Monday, 06 July 2020

My favourite woodland filled with bluebells and lots more besides

My favourite woodland filled with bluebells and lots more besides

THE sun is shining brightly and Rosemary and I decide to take a walk. I want to introduce her to one of my favourite woodlands reached by way of a lovely, unspoilt lane.

Before setting off we check on the welfare of the recent plant introductions to our garden. All looks fine.

We see a peacock butterfly (Inachis io) that lands on the flowers of horny goat weed (Epimedium), another first of the year.

Beautiful primrose-coloured brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni) are dancing about in the air and a speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) sunbathes on a leaf.

Orange tips (Anthocharis cardamines) join in the fun. This species depends upon garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and cuckooflower, or Lady’s-smock (Cardamine pratensis), to lay its eggs. We can supply the former.

A goldcrest (Regulus regulus) “diddly-diddly-dees” in a conifer.

As we step outside it is a bit chilly and breezy but as we walk we soon warm up and head towards Chalkhouse Green.

After turning right at an old red telephone box we walk east down Chalkhouse Green Lane, passing a row of houses and then south past some larger properties.

Handsome Chalkhouse Green Farm stands to our left. At this point the lane becomes an unmade track and eventually leads on to Rosehill riding stables, where my sister keeps her horses.

During wet winter months it can be very muddy and slippery here what with all the equine traffic and is sometimes all but impassable, especially on the approach to the aforementioned stables. I’m pleasantly surprised today as our path is dry, although very stony underfoot.

The lane takes on an ancient aspect but then it is a very old “holloway”. As we drop down, the way becomes very narrow. Thankfully, we don’t encounter any big beasts. To our left an old hedgerow of hawthorn, spindle, dogwood and wild privet contains some young standard trees, a nice touch. To our right are some grand old shapely oaks and large common limes.

On either side are sometimes steep banks with garlic mustard, dog violet, lesser celandine, stinging nettles, yellow archangel, green alkanet and ground ivy growing. Bluebells are abundant. There is a patch of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) in flower, which surprises me as it is not usually out until May. These ones bear clusters of white flowers but it is not unusual to find pink or purple ones.

There are great views of pasture to either side. To our left is a herd of cattle with an attendant bull. White with black ears and noses, they are British Whites and bred for beef.

To our right horses dot the fields. Two buzzards soar above uttering their distinctive cries of “pee-ooo”. Their notes are not dissimilar to the mewing of the red kite that seems to be keeping an eye on the two of them.

We come across some enormous broad ash trees, obviously once part of an old hedgerow that skirts Abbey Rugby Club’s boundary to our left, a wall of living wood. Such extraordinary trees.

A rabbit darts across the lane and vanishes into a hole in the bank. Buzzards are a major predator of lagomorphs so maybe the bunny was more worried about the raptors than us.

We meet the entrance to the woodland that I want to show Rosemary. A gate leads into Chambers Copse by some massive common limes. We have to straddle a fallen tree trunk to enter and scuttle under the low boughs of a youngish yew. Rosemary is immediately impressed.

After only a few paces, I point out ancient hornbeam trees, some with huge twisting trunks like out of a fairy tale, their leaves on the verge of explosion. Each tree is a different shape to its neighbour, some straight as a die, others leaning at angles.

As we progress, I point out once coppiced common limes now multi-trunked and, like the hornbeams, rising in excess of 65ft.

As one would expect, there is much more to see in this old, once-worked coppice. There are huge hazels, many now having shed a bough or two through sheer weight, on the ground.

In fact, one of the most delightful aspects of this wood is that there has been little human interference. Fallen trees are scattered left, right and centre and will gradually rot to be consumed by fungi and invertebrates to renew the earth.

Mosses cover some of the ground. Massive, majestic cherry trees, spiky old hawthorns, downy birch and small amounts of holly populate this small section. We inadvertently put up some raucous pheasants. I then spot a grove of yews and lead us through into the interior with purpose. I haven’t been here for about two years but my memory is good.

One of the reasons that I’ve brought us here is to see if two rare plants are still present. I spot an old water tank dumped beside a big yew tree and after turning 10 yards to the right rediscover a spray of stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) that cannot be garden escapees.

Rosemary is astounded at my memory but I have a good sense of direction and have always remembered the minutiae of woodland landscapes. I’m thrilled to see these plants once more.

I’m now on the hunt for toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), a parasite of hazel roots. It does not possess true leaves and has the most peculiar, tubular, pinky-white flowers.

We move towards an old coppice and I’m amazed. A large hazel has a gash in its main bough and within, a few feet above the ground, my quarry. I can hardly believe it but there it is, on the tree and not the roots. Extraordinary.

We make our way downhill. Thickets of evergreen box (Buxus sempervirens) line the way through higher trees and after a short while we drop down to gain an old path carved through dog’s mercury that takes us to the woodland bottom. This is another personal joy. I show Rosemary the most enormous sea of bluebells that I know of. They are in flower already, so early, with wood anemones, greater stitchwort, lesser celandine, yellow archangel and dog-violets scattered in between. My, what a sight this is.

A sinuous pathway leads back uphill through this vast display. Beautiful cherries and hornbeams stand either side. Bumblebees career about like demented drunks.

I spot a huge old crab apple and a solitary, aged rowan. A greater spotted woodpecker drums 10 yards away, two others respond in the distance.

Another rabbit tears off up a bank. A vast flock of wood pigeon erupts from the greening treetops. We turn back and walk home.

Rosemary and I thank the heavens that we have each other in these awful, gruesome days. We are taking good care of ourselves but feel desperately sad for my mother, all alone.

Whenever I’m out I take a little something back for her that I find on my walks, anything from an acorn to a fallen leaf. Mum keeps them in a large bowl. She can’t be with us on our walks, of course, but loves to feel that she is in spirit. We feel it too, dear soul.

Vincent and Rosemary made thier visit before the coronavirous lockdown.

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