Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Back to the comfort of autumnal common after losing our little friend

Back to the comfort of autumnal common after losing our little friend

WE are both sad today (I’ll explain later) so I ask Rosemary to choose the destination for our outing. She suggests returning to Kingwood Common for a “comfort walk”.

Rosemary fell in love with the woodland there on her first guided visit.

Outside, it’s a bright day with a brilliant, clear blue sky and scant wind and we are looking forward to seeing autumn’s colours, from golden beech leaves to copper-coloured bracken.

We pitch up in our customary spot past the former Grouse and Claret pub and Barn Farm. It is quiet and serene.

The large colony of broad-leaved helleborines by the edge of a thicket looks strong, steely and irrepressible. We are both so pleased to see the plants fruiting handsomely so late on in the year.

Entering the woodland, we heard the birds — the sporadic cackling of jays, rattling of wrens, sweet cadences of robins, seeps of high-flying migrant redwings, strident utterances of carrion crows and affable tones of marsh and great tits.

Otherwise the only other sound is of the gentle flutter of falling leaves from the trees, including aspen, rowan, beech, field maple, ash, oak, hazel, cherry, goat willow and silver and downy birches.

Hollies show off their spiky green leaves and startlingly red berries. Woodbine has retired until next summer.

We pass through a wide glade, where Rosemary gleans some common figwort seed capsules to scatter in our garden, and then halt briefly to take in the sunlit sylvan world that surrounds us.

The bridleway has a distinct scent resulting from the fallen leaves of aspen trees. They smell like a mild detergent but entirely natural, clean and refreshing.

Whitebeam leaves are also scattered underfoot and rowan berries glow red.

We meet up with Terry Mullins and his little dog Winnie. He lives nearby and is a member of the Nettlebed and District Commons Conservators responsible for Kingwood Common.

The conservators are nine volunteers who manage the commons on behalf of the landowners and residents.

Their work includes “preventing boundary encroachment on to the commons (a very real and constant concern), organising and taking part in routine maintenance, clearance of pathways, tree surgery, grass cutting, litter collection and liaison on various projects. Every Conservator gives their time voluntarily in the interests of preserving this part of the Chilterns for us all to enjoy”.

Quite a responsibility. They are keen to recruit volunteers of all ages. If you are interested, do visit their website, www.nettlebed-commons.org

Rosemary and I meander, taking in the colourful, varied woodland.

Bracken, now a shade of copper, looks splendid, glowing under the sun beneath young oak trees.

We move downhill past some old friends, the extraordinarily wrangled and distorted but beautiful beech trees. There’s a golden layer of fallen leaves and beech nuts beneath our feet. At the bottom we stop to stare up at a rare wild service tree. The leaves are slowly turning a shade of yellow. I’d expected red. Strange.

It is a little boggy where we meet Colmore Lane but we manage to scramble along the roadside to gain solid ground. After letting a dog walker’s car pass, it is silent once again.

A carrion crow patrols a pasture to our left, unconcerned by our presence. Buzzards and red kites whistle above.

After passing Great David’s with its extensive barren lawns, tennis court and firebreaks (albeit the house is out of sight), we eventually meet a turn to the right up a root-entangled slope into a small area of old heathland.

This is one of my favourite parts of the common. It is quite open with heathers and lovely old silver birches bearing plated black and white bark, sometimes mossy or metallic.

Under the midday sun, they shine with a rugged defiance. Some stand in the middle of our path as if in challenge and we walk around them.

Now the going has become a bit difficult with somewhat unforgiving terrain and large expanses of mud created by mountain bikers and horse riders (I have a bicycle and can ride a horse).

We struggle but eventually make it through, slipping and sliding. We encounter the odd crab apple, which is not unexpected, but also some sycamores and Norway maples. How did they get in here?

Both are non-natives but I’m not that bothered as I consider any tree better than no tree as long as they are not imported disease carriers.

There is no need to purchase whips or saplings from overseas and in any case our native trees have subtle genetic differences from their cousins on the Continent and beyond.

An oak tree is inhabited by oak curtain crust, an undulating semi-resupinate bracket fungus.

We follow a snaking path to our right after I spot a familiar cottage about 50 yards away from where we left the car.

Slipping past a damp patch full of pendulous sedge and a multitude of aspens, we suddenly meet the road.

The bright red, glossy, clustered berries of black bryony hang from small hawthorns, which are equally fruity. Migratory birds are in for a good time.

Before we leave, Rosemary wants to take a quick look at the road-salt depot to the side of the bridleway at the start of our walk. There is not a great deal to see today but I hear the tweet of a goldfinch and then spot the bird in an oak.

Back in the car, we head off past the old Grouse and Claret (formerly the Bricklayers Arms) to the Unicorn at Peppard Hill.

We have not visited here for a long time but are offered an intimate, cosy table for two and treat ourselves to one of the specials. Superb.

Now back to the reason for our great sadness — our-much loved and beautiful little cat Cilla died in the early hours of Thursday last week.

We stayed up with her into the small hours until she took her last breath.

We are not sure why she died or what from but she had been losing weight and became thin and bony despite eating like a little demon.

A rescue cat from Henley, we were never sure of Cilla’s true age or origin but she had a silky black coat and was a pretty, intelligent girl and occasionally bossy.

I will always remember how she would deliberately tickle my face with her whiskers before jumping on me in the morning to demand breakfast.

This time last year, as we sat in the garden, she beckoned us inside the house as she was frightened for our safety, fireworks exploding.

We have buried her in her preferred sunbathing spot in our garden. We will always miss her. She has left a hole in our hearts. RIP, you little beauty.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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