Sunday, 24 January 2021

Last few days in lovely countryside (and pubs) before lockdown

Last few days in lovely countryside (and pubs) before lockdown

ALTHOUGH we are in another lockdown, we can still take exercise as long as we don’t stray too far, whatever that means. Rosemary and I will be out and about as much as possible and reporting on what we find in the healthy country air.

Last week, we had only a few final days in which to visit some of our favourite rural pubs and have something to eat while out walking.

When we got married everyone wanted to know where we would be going for our honeymoon. Rosemary explained that we’d be walking in the south Chilterns and dining out at some of our splendid taverns. To be honest, what could be better?

On Monday last week, we go to the King William IV pub at Hailey, near Ipsden, and splash out on a really good lunch. We’ll be back as soon as possible.

We thank the staff and step outside. It is such a windy day.

I’d planned a woodland walk but we decide to give it a miss as I point out the risk of falling trees, especially when the ground is as wet as it is.

We are nothing but dogged though and on the following day, by which time the wind has abated, we drive to Rotherfield Peppard and park outside the rather interesting Church of All Saints. It is a lovely building and architecturally would not look out of place in Kent.

We walk past the old rectory, a handsome building. Woodland trees in the distance exhibit shining autumn colours.

We turn left on a public right of way that leads to Crosslanes and eventually to Pack and Prime Lane and then Henley.

The path is narrow. A fence to our left is electrified, the one to our right is not. These must be grassy paddocks for horses but there’s none visible this day.

Below the fencing we find not only various toadstools, which is to be expected at this time of year, but also flowering plants that should have given up the ghost a month or more back. Hogweed seems to believe it is still early summer, wild basil and agrimony are still in flower and only wild carrot is conceding defeat. It is November. Extraordinary.

We leave the paddocks behind and enter a youngish-looking wood that contains some fairly old trees also, notably some fine oaks. Our path traverses the recently refurbished golf course at Greys Green. Safety warnings and directions to the golfing community are littered about.

We meet a lady with three friendly dogs. She confirms that we are on the right track as I want to show Rosemary the splendour of Dog Lane, presumably named after the former Dog at Peppard Common, the first pub I ever went to. We listen to her advice and sure enough she’s correct in every detail. We are grateful.

Our route is lined with shiny haws, golden beech leaves and roughly hewn goat willows. The leaves of sweet chestnuts adorn the ground and, as noted previously at Goring Heath, many young trees appear to be wearing green, mossy socks. Silver birch and cherry complete the picture.

I spot a red admiral butterfly sunbathing on a tree guard. It looks tip-top. I can’t remember seeing one in November before. Remarkable.

We find ourselves at a crossroads. If we carry on we will reach the aptly named Crosslanes in striking distance of our final destination but we turn left and head north as directed.

Rosemary points out a large number of larches (Larix decidua), needles turning yellow, and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Golden bracken lies below. Ash and oak trees throw up strange shapes at ground level, twisted and mossy. We pass a lovely grove of hazels.

Just before we reach Dog Lane we bump into my friend Vickie Abel, chair of the Friends of Caversham Court, walking with a companion. We stop for a brief chat and Vickie kindly congratulates us on our marriage. Thank you.

We step into the lane, an old holloway. A stream is running through it, revealing gravel and larger stones. As we progress, we find ourselves walking through a tunnel of hazel, field maple, blackthorn, oak and beech, some covered with ivy.

We will return in late spring when it will be an even more splendid sight. It is normally very damp and muddy in large sections all-year round. I had warned Rosemary so she’s wearing waterproof footwear while I’m giving my new wellies a test run, which they pass with flying colours.

Shards of sunlight penetrate some old, gnarled field maples, illuminating the tree’s trademark yellow leaves that carpet the banks. Sublime.

Our route turns extremely muddy but we don’t care as it is such a bright day. Rosemary is thoroughly enjoying herself, loving the surroundings and snapping away.

There are many ferns along the banks, broad buckler and male, still bearing beautiful green fronds.

All the way along, hazels arc across our path with enchanting grace. Some have rotten stumps covered with toothed crust (Basidioradulum radula).

After about three-quarters of a mile from where we joined the lane and heading towards Peppard Common, the ground turns far muddier. Somehow we struggle through. This is the first time I’ve been here for about 30 years. I seem to remember finding a fairly large colony of stinking iris (Iris foetidissima). It is a native plant but uncommon in Oxfordshire (first recorded here in 1746). Strangely, they are often found not far from habitations.

I find them where I’d last seen them but in far greater numbers. They are bearing three-sided fruits filled with glossy, orange seeds. The leaves are sword-like and don’t smell that nice. Quite a sight below holly and dog-rose hips. I’m glad my memory serves me well but Rosemary is not surprised at my powers of recall.

After a short while, we arrive at the end of the lane. I take a longing look at the old pub, now an extended private dwelling. I remember being dazzled by the optics behind the bar and playing my first game of bar billiards. Oh, for the late Seventies, when everything seemed possible for a teenager.

As we pass the old pub, the sky turns broody. Two magpies walk in the grass over the now ditch-encompassed green. The sides are home to a few plants still in flower, yarrow (achillea millefolium) and the Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus) that was first recorded in the county in 1794.

According to my Flora of Oxfordshire (Killick, Perry and Woodell 1998, Pisces Publications), it is fairly common and a member of the daisy family, Asteraceae.

I only noticed it because the leaves are different from common ragwort and the flowers a uniform shade of yellow without an orangey centre. It is originally from the island of Sicily, where it grows on volcanic ash.

Hawkweeds and ribwort plantain are still ploughing on regardless of the time of year. Creeping thistle has retreated and is now a desiccated, light brown while cow parsley and hemlock are awaiting spring.

We walk past the traditional, attractive-looking primary school and say “good day” to a maintenance man. The school really does look neat, tidy and well maintained. Outside an old red telephone box is now home to a defibrillator. Others that we’ve encountered have been turned into miniature libraries.

As we walk back to our car, the now bare branches of trees reveal the remains of last spring’s bird’s nests. It must be a pleasant place to live but probably more so in days gone by with two pubs.

This has been a most enjoyable excursion but our day is not finished yet. We’ve booked for lunch at our favourite table at the welcoming Maltster’s Arms in nearby Rotherfield Greys. We have a jolly good time and an enjoyable meal too. I highly recommend this inn.

Back home, the colours in our garden are bordering on the outrageous at the moment and the earth smells great. We take a walk around it and plan where we are going to plant our latest acquisitions.

Then I’m blindsided as Rosemary reminds me that it is my turn to provide supper but then I love to cook and I’ll make sure the food is good.

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