Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Summer meadows filled with wildflowers and a little white surprise...

Summer meadows filled with wildflowers and a little white surprise...

OUR friend Chris Kelly arrives promptly at 10am. We are going to take him on a tour of Whitchurch Hill to reveal the flower-laden meadows, fine trees and extensive views.

Rosemary takes him on a brief circuit of our back garden as I work out the complex lacing system on my American lightweight walking boots.

Chris very kindly gave us a young oak tree as a wedding present that had been growing in his own rear garden.

Rosemary planted it in an ideal spot and I am pleased to confirm that it is doing very well. We all hope that it will become a grand specimen in the future. With any luck it may be around for another 600 years or more.

There is nothing like planting a tree that will outlive you and having the knowledge that sometime in the distant future people will admire it. Thanks, Chris.

We head north from Caversham along the A4074 and turn left into Deadman’s Lane, onwards to Cray’s Pond and then Hill Bottom where we park at the Sun pub, where we will have lunch after our walk.

Walking westwards towards Coombe End, we pass some attractive old cottages and remark on how quiet it is out here. What a lovely place to live.

We join an old bridleway heading south. To our left there are many houses and to our right are trees.

A large contingent of hornbeams are already displaying clusters of winged nutlets. Oaks, hazels and sweet chestnuts appear to be happy.

Beneath the trees, Arum maculatum, or lords-and-ladies, bears spikes of red berries and honeysuckle, or woodbine, is still in fine fettle, full of fragrant, delicate flowers. Hedge woundwort, green alkanet and bittersweet grow among ripening brambles.

Nipplewort and pendulous sedge are going strong. It is nice to see such an array of wild trees and flowering plants so close to dwellings.

Young ash and English elm trees seem vibrant. Maybe there is hope for both species that have suffered so badly from disease over the years.

Upon leaving the bridleway, we cross a road and stand to admire an old well a few hundred yards short of Butler’s Farm to the west. Signs tell us that it was erected by Samuel Weare Gardiner Esq in 1853. It is easy to forget that many villages had no running water until comparatively recent times.

Passing the old farm building with a tidy pond perimeter, a large dragonfly zig-zags and darts around at speed so that it’s too difficult to identify. My guess is that it is either a southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) or an emperor (Anax imperator). Whichever it is, it’s great to see one.

We then head down to the village green and take a left-hand turn into a National Trail, part of the Chiltern Way.

We walk past some cottages with elaborate brickwork, through a gate and we are in a meadow which Rosemary and I last visited in late October.

Now the grassland is in full swing flower-wise and what a sight it is with a vast array of colour.

The large white flowers of hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) scamper through tall grasses and the pinkish-white flowers of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) stand proud.

Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) with their glowing purple florets mingle with the yellow, distinct blooms of greater bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus).

Vast amounts of field scabious (Knautia arvensis), with light blueish-violet flowers, white clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are mobbed by honeybees (Apis mellifera).

Lady’s bedstraw (Gallium verum) is in full bloom. I love this plant. It illuminates any meadow where it grows with its yellow brilliance as it sways in the breeze.

A most striking backdrop is provided by rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium). This statuesque plant is much maligned, especially on the railway lines where it is also called “fireweed”.

Rosemary and I believe it has an elegance, charm and dignity with its pinky-purple, tallish spikes that sway in the
slightest wind. The sound of meadow grasshoppers (Pseudochorthippus parallelus) is almost overwhelming and reminds us of childhood. Such a good sign.

All kinds of insects — butterflies, beetles, bees and flies — are a vital part of our world as prime pollinators.

We’d be lost without them and deprived of food for our already unsustainable global population.

Yet people still spray insecticides and herbicides on their gardens and wonder why they don’t see any birdlife.

We come across a single oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) at the edge of the path. Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus), meadow browns (Maniola jurtina) and large white (Pieris brassicae) butterflies flit about with abandon. A swallow skims past. It is all rather lovely.

Leaving the meadow behind, we head eastwards towards Path Hill. The sky up here is a deep blue. I point out to Chris the communications tower at Greenmoor Hill on the edge of Woodcote almost exactly north.

Standing before a field of barley, we admire the small emergent flowers of hoary ragwort (Senecio erucifolius) with its divided, pointed leaves, feathery-leaved scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum) and common poppies (Papaver rhoeas), all growing at the edge of the soon-to-be-harvested crop.

A brief lyric from Sting’s Fields of Gold comes to mind:

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold.

Moving on, we encounter a small group of trees that includes some sweet chestnuts bearing male catkins that Rosemary calls “hairy caterpillars”. Lying on the desiccated path, they look rather convincing. The trees’ big leaves are shiny and lanceolate.

A little further on we come across a dynamic patch of perforate St John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum), the petals a deep yellow, and hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo) with its four-petalled white flowers among the nodding heads of sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum). What a glorious combination.

A female meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina) settles on a creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense). The three of us are entranced by this handsome creature seen up close.

We make our way past a mixed, native hedgerow and then, all of a sudden, we can see far into the distance south to Tilehurst with its water tower.

Meadow grasshoppers chirrup left, right and centre. We find a field scabious (Knautia arvensis) presenting pure white flowers. I have never seen this before. A red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) is hard at work on a normally bluey-violet version. An Essex skipper butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) lands on another.

Brambles are in flower, white and pink, and attracting an immense variety of insects as if they’re on a summer picnic — an array of bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies and even ants.

We dip round a bend, gaze back at the view and move down into an old lane. We stop briefly to gaze across another meadow and the hamlet of Path Hill.

Heading northwards, we detect a distinct lack of birdsong. I put it down to the end of the breeding season and territorial claims. Still, high above, red kites and buzzards roam the skies.

Our path is very narrow, laden with a forthcoming heavy crop of blackberries. These won’t last long when ripe.

Black horehound (Ballota nigra), a hairy perennial with pinky-purple flowers and an unpleasant smell, is abundant, as is upright hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica).

The sky-blue florets of chicory (Cichorium intybus) adorn the ground under tight hedgerows.

A small white female butterfly (Pieris rapae) poses on a common nettle, a male on a bramble. Common red soldier beetles misbehave on hogweed.

All along this tight path we are entertained by field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), white campion (Silene latifolia), bladder campion (Silene vulgaris), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), white dead-nettle (Lamium album), common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), vervain (Verbena officinalis), perforate St John’s-wort and red clover.

At the lane’s end we meet an attractive horse across a metal gate before making our way to the pub.

The food served is of the same high quality that we had on our previous visits and one of Rosemary’s friends pops in to say hello after recognising our car. We drive home, dropping Chris off on the way.

The bat boxes that I ordered to place in some of the largest trees in our back garden never arrived so I will have to order some more. Anything to help wildlife.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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