Thursday, 24 June 2021

Revisiting familiar woodlands and finding them as delightful as ever

Revisiting familiar woodlands and finding them as delightful as ever

IT is a crisp, sunny morning with a clear blue sky and we are driving along Kidmore End Road in the rural part of Emmer Green.

We go into a deep dip and then rise again, skirting Reading Golf Club (now closed) to our left. I’m deeply worried about the proposal to build houses on part of the course.

I spent much of my childhood here as my father was a member for many years. He played off scratch and taught me how to play. Unfortunately for dad, I found the golf boring but was happy enough to scramble through the rough in search of plants and animals.

Some years ago, I carried out a botanical survey of the course (with the club’s permission) for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust.

I found some interesting plants at the northern end that included a thriving population of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) and common restharrow (Ononis repens).

We pass Tanners Lane and continue until we see an old red telephone box that marks the entrance to Chalkhouse Green.

We turn right down the tight, narrow lane, passing houses to the right and open country across a hedge to our left, meet a sharp bend and head west towards Chalkhouse Green Farm. We park nearby.

When we last visited this lane about a year ago it was very muddy. Today it has dried out thanks to the lack of rain in April.

The farmhouse is very attractive, set in lovely grounds. A little further on a large house has its gateway adorned with some rather imposing stone eagles. A fine Scots pine stands proud but alone beyond a five-bar gate and some pruned common limes.

On our way down the track we walk past a fine horse chestnut coming into leaf.

As the lane narrows, it is stony and rutted. Like Dog Lane, which runs between Peppard Common and Rotherfield Greys, it is a truly ancient way, sometimes narrow, sometimes broad, with both high and low banks on either side.

We stop every now and again to admire the gentle flow and undulations of the land. A wonderful mix of trees, shrubs and flowering plants line the way, field maples, oaks, ash trees and common limes being the biggest. Hazel, spindle, wild privet, blackthorn, hawthorn and holly fill any available gap and English elms struggle on.

Below, bluebells, dog’s mercury, common nettle, white dead-nettle, ground ivy, green alkanet, lesser celandine, white-flowered common comfrey and wood anemone are flourishing.

Bumblebees are everywhere, as are butterflies.

Gazing across an attractive field to our left, we spot a sign on a metal gate that reads: “Bull in field”. We can’t see one. On the other side, horses graze with nonchalance.

Meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis) sing their tell-tale songs in undulating flight, zi, zi, zu, zurr, sea, sea, sea. It is good to see and hear them.

Like others, this lane is pocked with rabbit warrens and all other types of hidey-holes from the tiny to the large. One in particular seems to have a porch meticulously constructed with sticks and a high degree of intelligence.

We pass a substantial dip to our left as the lane descends and bottoms out. The slope is surrounded with blossoming cherry trees, which are cheering and full of promise.

This is one of those longed-for days of late spring when all is set to burst forth and seems to bring happiness to all that love outdoor life.

As we ascend the rough track, we find the weirdly shaped field maple trees that I showed Rosemary on our last visit. All look healthy. Once again, I think of how old this path is and how many people have trod it through time immemorial. I feel like I’m walking through a bucolic cathedral. Rosemary feels it too.

A horse rider passes by and we exchange greetings.

We pass a line of old common lime trees with their tell-tale suckers and arrive at the small entrance to Chambers Copse that I have been visiting since my early teens.

It is a true national treasure, such a rare and important site full of rare trees and flowering plants, insects of note and woodland butterflies.

A large, dead tree trunk has been placed across the entry point and a sign reads “Private property please keep out” and “OS paper map is wrong + check online on definitive map — no footpath please don’t tresspass (sic)”.

I have to say there is a clearly defined right of way delineated in OS Explorer 171, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford (2015).

I believe the track that runs through from Chalkhouse Green to Emmer Green is very ancient and this makes sense. I’m also led to believe that a campaign was initiated in 1992 to have this recognised as a public right of way. What is going on and why are the present landowners apparently so fearful? I do worry about places like this so I will contact the Woodland Trust and ask for advice.

A gate has been padlocked at the entrance but fortunately has been relieved of its duty, removed from its hinges and tossed to the ground. My OS map gives us authority to enter so we do. We are confronted by a vast sweep of bluebells, a sight to melt the hardest of hearts.

The trees greet me like a long-lost friend — strange-shaped, tilting hornbeams with their smooth, silvery bark, old, formerly coppiced common limes and hazels, tall, broad cherries with their tell-tale trunk striations, large hawthorns, as prickly as can be, ancient oaks of interesting dimensions, defiant ashes and groves of yews.

Box is everywhere, somehow untouched by the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis) that can ruin the shrub. Perhaps this is because of its remote location.

It is quiet within apart from the songs of chiffcaffs, blackcaps, song thrushes and blackbirds and the buzzing of bumblebees — paradise in Oxfordshire. I feel so at home in woodland.

When we get home, I attempt to look up Chambers Copse on the Ordnance Survey website. I’d have to subscribe and pay for the privilege. Apparently, my valid email address does not exist so I give up.

Instead we take a wander around our garden with our leader, Cilla the cat. She points out some new arrivals, notably a goldilocks buttercup that has blown in from somewhere, perhaps nearby Clayfield Copse. The cat meows approval.

Rosemary is determined to add to our floral collection so we sit down together to see what we’d like. We place an order for the following “weeds” from a company named Naturescape — clustered bellflower, common agrimony, hedge bedstraw, chicory, wood cranesbill, dropwort, fox and cubs, goat’s-beard, common mallow, dark mullein, mugwort, musk mallow, yellow loosestrife, pennyroyal, pignut, spiny restharrow, burnet saxifrage, devil’s-bit scabious, field scabious, greater stitchwort, hairy St John’s wort, sainfoin, sneezewort, soapwort, common toadflax, hedge woundwort and viper’s bugloss.

What a lot but we enjoy helping nature.

A few days later we take my mother to Toad Hall Garden Centre, off Marlow Road, north of Henley. She wants a fern but ends up with a crateload of plants, as do we. I part company with more than £100. Mum’s plants are a present from me.

We follow this with an al fresco lunch at the Maltsters Arms in Rotherfield Greys.

On the way, we note the greening hedgerows. I can’t wait to see the blossom of hawthorn that should appear in our garden soon thanks to the hedge we planted last year.

The pub is really busy, which is good for landlords Gary and Donna Clarke, and our lunch is fine and at a good price, so we will return.

Coincidentally, I receive an email from the owners of Chambers Copse inviting us to visit. Good news — we’ll certainly take it up.

Oh, I nearly forgot — I’m going to restring my banjo and give it a go. It will probably get me into trouble with Rosemary but, hey, that’s married life for you.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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