Monday, 06 July 2020

Advantage of uncut grass verges and a final cycle ride (for now)

Advantage of uncut grass verges and a final cycle ride (for now)

I WALK to our local branch of the Co-op in Henley Road, Caversham, to purchase some “essentials”.

On the way back, laden with food, I take a break and sit down on a wooden bench at the bottom of All Hallows Road.

I’m immediately struck by all the flowers growing on the roadside verges. Huge carpets of daisies (Bellis perennis), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), meadow buttercups (Ranunculus acris), shepherd’s-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and hoary plantains (Plantago media) fill the little green spaces.

Remarkable, but then I reflect that council employees are absent and not out mowing it all down. Bees are in apian heaven. I wish it could be always so. Maybe it will be in the future.

My poor Rosemary has had a recurrence of a suspected eye infection. We have to visit a doctor in “eye casualty” at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, which is a bit scary.

We venture into town for the examination. Afterwards we leave with a bag full of medication and hope that it will work.

Ambling back into the town centre, we pass through Chestnut Walk alongside the ruins of Reading Abbey and the infamous old gaol.

The horse chestnuts are no more. We wonder why but at least some saplings have been planted to replace the trees removed. Their replacements have been installed with a degree of expertise.

Where the historic Holy (or hallowed) Brook meets the River Kennet a female Canada goose sits on the bank incubating a clutch of eggs on a rudimentary nest among some ivy. She has a determined and stern look. We’ll check on her progress later if possible.

Next morning Rosemary’s eyes have improved rapidly so we take some exercise and cycle out to Crowsley Park, near Henley. I want to show her the magnificent old sweet chestnut trees planted there long ago.

I will be eternally grateful for the foresight of the men and women that placed these gems in the full knowledge that they would never live long enough to see the results of their labour, love and investment.

The chestnuts are truly massive with huge heavy iron-like boughs, wonderfully twisted trunks, deeply fissured bark and unearthly shapes. Only ancient trees can take on such a countenance.

There is a stunning clump of “browsed” box guarded by some Scots pines that sits indifferent to all but nonetheless unique.

The land here is about 80m above sea level, not that high for this part of the southern Chiltern hills but ideally placed for BBC Monitoring to employ an array of satellite dishes for its news gathering operation that digests the world’s radio station broadcasts for its globally important work.

As a four-year-old I would often walk with my mother to Caversham Park, the former home of Monitoring and the place where my parents met.

I’d clamber up the trunks and down through the boughs of magnificent cedars of Lebanon in the idyllic grounds, which is why there is a kind of personal resonance here as I spot some young specimens.

They are small in comparison to those that I met and loved in childhood but will develop into powerful, strong, handsome trees.

Apart from the great stands of sweet chestnuts there is a fine avenue of trees that runs from the mansion-house along to the east, a mixture of limes and oaks, some red (Quercus rubra), originally from North America. Their deeply lobed leaves turn a glorious hue in autumn.

We move on northwards. After encountering some dense, hardy gorse with associated hawthorn scrub, the land sweeps downwards to Old Place and King’s Farm Lane, part of the Chiltern Way.

It is very blustery up here this morning but the views are splendid from every angle.

We drop down to the bottom. The road leads eastwards to Harpsden. A track lies immediately to our right and we take it. If followed to its conclusion it takes you through Gillsmithers and Bones Woods to Binfield Heath and the Bottle and Glass public house.

We spot some soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) to the side of our path. A distinctive looking pink-flowered perennial with deeply veined leaves.

The woodland here is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. As is common with most post-war plantations, the dense, dark forest that we witness today is one that replaced a formerly deciduous one and was planted with quick- growing conifers, here dominated by Douglas fir with the occasional Scots pine and western hemlock-spruce.

Young silver birch and oak are thriving in between and in the latter’s case will outlive the evergreen interlopers.

To our right we see elegant silvery-trunked hornbeams and sycamores that define our path.

We follow the distinct outline of the wrought-iron fencing that describes the limit of Crowsley Park’s 160 acres and descend through some mixed, deciduous woodland.

A well-worn track leads through some youngish, broad-leaved trees. The understorey is made up of spindle, privet, blackthorn, dogwood, elder and bramble. There are gnarly-barked and deeply fissured silver birches, some veteran oaks and seasoned, warty-bristled field maples that almost gurn at the passer by.

The ground is mossy and scattered with flowering plants. Bluebells, dog’s mercury, wood sorrel, common figwort, ground ivy and lesser celandine. All is a treat to the eye. Small beech saplings lurk amid their rivals ready to dominate in a hundred years or so. I love the dynamics of woodland evolution.

We emerge into a glade where much logging has temporarily ceased. To either side deep pits have been excavated, perhaps for water run-off.

The trunk of a felled conifer shines in the sunlight as it adorns the earth, coloured pewter and gold, a sight of rare beauty. Young silver birch compete with goat willow for the sunlight. Butterflies flit in the rays and birds sing. All nature seems to be at peace. We love it.

We then descend to the valley floor and head back to our trusty steeds.

From now on and until we can all resume “normal” life, we’ll have to confine ourselves to brief and local excursions.

Luckily, we have access to many interesting places within brief walking distance.

I’ll be describing the wonders of our garden next week and perhaps readers will be able to share their observations from their own gardens? Please do let me know what you see and hear, I will be most interested. Our shared love of nature will prevail.

In the meantime our lusty male frog has turned silent, maybe exhausted? The pond is full of tadpoles so he has quite clearly had his moment.

A short while ago Rosemary said to me that she would cave in to my demand of marriage if I could lead her underneath the boughs of an oak tree bearing mistletoe or, as she put it a “Druid oak”. Strangely enough I do so today. Game over!

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