Monday, 06 July 2020

Wildlife as lovely as my new friends from Walkers are Welcome

Wildlife as lovely as my new friends from Walkers are Welcome

BACK in mid-February I received a message, courtesy of the Henley Standard, from Catherine Notaras, a committee member of Walkers are Welcome Henley. She invited me and Rosemary to join her and other members of the group for a walk (followed by lunch) in a lovely part of our local Chiltern landscape to which we readily agreed.

Come the day we meet up in the car park of the Maltster’s Arms pub in Rotherfield Greys. There are a dozen of us, including a charming dog named Jock.

After introductions and some photographs of us taken outside the pub, we set off.

Before walking to the south-west, we take a left turn through a wooden gate into a wide open field and stop to admire the Norman church of St Nicholas.

It contains the fascinating and ornate tomb of Sir Francis Knollys (pronounced Knowles), treasurer of the household during the reign of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis was also a Member of Parliament and a puritan.

I recommend taking a look inside and outside the church. The tomb is extraordinary and the church is a little wonder in its own right. Entering the field and looking to our right, a stately line of lime trees is coming into bud. Underneath the trees’ impressive boughs lesser celandine and cow parsley are making small but clear statements of intent. We cross the springy turf and head towards Pindars Wood.

We clamber over a shaky stile and join the beech trees as well as oak, ash, cherry, elder and hazel. Holly bushes have been hacked back down close to the earth. Some may consider holly to be a woodland “weed” but from my perspective it is a natural component of Chiltern beech-dominated woodland and should be left unmolested.

Drifts of wood anemone or windflower carpet the ground. Swathes of bluebells are widely and strangely spaced and preparing for a colourful, scented assault on our senses.

This is a healthy wood on a gentle downwards slope, a small fragment of something once much bigger but with all the potential to expand if we humans were kind enough to leave the surrounding land to its own devices.

At the end of the tree cover and the valley’s base I’m presented with a second stile. Somehow I vault over it (much to Rosemary’s surprise) and catch up with the two chaps in front.

As we head eastwards along the valley bottom, we notice that much of the hedgerow vegetation to our right-hand side has been trimmed, most probably with the best of intentions but rather rash and somewhat dispiriting. A multi-trunked and oddly shaped oak presents a long-dead component. I’m asked for the cause but I don’t know with any certainty and can simply guess. Only nature will know.

The contours of the land here are most striking. Gentle sweeps made by a sublime hand and wondrous to behold.

As we progress our path leads us through a narrow and thoroughly muddy patch.

Jock seems to be enjoying herself (yes indeed) down at the valley’s bottom.

We straddle another old stile and head uphill to the south-west. As we ascend the gradual and gentle slope, the adjacent land appears to have been abandoned to nature’s own nurture, turning to scrub.

Young trees including Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) grow among hawthorn and dog rose. The dead desiccated heads of last summer’s flowers stand brittle against the breeze.

We hear a skylark. Whenever I hear one it makes me stupidly happy.

We climb up the hillside, talking and admiring this small but significant fragment of bliss. Back at the southernmost tip of Pindars Wood a wild cherry or gean (Prunus avium) is promising to burst into flower.

We regain the high ground and encounter the limes once again but from a different perspective.

My new friend Alie Hagedoorn points to where three big trees had been floored by a high wind only for new stems to rise phoenix-like from well-established roots. Such is the resilience of nature. You can punch it in the face and it’ll punch you back.

We retire into the welcome arms of the Maltster’s, now run by Gary and Donna Clark, a cosy refuge from a now threatening sky and also a Walkers are Welcome partner.

Sadly, Tim and Anthea Osborn-Jones (and Jock) have to leave but if you are feeling adventurous do visit Anthea at www.afootinthechilterns.co.uk

We eat some lovely bread and soup, a perfect end to a superb walk arranged by the irrepressible Catherine.

What has been so pleasing for the two of us is to meet up with like-minded folk that are all doing their utmost to promote the benefits of walking, exploring and understanding the wonderful landscape that is for all to enjoy around the Henley area.

Rosemary and I sit with Alie, secretary of Henley Walkers are Welcome and chair of Henley and Goring Ramblers, and Philippa Sanders, who runs Pipsticks Walks (www.pipstickswalks.co.uk).

At our neighbouring table Catherine sits with Peter Stone, chairman of Henley Walkers are Welcome, Nigel Reading, who has come along for fun, food and beer, and Henley town councillors Stefan Gawrysiak and Glen Lambert, both former mayors.

We all have so much in common: the love of nature, landscape, the joy of good company, the sharing of stories and the sheer joy of just enjoying and appreciating what we see and hear, where we tread and what we absorb when out and about. We will all meet up again soon, I’m sure.

I’m in the process of conjuring up an entertaining and informative walk of my own design for all of us to enjoy soon.

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