small refuges and unbeknown to them they carry fish eggs on their feet, such is the beauty of nature. The fish will keep a pond clear and the birds will find new homes. Heading back to the car, we passed through a vast array of rhododendron. Their flowers are gorgeous in summer but unfortunately these alien plants contribute nothing to the wellbeing of our land and pollute the soil.

Another great day out and we felt lucky to have seen all that we had. As I looked upwards, the sky seemed to growl at me as if to say, ‘watch out, winter is not done yet’.

I don’t mind as I have renewed a friendship and confirmed my relationship with the earth.

Vincent Ruane

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