Monday, 17 January 2022

Taking a break from decorating, we visit some comforting woodland

Taking a break from decorating, we visit some comforting woodland

AS we take our morning stroll around our garden it is evident that a badger has been having a bit of nocturnal fun, digging large holes and knocking over plant pots. We do love them but they can be so destructive.

Oh well, I suppose it is reassuring that we have Brock in our midst as well as deer and foxes. I just wish that they would cease digging and devouring bulbs and roots.

Before we go back inside I note a male robin choosing items from one of our bird feeders and passing them to his mate. Is there much difference between theirs and our behaviours, I wonder?

After breakfast, instead of continuing the redecorating we’ve embarked on, Rosemary and I head out to Great Oaks, just short of Cray’s Pond, and park by Oakwood Covert.

Crossing the road to the north east (is it Reading Road or Deadman’s Lane?), we enter a bridleway and find ourselves engulfed in rich beech woodland, a veritable classic with additional oak, ash, hazel, holly, cherry, goat willow, common larch and some elegant rowans.

The occasional rumble of road traffic fades away and we can hear varied birdsong instead. Great tits seem to be everywhere with their distinctive “teacher, teacher” calls, blackbirds sing tunefully, as do robins and song thrushes, the latter with their repeated, somewhat mournful utterances. It feels wholesome here and smells good, too.

The majority of trees, which have plenty of space in between them, appear to be about 100 to 150 years old with many spindly but healthy young saplings beneath. What has happened to those that should be somewhere inbetween these ages? At some point there must have been a hiatus in seed fertility. It is glorious nonetheless.

Grey squirrels bound about the trees as if on hallucinogens. One peers at us around a trunk audaciously as if expecting a handout. Well, that’s spring for you. Rosemary smiles.

We spot a sign on a tree warning of Alabama rot, an often fatal disease in dogs, which is most disturbing.

We take a left turn into a public right of way that runs between the covert and Little Oaken Wood.

Along the way we notice some intriguing dips in the forest floor. Ringed with moss, there are circular indentations that seem to indicate trees once stood there. Mysterious.

North of us a great spotted woodpecker hammers away as if possessed. He’s echoed by another to the fore and a third one to the south. This is one hell of a mating game. We think that Mr North has won.

On a fallen branch we find some blushing bracket fungus (Daedaleopsis confragosa). A beech tree displays what looks like an eye with a brow.

We come across a sweep of sweet chestnut trees. One or two are multi-trunked and some older examples have deeply fissured, grooved trunks.

They offer up shrivelled nuts on the deck from their spiny capsules. In summer, the trees will produce handsome, shiny, lanceolate, spiny-tipped leaves.

Not native trees, they are a European mainland introduction from our Roman invaders.

Tight up against some beech trunks, bright green bluebell leaves are emerging.

The land undulates left and right, still retaining last year’s fallen leaves, which Rosemary loves to scuff through and scatter. Winter light casts dramatic shadows on the woodland floor. These will be gone come the summer and the leaves are out.

Much of the woodland has been fenced off, some with sensitivity but other parcels with barbed-wire. We worry about the peril that this presents to deer and other animals.

Some parts of the woods are adorned with “Keep out” signs while others state the land behind them is a “nature reserve”. I find it all a bit unnecessary. We always stick to public rights of way and only go deeper into private land when allowed to do so by the owners.

We pass an ancient “enclosure” on the way to Greenmoor Hill and meet the enigmatically named “Long Toll” road before coming across a small, old chapel on the other side of the road. A delightful little building, it declares that it is “Primitive Methodist” and was built in 1886.

We leave the road to the right of the chapel and after a short stroll, head eastwards towards the side of Birchen Copse. The land is wide open to the north looking towards Abbot’s or College Wood.

Skylarks dance above singing their uplifting songs.

To the south the wood is deep and dark. We have no fear of it as it feels like a second home.

After a while, we meet a crossroads and continue southwards along another bridleway that takes us back to our car.

We are not done yet and as we started out early, decide to visit Wyfold Wood, at Kipping Hill, one of our favourites, before heading home.

We park up near Nippers Grove. The uncommon large-leaved limes look majestic despite being denuded of leaves. I look forward to seeing the violet helleborines that will flower beneath them at the tail-end of summer.

Common limes, a hybrid between the small-leaved (Tilia cordata) and the large-leaved (Tilia platyphyllos), are also present with their distinctive basal suckering.

These trees are prone to aphid infestation and I recommend not parking underneath one when in leaf because of the amount of “honeydew” that falls.

A pond is situated in an area described on my Ordnance Survey map as “open access”. It looks relatively clean and clear and will be of great benefit to all forms of wildlife, a bona-fide watering hole and attractive, too.

Just before we meet Wyfold Lane, we make an abrupt turn to the south and follow another walker some 50 yards ahead skirting a broad open field.

I love woodland edges as it is here that you come across some diverse, interesting trees and bushes. The interior is open and welcoming with a broad spread of species that includes some hefty silver birches.

Swathes of dog’s mercury are coming on a storm, ready to burst into flower. I love this plant and with good reason as it brought me and Rosemary together. She had always wondered what this little flower was until I provided the answer in this column. She then contacted me. Funny how things work out like that.

There are a few cherry laurels growing in here, too many for my liking. Three youngish oaks are lined up in a clearing like sentinels

A broken five-bar gate separates us from open country. High above a hot-air balloon is floating gently.

Everywhere hazel bushes carry a wealth of catkins and bumblebees hurtle about like drunks after closing time. How do they manage to fly?

As we move on along our slippery, muddy way, we are greeted with our first sight of blackthorn coming into flower, another sign of spring’s approach and welcome, too. It is the food plant of the larvae of the brown hairstreak (Thecla betulae) and black hairstreak (Strymondia pruni) butterflies, both scarce, and plenty of moth species too. What may seem ordinary can be invaluable. Rosemary spots a large, small-leaved evergreen bush which I examine. It is a cotoneaster of some sort but not one that I recognise. Later at home I check my reference books but find no help in identification.

We’ll have to return soon to study the bush’s flowers and fruit to discern exactly which species it is. Presumably bird-sown, it is an anomaly to me.

We find a curious beech tree that appears to have split into two trunks close to the ground only to fuse further up.

Carrion crows are making a din with their “kraa, kraa” calls and a single raven croaks as if it has a mild cold.

There is a birch tree with a bracket fungus (Fomitopsis betulina) and an old hazel with some bizarre fungi growing in neat little tiers up the major trunks.

When we reach a distinct corner of the woodland I notice something familiar but rare too — the unmistakeable bark of a very large wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). Fallen leaves confirm. It is on the Woodland Trust’s list of veterans.

I have ordered a tape measure to record the exact dimensions when we return. This is a great find. I’m only aware of a specimen at Goring Heath with greater stature.

When we get home, Rosemary presents me with the empty shells of hazelnuts that she has found deposited in a flowerpot out front. Grey squirrels are the culprits, I advise.

What a fine morning we’ve had with surely many more bright days like this one to come. For now I have to get back to the decorating.

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