Friday, 28 January 2022

Pubs have gone but there is still rural landscape and woods to enjoy

Pubs have gone but there is still rural landscape and woods to enjoy

IT is a fine morning for this time of year and my pal Matt has invited me to join him for another walk in the Chilterns.

Once more we head towards Nettlebed and again park outside the remains of the Dog and Duck pub but this time we are going to head north.

Making our way through the woods, I am struck by the lovely scent that envelops us. There is nothing quite like the sweet smell of a beech wood.

The remains of dead trees are riddled with woodpeckers’ nest-holes. Great tits are calling and there is promise in the air.

Reaching the main road, we glance to our right and see the quaint little memorial left by members of the US army who were stationed here during the Second World War. It reads “343 Engs US Army 1942”.

After crossing the road with care, we enter Deadman’s Lane with Nettlebed Sawmill to our right. This is a well-trodden but enchanting lane. To either side there are oak, hazel and ash trees protecting us from the breeze, a sylvan corridor.

All of a sudden we startle a huge flock of bramblings. They scatter in front of us and then return to our rear.

Normally, this number of birds would indicate the presence of an avian beech-mast restaurant but as there are few beech trees here I wonder what they have found for lunch.

There are quite a few rowan and whitebeams along the way. The healthy ones will burst into life in spring. The path drops down as we approach Swan Wood to our left. It is a fine looking component of a once larger forest.

At the bottom looking north towards Nettlebed there is a fine hedgerow that seems endless and has green pasture on either side. We find ourselves in a dip where we pause to look around. It is a memorable spot blighted only by the well-named Black Wood nearby. The path that we have chosen leads to the south-west towards Stoke Row on an incline. We stop to listen for birdsong but, apart from a green woodpecker yaffling, it is eerily quiet.

As we continue, we skirt Devil’s Hill. It appears that a lot of tree felling has taken place recently but there has been much replanting too.

There are some big old cherry trees here. Will they bear good fruit? Time will tell.

Looking back, we can see the tower of St Bartholomew’s Church in Nettlebed but it is partially obscured by some modern barns. Nonetheless it is a fine sight.

Carrying on uphill and passing the imposing Howberrywood Farm, we again stop to admire the views before our path turns left and left again. To our right is Nott Wood, a classic beech-dominated treasure, and to our left more open land with silver birches and bracken. A huge spruce stands proud. As we descend the track, bluebells and foxgloves are already making their presence known among some fallen boughs. There must have been some gale here.

We come across a stile which I manage to get over despite my dodgy knee. Matt observes that the local raptors are circling, as if waiting for my imminent demise! I somehow traverse the next one and we head back towards the car.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are in profusion and are about to erupt into flower.

As we drive home, we lament the demise of some other old haunts — the Woodman, the Lamb and the Dog are three pub casualties that we remember fondly.

At least we have the trees and the landscape that they furnish. How lucky we are.

Vincent Ruane

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