Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Charming village with much to discover in surrounding countryside

Charming village with much to discover in surrounding countryside

TO many people passing through, Binfield Heath may look like a hamlet that sits along a minor road between Henley and Emmer Green. But it’s not really. It has a charming pub in the Bottle and Glass, a super shop, a decent bus service and an old red telephone box to boot. There is plenty of history here, natural and human.

It may be a quiet place but it has a charm all of its own and deep down there is much to discover.

I’ve teamed up with my chum Matt once again. We stop briefly outside the aforementioned village shop to stock up and then we’re off. A right of way from the village centre leads northwards between some back gardens to open country heading towards Henley. Fir Grove to our left, Long Copse to our right.

The path is both straight and obvious. A classic hedgerow to our right is already spawning the flowers of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). A member of the vast rose family with its spiny twigs, it has wonderfully fragrant flowers that will soon be pollinated and will provide rich food for mice, voles and birds later in the year with its vitamin-rich berries. We, too, can browse on the new leaves and flowers, which are said to be good for the heart. If you are deft in the kitchen, a jelly can be made from the autumn fruit.

The soon-to-be fragrant and elegant cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), cushion-like spreads of red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) and sturdy garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) are growing beside the hedgerow.

All are edible but I would caution to be very careful before eating any as confusion is possible. For instance, to the untrained eye cow parsley may be confused with deadly hemlock (Conium maculatum) with its spotty and hairless stems. Forage by all means but gen up first!

As we head downhill towards a small plantation of larch, we hear the “peep, peep, peep” of a meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis). The size of a house sparrow and looking like a tiny thrush, it spends most of its time hidden on the ground as it runs through the grass. We must have surprised it but did not see it.

The little plantation has now incorporated some rather handsome silver birches, a notable colonising species, and leads on to another open field. Stopping for a breather after the rising ground, we look ahead towards High Wood with its fine trees. I’ve ventured inside often but what I find most fascinating about it is how it describes the passage of time.

In the distant past this land must have been clear as to the left of our path and under the trees and brambles lies an archaeological site, reportedly the remains of a roman villa. I have found pieces of pottery and broken roof tiles here. Indeed, some of the flooring in the old public bar of the Bottle and Glass has some intact tiles.

The path leads on through the now mature beech wood in the direction of Harpsden. As the trees end by a paddock, we turn right and pass Upper Bolney House heading towards Woodlands Road.

We then switch back to the south-west through more open country with Upper Hailey Wood in front. This new woodland is mixed (coniferous and deciduous) but is brimming with hornbeam, a tree that loves clay-rich soils. Here and there some cherries are in bloom and the first petals fall around us as if advertising a spring wedding.

After passing through the wood with two more names (Shiplake Woods and Lower Hailey Wood), we are out in the open once more near Memorial Avenue in Shiplake. We stop again to look and listen. I think that I can discern the cadence of a skylark but the wind may deceive.

A turn to our right takes us full circle past Long Copse and back to the car. Matt drops me off in Caversham, where I hear my first willow warbler of the year in Balmore. I hope that it’s not the last.

Vincent Ruane

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