Thursday, 19 September 2019

Ordinary-looking woodland full of raspberries and edible fungi

Ordinary-looking woodland full of raspberries and edible fungi

AFTER two days of heavy rain, I woke up to an unexpectedly bright but windy day on Friday morning. It was the last day of November and very mild.

I called my friend Dave Kenny and we decided to visit one of our most loved woodlands.

Gutteridge’s Wood is situated just north of the once popular (and sadly defunct) King Charles Head pub near Goring Heath.

On first viewing the wood may seem ordinary, especially to the untrained eye, but looking much closer it conceals a wealth of nature.

Although dominated by beech trees, there are some beautiful oaks that have beaten their rivals to harvest the summer sunlight with awesome, vertical trunks.

There is plenty of holly and bramble here, ideal for nesting birds in spring.

The woodland has been selectively thinned in recent years but much replanting has taken place with thought, choice and care.

Raspberry bushes seem to be everywhere, holding their own alongside the greater understorey.

At ground level an edible fungus, the mysteriously named and unusual-looking amethyst deceiver, can be found. Raw or fried, it is delicious.

The ground here is very stony and gets more so as you approach Thicket Copse, which sits at one of the lowest points geographically.

There is a huge amount of flint piled up here and I like to think that it was simply deposited at this point at the very end of our last glaciation.

The floor of the wood forms a striking ecosystem. The flint is largely covered in mosses which are striking right now. The winter sunlight casts a great beauty to their structure.

Ferns and dog’s mercury inhabit the gaps between the stones and there are some ancient ash trees (coppiced long ago) that will shade this spot again come summer.

Woodruff (Gallium odoratum) is silently but confidently covering the ground and will blossom in a few months’ time. This delightful little plant was once used to perfume bedclothing.

A few years ago there was a grove of oak trees here. Alas, two of them have been felled. They provided shelter to a family of badgers that would appear from their sett at dawn and dusk.

In the spring the cubs would frolick among a carpet of bluebells, wood anemone, wood sorrel and early purple orchids.

I’m sure that this entertaining family are still resident so I will return in a few months’ time, tuck myself away and await their antics.

Nearby lies the tiny hamlet of Nuney Green and I’m led to believe that its name was once spelled Nunnery Green.

After the dissolution of Reading Abbey by Henry VIII, legend has it that the nuns, former residents of the abbey, made their way to a hideout here and buried all the gold and silver that they could carry with them.

Local folklore has it that it is to be found buried in these woods but I for one will not be using a metal detector. I’ll just be waiting to welcome the next spring with its sunlight, flowers, bees and butterflies.

On the way home I thought back to May when I last walked through these woods and came face to face with a fledgling mistle thrush looking lost beside the bole of a beech tree. I hope it will be around next year so I can hear it sing.

Vincent Ruane

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