Monday, 15 August 2022

There is so much to find if you look, even close to roads and homes

There is so much to find if you look, even close to roads and homes

LAST night, the wind was gusting like crazy and was followed by a cataclysmic downpour. Our four cats were galloping up and down our stairs as if possessed.

This morning, the rain has eased, so Rosemary and I take our usual stroll around our back garden. Fallen branches litter our pathways.

Our stinking hellebores (Helleborus foetidus) and native snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are now in full flower and lovely they are too.

Unfortunately, our longed-for crocus buds have been eaten — I suspect by muntjac deer. Even the fronds of hart’s-tongue ferns (Asplenium scolopendrium) have been chomped.

It is so depressing to lose treasured plants, especially when they are about to come into bloom. We need to find out how the animals get in and stop egress.

We suspect that an overgrown laurel hedge might be allowing access to this alien, formerly ornamental, species — our Victorian forebears have much to answer for.

It is always a mistake to introduce overseas species into a new habitat as, with no natural predation, they impose inordinate pressure on native plants and animals.

There needs to be much discussion on how to deal with this problem and, with hope and luck, it will be resolved.

In the meantime, we could do with a lynx in our garden!

Today, we had planned to explore a large parcel of land near Bix but after the high winds and copious rainfall, and with Rosemary feeling unwell, we agree to explore a small area not far from home instead.

The weather is looking more promising too.

Our destination is a public right of way that lies to the east of Caversham Park Road.

We leave our car outside the local tennis club, near Clayfield Copse, just a stone’s throw away from Northbrook Road, and then head south.

I have not walked here before but assume that the path we are going to take is an ancient one.

It turns out that I’m not wrong. As usual, when we enter any lane full of fallen leaves, Rosemary scuffs and kicks them up like a little child.

The occasional roar of traffic on this busy road fades away as we progress through a mostly dry, leafy splendid sylvan avenue.

To either side we are enveloped by a tight line of oak, ash, cherry and the odd beech.

Some of the oaks display oddly bifurcated trunks and inviting nest holes.

Many young yew trees are present, occasionally cheek-by-jowl with mature oaks. I can’t identify the mother tree, which is unusual.

Underneath the many trees, there is plenty of holly, wild privet, hazel bearing catkins, hawthorn, honeysuckle and blackthorn, all bursting to go.

Down below, bluebells, lords-and-ladies, dog’s mercury, enchanter’s-nightshade, dove’s-foot crane’s-bill and various woodland grasses are rising to embrace the sun’s warmth.

All looks positive. We’ll take a look here again come April to see the flowers in their full glory.

How can an old footpath, so close to such a busy thoroughfare and many houses, hold so many old treasures?

We do notice that there are no ferns, which we find a little strange but then this is a relatively dry thoroughfare.

Birdsong becomes audible. A song thrush produces a plaintive tribute to spring’s approach.

A robin puffs out his chest to belt out a melody and a greater-spotted woodpecker drums in nearby Blackhouse Wood. Great and blue tits rattle off all around.

As we look over bare thorns to our left, blackbirds, magpies and wood pigeons scour scant open grassland.

A male wren, silent, checks out possible nest-building sites in dense bramble cover. He may build three or four for his prospective mate to choose one that she likes if he’s lucky.

I stop to admire a pair of “tree lovers”, a heavily engraved beech in the most fulsome of embraces with an oak.

Tiny goldcrests “tinkle” all the way along this charming, tree-lined path and greenfinches and goldfinches twitter away.

A sparrowhawk breaks cover from a disguised perch to whizz low into a thicket.

We head south in the direction of Littlestead Close and Milestone Wood only a few hundred yards from the usually impassable Foxhill Lane that leads to Playhatch.

Passing a pedestrian underpass to our right, we walk down a dip to a muddy bottom. My guess is that the water has run down from every direction to pool up on underlying clay.

We attempt to walk into a small remnant of old woodland on an unofficial path, get so far and give up.

It is impassable, flooded and slippery with disturbing puddles of unknown depth. Fierce brambles preclude any incursion. We retreat.

Instead we take a short walk up towards Foxhill Lane by Blackhouse Wood where, on high ground and when the weather is clear, you can see for miles to the south-east.

An old metal fence defines the reduced boundary of the once extensive Caversham Park. History lies all around if you look closely.

On an oak branch a grey squirrel pretends he’s not there. We’re not fooled. A male blackbird poses for a photo and a pony looks to be in deep meditation in a paddock.

On our way back, passing through a leafy gate, we come across an amateur “Banksy” on the door of a small, brick, padlocked structure. The padlock is old and rusty, so who knows what lies within?

It is time for lunch. We scrape the mud off our boots, get in the car and head home. The weather looks favourable so hopefully my initial plan will be realised, fingers crossed.

I never expected to see so much today. If you look, with any luck, you will find.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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