Friday, 30 October 2020

I’m no Emily Bronte, but nature (and my betrothed) bring out poet in me

I’m no Emily Bronte, but nature (and my betrothed) bring out poet in me

ROSEMARY and I intend to make the most of every sunny day at our disposal. Today is one.

I suggest that we have another look at Wyfold Wood and then take a walk along the bridleway that skirts Nippers Grove, between Stoke Row, Hook End, Wyfold and Gallowstree Common, so that’s what we do.

As we drive along Wood Lane towards Wyfold, countless falling acorns make a din as they land on the car roof — the oak trees are well-laden this autumn.

On arrival, we are again astonished to see the huge, ancient and large-leaved limes looking so defiant. I shall report to our friend Dave Kenny so he can take some measurements. Some old, gnarled silver birch trees add to the spectacle.

The bridleway that we enter leads westwards to Whitewood Heath and is full of character. There is much to see, not just tree-wise, as there are splendid views and the ground is full of fungi — it’s that time of year.

Some fine old oak trees line the southern aspect of the bridleway, which is surprisingly muddy in places and full of redshank (Persicaria maculosa).

Sadly, many ash trees on the edge of the woodland have been marked for felling as a result of ash-dieback disease.

A hedgerow has been planted with expensive looking protection. We peer inside to find spindle, hawthorn, hazel and, we think, field maple.

In the woodland there are many other species of tree, Scots pine, larch, English oak, hawthorn, whitebeam, rowan, willow, hazel, cherry, sweet chestnut, holly, field maple, sycamore, beech, yew, dogwood, larch and common lime. What an array. We also come across some Lawson’s cypress trees, which seem out of place. Dog’s mercury grows underneath.

To our left, the fields are now bare, the crop having been harvested, but look lovely on this sunny day.

Bracken lines either side of the bridleway. We discover that there are permissive paths (walkers only) through the grove. I’m finding this more frequently these days and think it’s a good move on behalf of the landowners. I hope that people take advantage and soak up nature in all its splendour.

We come across some interesting fungi, including blushers (Amanita rubescens), Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare), beechwood sickener (Russula mairei), a Ganoderma, Scleroderma citrinum, Russula vesca and hairy crust (Stereum hirsutum).

We cross Park Lane. There is a well-maintained mixed hedge to our left and a largish, level, bare field to our right over a fence. Field pansies illuminate the way. We encounter some stout old silver birch trees, some spindle that is fruiting and a rather overgrown pond surrounded by some elegant oaks.

Heading north, we meet Valentine Wood to our left, The Oaks to our right.

The red berries of bittersweet shine in the light and raspberries, blackberries and sloes are in profusion.

These woods are increasingly filled with an invasive species of rhododendron, more than likely Ponticum. It really needs controlling. The flowers of this shrub are nice to behold but the plant dominates the woodland floor wherever it becomes established, to the detriment of native plants. A great shame.

When we emerge from the woods by Hook End Farm, there is an angry-looking oak tree. Rosemary spots some guinea fowl making their way through the grassland, pecking at God knows what.

We seem to be being followed around by a green woodpecker, who keeps announcing his presence but, as ever, is just out of sight. Rosemary and I exchange a knowing look.

A superb bracket fungus is growing on a beech tree that is obviously in trouble.

We then head back down Park Lane where we find an old trench, which looks neolithic in origin. Rosemary jumps in to find that it is a foot deep in beech leaves and mast. Alas, she does not fall over and just grins.

The trench must have taken so much hard work to construct all those years ago. These days it serves no purpose other than to provide home to some glittering, green mosses and the occasional fern.

Continuing out path, we meet a man gathering some fallen cherry wood. He informs us that he will be turning this into fruit bowls. What a wonderful thing to do. By the way, if you have an open fireplace, cherry and apple wood logs smell just like their fruits when they burn in the hearth.

We regain our initial path and, after turning left and heading east, we pass Sheepwash Pond. It is always interesting going the opposite way you came as you see much more and this is what happens today.

As we head back to the car, I spot the fruiting spike of a violet helleborine orchid that I’d walked past earlier and then another and another. Rosemary shrieks as she finds one too.

We count a total of 47 spikes. Remarkable — the biggest colony I have ever come across. There must be many more growing inside the tree canopy. Do they have some kind of relationship with the equally uncommon trees?

We find plenty of ferns here, too, including a hart’s-tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) that grows alongside woodruff bearing tiny nutlets.

We look at each other with intent and, as we are both a bit peckish, can’t resist visiting one of our favourite pubs, the charming Black Horse pub at Scot’s Common.

After a bacon roll and a pint of Good Old Boy outside the pub, we are approached by Jim and Penny Petter who tell us they are Saturday regulars.

We have a lovely chat and they invite us to explore their private woodland nearby at any time but recommend a visit next spring when the bluebells will be in full splendour.

This is so kind, so we will come and we thank them profusely, taking their telephone number so we can keep in touch. On our way home, I suggest a brief stop at Nuney Green, a hamlet reached by what Rosemary refers to as one of my “goat tracks” near Goring Heath. In fact, it’s a turn-off to the left on the way down the
B-road to Chazey Heath.

I want to hunt for more fungi as I’ve a suspicion that a certain species may still be around, one of the most enchanting that I have seen, and also show Rosemary some of the most majestic trees that I know of.

Taking the left turn, the narrow, rutted road dips, then rises. Thankfully, we find a convenient place to park on the tip of a rise.

We walk eastwards, passing a row of houses, and are immediately presented by the imposing Nuney Wood, or at least a small portion of it.

We delve inside and come across some large cherry trees, their trunk bark fissured with striated, large plates. I so love cherry trees, especially in spring when they are briefly in flower against a blue sky. I like the fruit too!

We find an old hawthorn, its trunk split down the middle but still in fine health. How did it manage that?

We notice plump, ripe blackberries on the brambles growing alongside young hollies. The wood is dominated by beech trees but is quite open. The ground is very stony so was probably never considered for agricultural use, for which I am grateful. Cherry trees are shedding their leaves, yellow and red.

The wood is full of many species of brackets that break down dead wood. One startles me with its ghostly whiteness, Trametes gibbosa, the lumpy bracket. Wooly milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) nestles among fallen beech leaves.

We find a yellow slime mould (Fuligo septica var. flava) on a fallen, rotting and woodworm- riddled tree trunk. These organisms are not fungi at all and normally ephemeral but like this one, rather colourful.

I guide Rosemary into the woods to our right and after scrambling through some holly bushes illuminated by the sun’s rays, we meet an old lane and head south.

When we meet the edge of the woodland, I lead her through a path (unofficial but I have everlasting permission from the owner) in search of a fungus species that always fills me with wonder.

I find it safe and sound and feel happy as I have not ventured here nor seen or shared this spectacle for years.

I’m describing fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), the mushroom of fairy-tales with its red cap and white scales. White gilled with a bulbous stipe, they are beauties. Rosemary is enchanted.

Once back home, I sit outside and a male tawny owl begins to hoot. This is good news as my betrothed tells me that owls have been absent from the garden for a long time, so a welcome return.

As the heavens open, Rosemary calls me in from the pouring rain and introduces me to a poem by Emily Brontë.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

I wish I could write like that. I do try.

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