Thursday, 20 January 2022

Digging sight of an old friend

DO you know Happy Valley? It lies behind Deanfield and begins with the playing fields for The

DO you know Happy Valley? It lies behind Deanfield and begins with the playing fields for The Henley College, so you can get there from the student car park, from Paradise Road and from Tilebarn Close.

Turn left from the car park at the end of the close and go under the conker trees behind the houses, admiring the Devon red cattle on the other side of the fence.

As the path begins to rise, there is a steeper turn to the right which leads to a wonderful view towards the college and Henley but they have vanished! Only a glimpse of buildings appears between the dense tree cover yet we are 200m from a substantial town.

Soon there are pheasants rustling in the undergrowth and we reach the junction of the old packhorse route from Henley to Goring, Pack and Prime Lane.

Turn right to return to the valley beside the Sue Ryder memorial plantation, where there are picnic tables beneath the young trees, and follow the path skirting the rugby pitch to Tilebarn Close.

On the right is a rabbit warren and on your left the startling pink berries of the spindle tree, which are just opening to reveal their orange seeds.

The spindle (euonymus europaeus) is common on our chalk hills, though rare elsewhere, and its hard wood was used for pegs, spindles and knitting needles.

I think the name also derives from the shape of the fruits, which hang down on a stalk. The orange berries were used to make a yellow dye for butter and yield an oil for soap.

Fritillaries are enjoying the ivy flowers along the hedge — this is an ideal first walk for kids at half- term. For a longer walk, continue up Pack and Prime to Rotherfield Greys, turning right opposite the church to follow Happy Valley back to Henley, looking out for the resident kestrel on the way.

P.S. Joy of joys! Holes in the lawn — not neat and round as made by green woodpeckers or dug up in swathes by badgers, but small, irregular scrabbles, showing the work of a hedgehog and accompanied by a black scat, shiny with the wingcases of beetles, so it found food.

It has since returned to make more holes — we have a hedgehog again!

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