Friday, 21 January 2022

Special place with ancient thoroughfares and pleasant woodlands

Special place with ancient thoroughfares and pleasant woodlands

IT is very windy this morning, so we will avoid any dodgy-looking trees in danger of falling while we are out. Happily, the sun is shining.

We park in the car park of the Maltsters Arms in Rotherfield Greys with the landlord’s permission on the promise that we will return for lunch.

It is a while since we last explored this area, which is full of ancient thoroughfares and is a special place, an historic part of old England.

Leaving the car, we walk south past the yard of St Nicholas’s Church with a traditional Chiltern brick and flint wall.

Headstones harbour some lovely old mosses and lichens and a man and a woman are tidying graves.

Like so many churchyards, there are yew trees here but not as ancient as some we have seen but then yew is a slow grower.

These trees are shedding splendid fruits along our path, glowing bright red. The tiny but meaty arils are poisonous to man, or at least the seed is, but are a favourite of birds, squirrels and dormice, which spread the species.

I’m reminded of deadly nightshade, an equally handsome but poisonous plant, and wonder what is responsible for its distribution.

In late spring and early summer, this area is great for finding native wildflowers. This is often the case with old churchyards. St Peter’s in Caversham is a prime example.

Leaving the confines of the churchyard and passing through a sturdy kissing-gate, we enter a narrow stretch of grassland which is fenced in but we can’t think why.

We leave it via a gate into a short section of path and are immediately confronted by a padlocked entrance with a sign that reads: “Private woodland, managed to promote biosecurity and biodiversity. No entry to public.”

Despite this, it is lovely to see over the gate all the trees and shrubs that have been planted, from beech to wayfaring trees.

The field to our left is full of grass tussocks resembling waves breaking on a shore.

To the other side the stems of hawthorns are covered with yellow lichens. Spindle, dogwood and blackthorn are abundant and young oaks look good.

Fieldfares and redwings fly above while the imprints of fallow deer lie in the mud below.

We greet a couple walking their dog and let them pass before we move through another barrier to find ourselves in a field full of sheep with heavy fleeces devouring the sward with relish.

To the north, some oaks still hold golden leaves framed against the azure blue sky. Others are denuded but oh so shapely.

A badger track runs through the rough grass.

Looking south, the winter sun is low and somewhat blinding.

Passing through another gate, we find ourselves on an old, wide track that is familiar. It leads south to north, part of the designated Chiltern Way.

I guess it is an old droving lane brimming with hazels, oaks, hollies, field maples and crab apples.

We meet one of our favourite pathways in Dog Lane and head west for a short stretch. To either side male ferns are still green, especially on the high bank to the left, and dog’s mercury persists.

We turn south up a slight incline and join one of the tightest bridleways that I have ever known. Luckily, we do not meet a horse.

To the west and our right, a maintenance buggy trundles noisily along part of Greys Green Golf Club.

To our left, we stop to admire some pleasant woodland, home to some rugged oaks, hawthorn, ash, hazel, cherry, silver birch and statuesque beech trees.

It is moderately open and full of woodbine, or honeysuckle, the small clusters of pale blue-green leaves ready to surge on the arrival of spring.

The woodland is damp and redolent of nature’s natural scent, partly due to rotting wood. As ever, there is plenty of bramble.

We turn left at a crossroads and head up a relatively steep incline towards Crosslanes Farm.

My map tells me that the woodland that we are walking through is called the Paddock.

Stopping for a few moments to look around, we note some dead pines with woodpecker holes.

The footpath is lined on each side with Scots pines, their scaly, reddish to pinky-orange bark is a giveaway. We are enveloped by their woody camphor. As is usual in this part of the southern Chilterns, there is a maze of footpaths and bridleways. Without a map, compass or innate navigational skills, it would be easy to get lost.

Some places have what I call a “feel” to them. This is one.

Emerging next to a derelict house opposite Crosslanes, we encounter a garden shrub, Viburnum tinus, in flower. It smells of cat pee.

It’s always a shame to come across an abandoned dwelling, especially when its situation is quite as lovely as this.

We head back to cross Dog Lane and retrace our steps — Rosemary is getting hungry.

She spots some red holly berries and tall bracken framed in filigree silhouette against the blue sky. It is all rather wonderful.

Looking back down this lane, which runs from King’s Farm northwards to Greys Green Farm, I remember the first time I walked it and the wonder that I felt at its tremendous beauty. It still has it.

We retire into the warmth of the pub, where we are treated to sublime fare at our favourite table. I’m sorry to report that landlord Gary Clarke and his wife Donna will be leaving in January. We will miss them and wonder what will become of the pub.

Once back home again, we play Michael Nesmith’s Live at the Troubadour at Rosemary’s request. The last song is called Thanx For The Ride and goes thus:

Thunder rumbling
Twice the size
Echoes distant to my goodbyes
I’ll just mosey on
Thanks for the ride

Desert clearing
Forgotten miles
Hands me my remembered smiles
I’ll just mosey on
Thanks for the ride

People here believing
What they never saw
This time, when it comes again
I’ll beat them to the draw

I feel like it’s my first time, I'm
Moving closer to clearer skies
I’ll just mosey on
Thanks for the ride

Later on, we hear on the news that the former Monkees guitarist has died. Thanks for all the great music, Mike.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

In his Nature Notes column published on December 3, Vincent Ruane did not make it clear that the Reading Golf Club land in Emmer Green that he was exploring is in fact private and not accessible to the public, except those paying to use the Fairways Family Golf Centre. He should not have been there without the club’s permission. We are happy to make this clear and apologise to the club for this error and any misleading impression given.

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