Friday, 28 January 2022

Rich meadow of flowers and insects almost too wonderful for words

Rich meadow of flowers and insects almost too wonderful for words

MY good friend Matt Coome picks me up from home. On Monday last week was St Swithin’s day and it did not rain so according to folklore we are due a further 40 days of glorious sunny weather.

Today is no exception to the prophesy but when I mention this as we sit in Matt’s car his brow furrows and he looks quizzical.

We head off and arrive in the centre (if there is one) of Whitchurch Hill. We find a convenient spot to park beside a small recreation ground. St John’s church and Goring Heath Parish Hall lie nearby.

We head off south-east along a section of the Chiltern Way. I know the area well but have never trod this path so don’t know what to expect.

But what I see today is simply almost too wonderful for words, a meadow so rich in flowers, butterflies and grasshoppers that I feel transported back to my childhood when summers seemed to last forever and there was always a strawberry jam sandwich to hand at a picnic in the long grass.

Whosoever owns or maintains this patch of botanical and entomological richness is doing the world a great favour.

I’m on high level ground and what I see is magnificent. Some swathes have been mown to define paths, the remainder left uncut, maybe to be mown come next month’s end. It is no surprise that many of the same species are flowering here but with some additions. Clouds of yellow Lady’s bedstraw and greater bird’s-foot trefoil play host to both the common and greater purple-flowered knapweeds.

Creeping and spear thistles jostle with the pastel-blue field scabious, the pink flowered upright hedge-parsley and the white umbels of hogweed combine to create nature’s image of a stained-glass window.

We leave the meadow behind and proceed through a gate to enter a lane heading east towards Path Hill and hear the loud buzz of machinery. After a short distance and outside a brief line of young oak trees and a struggling newly-planted hawthorn hedge we see that either side a wheat crop is being harvested. One of the leviathans passes and we find ourselves in a kind of agricultural wheat-storm and have to dust ourselves down.

Looking up at the blue sky, buzzards and red kites are wheeling about presumably scanning for small mammalian casualties. In the distance sweet chestnuts stand out amongst oaks with their long creamy-white catkins.

Scented mayweed grows along the field edges, a yellowhammer sings its distinctive bucolic song and all seems good with the world. Gazing into the distance you can see the North Downs in Surrey and the North Wessex Downs in Berkshire and beyond. I feel as if I inhabit a part of a Samuel Palmer-stylized painting of a once rustic idyll. Our path leads to a crossroads. Straight on and to the right the tracks lead to Path Hill. From here familiar landmarks are visible. We step down into a new lane and head north towards Copyhold Farm and Hill Bottom.

This narrow bridleway is old and revealing. Brambles are swarming with bees and butterflies. A peacock (Aglais io) with its distinctive eye-spots rests on a nearby leaf. I look in wonder at this marvel. Dragonflies patrol, there’s southern hawkers and a lone female ruddy darter. Small reddish beetles clamber over the umbels of hogweed and the yellow-flowered wild parsnip. Tiny bees join the pollinator’s party, white campion lines our path.

Chicory is also present here with its beautiful sky-blue flowers. They only open early in the day when the sun is shining, the fussy things. There are some healthy ash trees along the way and some buckthorn, blackthorn, hazel and field maple.

We reach the end of the track and turn left towards the main road that runs from Whitchurch to Cray’s Pond and arrive outside the Sun public house at Hill Bottom. Heading towards the main road we stop to admire a large herd of alpaca.

We cross the road and enter a lane that leads to Goring, peel off to the left down a footpath and enter a small patch of woodland full of holly. We find ourselves in another smaller meadow and head east towards the church and Matt’s car. What a day.

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