Tuesday, 19 January 2021

From precious woods to open farmland above the river, pure bliss

From precious woods to open farmland above the river, pure bliss

HOW time flies, as they say. It is early August already — what happened to June and July?

We step out for our constitutional and after breakfast I call Professor Richard Fortey, the acclaimed author and Henley resident, to ask permission for Rosemary and I to explore the part of Lambridge Wood that he owns and that he describes with style in his excellent book, The Wood For The Trees.

We’d like to walk around as it forms the centre of a truly marvellous setting. Also, we have not been to these woods for a long while.

I think it’s important to examine certain areas through the seasons to witness the progress of nature.

Richard and I have a chat about the local populations of certain species of wild orchids, in particular the green-flowered helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes) that we both saw last year growing on a roadside close by his woodland.

He is a little concerned about the plant’s welfare. I say that I’ll take a look and report back.

We set forth. It is a really pleasant ride and we park deep inside the woods and walk towards a spot close to some houses.

I’ve got my bearings now as I come across a rare native tree that Richard has planted.

The woodland is as enchanting as ever. It has a very happy feel to it.

It is quite curious that I find some woodlands welcoming but others not. Maybe it is because I feel at home in deciduous forests rather than those mainly comprised of coniferous trees which have less light filtering through and seem bare of life other than the twitterings of goldcrests.

There are some fairly open areas underneath the predominantly beech and cherry canopy, with holly and hazel underneath. Some of the vistas are breathtaking.

We follow a path with a lovely dip that takes us to a deep shallow in the woods that eventually leads to Badgemore Park Golf Course.

The trees are quite a distance from one another but the leaves form a vast green umbrella, so high above.

It is rather hot and sunny in the open but under the aromatic sylvan canopy it is cool and invigorating.

After traversing Grim’s Ditch, we continue along the path south towards Rotherfield Greys.

Across a stile, we look at a solitary oak that stands proud in the middle of a field to our right, boughs broad, crown intact, making a bold statement of invincibility.

Having said hello to a pair of dog walkers, we head back to our car along another right of way.

We leave the woods and drive back down the leafy lane. At the end, before the minor road, we stop to admire an emerging violet helleborine.

As we walk along the narrow road, I find six of the green-flowered helleborines. This orchid, a self-pollinator, is a nationally scarce plant.

These are rather small but typical of those growing in woodland shade. They are perilously close to the roadside that runs between Broadplat and Bix and the volume and speed of traffic is frightening.

On our way back to the car, we spot a pair of broad-leaved helleborines fully out. Neat.

It is still early in the day so we decide to see how things are going at Rosemary’s favourite field and wood near Remenham.

After leaving the car close to St Nicholas’ Church, we walk up the road that leads eventually to the A4130.

All the poisonous hemlock has now dried out but still stands high, light brown and ready to be blown down by a gale. Tough black horehound is in flower.

The hedgerows, full of English elm, look healthy but I do wish these trees could rise to their former glory. I do miss the old avenues of elms from my childhood.

We reach the oak on the right-hand side of the road that identifies a well-trodden path that takes us westwards over a forever breezy hill.

The crop has already been harvested. Today a tractor is gathering bales of hay into piles. It smells sweet, another reminder of my younger days when on holiday.

This elevated ground is where skylarks could be found in spring. They will have raised their young so where are they now?

I stare at the sky and notice the lack of aircraft vapour trails and then glance down to the Henley reach where a narrow boat is chugging along the Thames’ sweet water.

Temple Island is visible, a glory in the near distance.

Looking down at the dry, stony ground and to the side of the path, I spot the flower of a corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum). It is not a common plant and this is the first that I have ever seen. The yellow flowers shine like the sun.

It can be most astonishing to find how many wild plants nestle between arable crops as long as they have not been treated with herbicide.

We enter Remenham Wood. Initially there is a slight incline but the ground levels out and it is quiet here. All that we hear is the throbbing of motorised boats down below on the river.

There is some curious fencing here with short but sturdy sections that seem to serve no purpose. I make it over a stile (a major achievement for me with my dodgy leg) and we enter a meadow proclaiming its beauty.

Rosemary has forever been telling me how lovely it is in summertime and she is quite correct. I am delighted as we are presented with a wonderful array of flowers — pinky-blue vervain, red and yellow common bird’s-foot-trefoil, pale yellow mouse-ear hawkweed, red and white clover, purple dwarf thistle, pink common centaury, yellow ragwort and perforate St John’s-wort, deeply red common poppies, white and pink yarrow, meadow buttercup and daisies. Meadow brown butterflies flit everywhere. Splendid.

This area appears to be pristine chalk grassland that slopes downwards towards the river and is so wonderful being just a brief walk from Henley town centre.

We drop down to Remenham Lane, walking through some rougher pasture where we saw cattle on our last visit, and pass some stately common lime trees.

We cross the road with care to gain the Berkshire bank of the Henley reach.

On the river, a fit, broad-shouldered fellow sculls downstream. I love the sound of the blades as they slice through water.

The Thames is, of course, as lovely as ever but today is graced by colourful flowering plants along the bank, such an extravaganza that I’m taken aback.

I receive an “I told you so” look from Rosemary who now expects me to identify absolutely everything, I give it a try.

There is gipsywort with its delicate white purply spotted flowers, water mint with its almost overpowering scent, fragrant meadowsweet, purple loosestrife, bittersweet, wild angelica, water dock, pendulous sedge, great willowherb, hemp agrimony and square-stalked St John’s-wort.

As we walk towards Remenham, I wonder how many people have noticed or experienced what we do right now.

I brought a Spanish friend along here about 30 years ago. She was enchanted by the town and river and spoke with such fond recollection about that summer’s day over a beer outside a café in Barcelona a year later. We really are fortunate to live where we do.

We return to our car and drive down to Aston in the hope that the Flower Pot pub is open. It is but so crowded that we decide to go, leaving a queue of thirsty punters by the pub’s entrance. This is a shame as we are both thirsty and the pub has a great garden. Oh well.

When we get home, we sit down on our wooden chairs in the back garden as normal to relax over a beer.

All of a sudden a kidney-spot ladybird lands on Rosemary’s leg. The little creature is black with two bright red spots. I have not seen one of these in years.

Collared doves coo in the trees, a green woodpecker yaffles and a young blackbird cools off in one of our birdbaths.

We find some fat hen in the garden, which can be cooked like spinach. We simply love what we see, hear and find.

My mother recently had some cypress trees in her back garden reduced in height to appease a neighbour.

Her deodar (Cedrus deodara) is a native of the west Himalayas and such a magnificent example that it has a tree preservation order on it.

After the “surgery”, Mum had some friends help to bag up the needles and leaves that were destined for the green bin but we gathered the lot and took it home to spread along our paths and enrich the soil. We throw nothing away.

I often wonder what happens to the contents of green bins as we don’t have one.

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