Sunday, 22 September 2019
IT is early evening and looking up at the sky I notice that the swifts have gone, a kind of augury for the onset of autumn.
I miss them with their incomparable aerial acrobatics and seemingly willful screeching as they dine on the little insects that may otherwise suck our blood.
I wish them well on their migration back to Africa and long for their return next year. For me, they leave a somewhat sentimental void in the world above.
The next morning my friend Dave Kenny collects me and we drive out to Greys Green and park up at the southern end of Rocky Lane.
We take the public footpath that runs north-east past the historic and elegant National Trust property Greys Court.
There are some magnificent trees — linden, oak and sweet chestnut — standing proud in the surrounding parkland where we see their true majesty.
We continue along the footpath that leads towards a patch of woodland and ultimately Broadplat. A row of Scots pines has been felled to our left and we wonder why.
We spook some pheasants that clatter off raucously from the high grass in an uncut meadow. Harebells abound among the grass.
We pass the fallen remains of a once mighty oak, a casualty of the infamous storm of 1987.
We reach the narrow road that leads towards Lambridge Wood and take a brief detour to check on the vulnerable roadside flowers. All seems well, so that’s a relief. We then turn westwards along a bridleway in the direction of Satwell.
We notice that some perfectly healthy beech trees have been daubed with orange paint presumably for felling. Is this health and safety gone mad, selective commercial removal or are we missing something? None is that close to the road.
All along this woodland path plenty of saplings are growing — beech, oak, ash and yew. Natural woodland regeneration.
Wood avens, bluebells and hedge woundwort are shedding their seeds ready for spring.
Our route takes us past Famous Copse and towards Earl’s Wood. There are many deep indentations in the forest floor on either side of our path. These look like they are natural sinkholes as we cannot detect any spoil from human activity. The porous underlying chalk is more than likely the culprit.
Our path drops dramatically into a valley. Silver birch, cherry and hazel shimmer in the dappled sunlight.
There has obviously been a huge downpour recently as rainwater has carved a snakelike gulley along the bottom of the valley, steered on its way by large flints, exposed tree roots, fallen leaves and branches.
We meet Rocky Lane once more some 500 yards away from our entry point. Dave tells me that he wants to show me a nuttery. For a moment, I thought he wanted to get me sectioned! Thankfully not.
We gaze over a gate to look at the most manicured hazel trees imaginable. They look like filberts.
The grass underneath the trees appears to be mown often. I’ve never seen anything like it. Capability Brown may well have approved.
As we make our way back to the car along the quiet lane, Dave points out the old hedgerow to our left which comprises some impressive trees and shrubs — an ash with a coppice stool more than 12ft across, field maple, wych elm, spindle, blackthorn, hornbeam, sweet chestnut, wayfaring tree, privet, oak, dogwood, redcurrant and more. It is historic and beautiful too.
Come wintertime, when the roadside bracken has withered, the story of this old boundary may be revealed. Pissen Wood beyond looks full of promise with its fern-filled interior.
As we continue walking (and Dave fills a carrier bag with empty cans, McDonald’s bags and other litter thrown from car windows), we hear the meek cries of some juvenile sparrowhawks from some trees to our right that screen Shepherd’s Green. Two adults and two young. It seems that the youngsters are still hanging on to Mum’s apron strings.
The flowers of rosebay willowherb, or “fireweed”, which is commonly found alongside our railway lines, nods in the breeze.
The following evening I note another absentee. The soothing purr of the now rare turtle dove is no longer filling the mid-August evenings in my garden.
I hope that we don’t lose any more of our summer or winter migrants, whether through illegal overseas hunting, climate change or unforeseen catastrophe. I cannot imagine a world without them.
26 August 2019
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