Monday, 17 January 2022

Ramble among the brambles, then home to our new ‘family’ of birds

Ramble among the brambles, then home to our new ‘family’ of birds

AFTER last week’s visit to Shiplake Copse, we return to Binfield Heath.

I’d promised Rosemary that we would explore more of this area’s woods, streams, ponds and panoramas.

After leaving the car in front of the Congregational church again, we head south along a bridleway towards the oddly named Bint’s Farm and beyond.

After we pass the fenced gardens of houses, the lane opens up. The branches of varying trees on either side have been cut back but there is a very cosy feel here.

Initially, we take the bridleway that leads to the A4155, a downhill trek towards the Flowing Spring pub that finishes with a dead end and a busy road to cross. We pass the side of Round Wood.

The “gurgle hole” that I’d hoped to show Rosemary is silent so we retrace our steps towards Bint’s Farm and head eastwards in the direction of Ash Copse.

Hawthorns and spindles are full of fruit, glowing red, pink and orange.

Bramble fruits look wizened as there have been extended dry periods over the last few months, although there is plenty of water around today.

The air is still. Red kites, buzzards and carrion crows announce their presence way above the still green leaves of sturdy oaks, fissured-trunked ash trees and cork-textured, gnarled field maples with croaks and mews. Ivy is creeping throughout. Spiky blackthorn and stout cherries join the throng.

Stinging nettles lie in wait with docks harbouring a potential remedy. Childhood memories resurface.

Brambles dangle from the trees to snag the unwary walker and a multitude of ferns line the sides of man-made drainage ditches.

Old man’s beard, or traveller’s-joy, is having a last hurrah, bearing clustered seeds in woolly, pale plumes, and white campion is still in flower.

A skylark sings sweetly, high up in the heavens.

Many of the trees that we encounter have been cut back to re-emerge in strange, magical shapes.

Woodland grasses sway in a slight breeze as we enter an open area of land with splendid views towards the River Thames and beyond.

Passing a small woodland named The Firs, we stop to take in the view towards Reading a few miles away.

I think of all those people in the town (soon to be city?) with its huge cranes and mismatched new buildings but just the two of us here taking in the majesty of our natural surroundings. What a contrast.

The sky seems huge with one or two vapour trails, blue, vast and all-encompassing.

A flock of wintering bramblings flies past close to us. They are handsome small finches, more varied in colour than their close relatives, the native chaffinch.

The birds arrive here from Scandinavia for autumn and winter sustenance. It is always a pleasure to see these attractive little birds with their orange shoulders and white rumps and underparts.

Maize cobs from a nearby field are scattered across our path. We doubt that this is the work of pheasants but more likely hungry carrion crows or deer.

The world opens up even more as we leave the tree cover and walk alongside red clover, scentless mayweed and silverweed.

The fields to our left resemble those from a week ago with a brassica and buckwheat crop.

Hampstead Farm encompasses a dip in the land with ponds on either side.

We stop to admire a single oak tree rising from the middle of the field, looking healthy and happy, a beauty in its own right.

I stop Rosemary abruptly as I spot a pair of fallow deer bucks crossing the green growth. They see us too and seem somewhat surprised.

They are handsome creatures and we are pleased to see them before they take another look at us and then dash off and vanish in the cover of an unnamed wood by the large, sprawling farm. I did not expect to see such a head of deer out here.

As we walk past Ash Copse, we note some broad-trunked oaks that must be more than 500 years old.

One is completely hollow, the heartwood rotten and eaten away. I’m sure that it must be home to beetles and bats.

We spy some female fallow deer across another adjacent field. They are such graceful animals as they bound away.

As we move on down towards the main road, the traffic becomes increasingly audible.

We notice a large amount of sweet chestnut and red oak leaves on our path. I can’t see the trees they came from so they must have been blown in here. We reach a bright glade and there it is, the twisty, chevron-lined A4155 Henley/Reading road.

We have seen no one today apart from people in their cars by the main road and a family out walking by the old farmhouse.

It has been very enjoyable with easy terrain and glorious peace and quiet.

We return to our car and visit the Crown at Playhatch once more for lunch and a pint.

Back home, our near neighbours have just returned from a short holiday in Scotland.

While they were away, we fed and looked after their chickens and ducks with names including Daffy and Shimmer.

The birds would get very excited when we appeared to feed them before we ushered them into a compound in the early evening to protect them from predatory, urban foxes.

They got to recognise us and us them. All have a distinct character and, on occasion, provide us with fresh eggs.

We have made some new friends — in fact they now feel like family to Rosemary and me.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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