Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Why do we need so many signs spoiling our beautiful countryside?

Why do we need so many signs spoiling our beautiful countryside?

THERE is a clear blue sky on this Sunday morning. I sit in our back garden while Rosemary takes a shower. Some of our acers are turning red. Leaves are falling from other trees. Autumn is upon us already.

Then we’re off out to take advantage of this “Indian summer” sunshine.

We head to Greys Court, where we plan to park the car and go for a walk.

On arrival, we find that we are not allowed to leave the car as we should have pre-booked a visit to the gardens. This is most frustrating, especially for two National Trust members.

We turn back and park a short way along nearby Rocky Lane, changing our plans slightly.

We walk northwards along the leafy thoroughfare for about 100 yards and then turn left (west) at our first designated opportunity into an open field with woodland beyond.

We are warned that livestock is present but we see none. However, there is ready evidence that sheep have been here.

We take the public footpath westwards down into the valley and then back up a rather steep, open grassland slope.

We pass through a metal kissing gate (installed by the benevolence of the Chiltern Society) and meet some redolent woodland.

This turns out to be rather regimented — the beech trees planted in straight lines — so must be a future crop. It is welcoming and cool within. Sunlight shines through the leaves that will turn gold in a month or so.

The slope becomes even steeper. We reach the brow of the hill and after a short while pass some young oaks in a more open environment where we find bush vetch (Vicia sepium), hedgerow crane’s-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum) and white dead-nettle (Lamium album).

Then we emerge on to Greys cricket green. I’ve cycled and driven past this spot for many a year but this is the first time I’ve set foot here and I like it. An idyllic cottage sits in the background.

We head across to a solid wooden bench under a copper beech where I sit to take in the view. The bench commemorates the 90th birthday of the Queen on April 21, 2016.

After our brief but enjoyable break, we head off down a lane to the west. An old post box is situated in a traditional brick and flint wall. It is painted light-grey and embossed “G VI R”. Is it still in service we wonder?

Ivy is coming into flower as it scrambles though some nearby English elm trees.

To our right is a seemingly overgrown field with a five-bar gate. Some swathes have been mowed here and there. It looks lovely.

To our left, we come across some large-leaved limes (Tilia platyphyllos), such handsome specimens. They’re one of just two examples in the vicinity that I am aware of.

A large aspen is another surprise and large too.

Blackthorn is laden with sloe berries, a classic and useful fruit, a dark purply-blue and great for attacking onetime school-day enemies with a catapult.

We step into Sam’s Wood, another beech-dominated woodland akin to a cathedral. The trunks grow so close together, tall beauties.

Apart from the beech trees, oaks, field maple, cherry, holly and ash are all present.

We agree that there is a good ambience to this place, similar to other woodlands we know. Uncanny, but true. Some places just have that “feelgood factor”.

Beneath the trees we find some fungi — blushers (Amanita rubescens) and some deadly poisonous death caps (Amanita phalloides).

We emerge from the dense canopy to find fields on either side of our path full of cock’s-foot grass and meadow buttercups.

Small copper butterflies seem obsessed with the flowers of hawkweeds. A red kite soars above.

After a short while we find ourselves in the ancient hamlet of Shepherd’s Green. It is a charming place with some elegant thatched properties and, of course, a green that a mole or two seem to be enjoying.

Many years ago, there was a neat pub here called the Green Tree (the building still stands). The snug was, well, snug. I’m still upset that the pub closed as it was a very pleasant place to visit, another lost treasure of the south Chilterns.

The landlady was famous for being rude to those that she liked. If she was polite you were definitely in trouble.

There are some grand trees here that include Swedish whitebeam and a Magnolia grandiflora. Definitely the kind of setting for an episode of Midsomer Murders.

We depart the peaceful hamlet and carry on westwards. As we leave the green we come across some Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) in full flower.

Yellow-hued lichen grows on hawthorn branches to add to the abundant autumnal colour.

Heading north, we enter another field and this one does have sheep in. They watch our progress with a kind of nonchalance, apart from one that seems determined to record what we are up to by staring at us.

As we pass along the side of a fence that separates us from the woolly secret agent, we find a hawthorn so laden with berries that I fear its branches will break from the sheer weight.

We slip inside Overland’s Wood. Once more it is cool inside. Our path twists and turns through the trees.

We break through the cover into some open land after passing a cherry tree with a sign impaled in its trunk and head uphill towards Rocky Lane.

We are assailed by the vigorous barking of a group of dachshunds in the garden of a nearby house. They look so terrifying, the little scamps!

We have a brief chat with the dogs’ owner before rejoining Rocky Lane and noting a large amount of common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) with its yellow and orange flowers.

A perennial, it is sometimes referred to as butter and eggs with good reason. We find it a rather beautiful plant, a late flowerer.

Everywhere we are assailed by signs. Maybe there is some form of local paranoia that has even infected the snooping sheep.

As we rejoin the quiet and narrow lane, we stop to look at a pond. It has nearly dried out but is still a viable environment for our little aquatic friends and full of a mass of what appears to be a species of pondweed.

I don’t dare get close enough to check as I fear that Rosemary will give me a nudge and propel me in.

Today Rocky Lane (I do like the name) is relatively quiet car-wise but, like most lanes these days, full of crusading cyclists.

I spot some greater celandine and some small cyclamen growing below another brick and flint wall that guards Rocky Lane Farm.

As we meander a little further, I find another post box bearing my initials.

Across the way at Rose Farm we come across a sign that warns, “Chien lunatique”. Well, I’m not going in anyway. After another minute there’s another that reads: “Please slow down — children and animals.”

The lane is very narrow with not much space to avoid traffic so we have to stay alert.

There is a line of oaks to our right as we progress and approach Pissen Wood to our left. The wood looks inviting with some fine trees, bushes and ferns. There are some public rights of way within so another walk is earmarked.

Badger tracks appear left and right up and down steep banks. I show Rosemary the extensive hazel nuttery that lies to the south. I guess that they are filberts. There must be a huge crop so I wonder who all the nuts are sold to.

On our way back to the car the sun shines through a grove of beech while spindle is producing pink capsules with orange seeds.

I’m reminded of two quotes from William Blake, the celebrated English painter, poet and printmaker. Firstly,

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.


He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy,
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Also, Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century American philospher and poet:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only

The essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to

Teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

There are plenty of books that celebrate the natural world, written by authors from ancient Greece to the present day.

In modern times I think of Richard Mabey, Richard Fortey, Robert Macfarlane, Roger Deakin and others. They all describe effusively what they experience as they immerse themselves in the natural world.

We need quality writers of their kind to educate and inspire. I hope that today’s children will grow up to continue this valuable tradition. Long may it last.

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