Thursday, 11 November 2010

Compton and Hampstead Norreys

Pang Valley

Walks in the Pang Valley, West Berkshire.

Compton - Hampstead Norreys
Hampstead Norreys - Frilsham
Frilsham - Bucklebury
Stanford Dingley - Tidmarsh

A month's gap from the previous long walk, and in that time autumn has come and gone. The last walk showed little leaf fall and not much autumn colour. Now the leaves of most deciduous trees except the oak have changed and fallen. This walk covered an area long unexplored linking to previous walks on the Ridgeway and Aldworth. Compton and Hampstead Norreys are villages on the river Pang that runs north to south through the north Wessex downs. The Didcot-Southampton railway used to run through the middle of the valley. Here is a map of the 13 mile walk.

View Compton - Hampstead Norreys in a larger map

A typical view across the valley.

hampstead norreys

The bright flower in the sun is I believe a female Red Campion (Silene dioica), one of the few plants that flowers into November.

pink flower

The walk took me close to East Ilsley a small village blighted by the proximity of the A34 - a very busy trunk road.

East Ilsley

Compton church is rather small and nothing that special inside to commend itself. Parts of the tower date back to the 12th century but much of it rebuilt by the Victorians in the 1850s.

Compton church

The village of Hampstead Norreys marked the southerly limit of my walk, it has many fine houses but a few too many modern ones and the road through is fairly busy.

Hampstead Norreys

There is a Norman church in the village which has an East window and some monuments of note.

Hampstead Norreys Church

It seems only a few weeks ago that Old Man's Beard (Clematis vitalba) was in flower. Now it is living up to its name with the 'beards' encasing the fruit.

old mans beard

On a remote house's garage a Pied Wagtail (Motacila alba) was busying itself in the sun and keeping out of the wind.

pied wagtail

Among the flowers still out, is the humble White Dead-nettle (Lamium album) the blue sky was reflecting onto the leaves creating an interesting picture.


Spindle-berries (Euonymus europaeus) were present along many hedgerows, sometimes as the main shrub. It had the most vivid orange coloured leaf on display.


The Spindle-berry crop looks abundant now that the leaves have almost all gone. Food for birds rather than humans though.


The award for brightest autumn leaf colour contrast went to the brambles, all the fruits now gone (except for one small section of path).


In some pockets of woodland on the top of the downs the beech leaves were still in fine colour.

beech leaves,autumn

Along the Ridgeway I found myself chasing a group of Linnets (Cardulelis cannabina) from hawthorn bush to hawthorn bush. There were quite a few of them - as you can see.


Here is a linnet as close as I could get before it flew off to the next bush.


These are the fruits they were feeding on, a good crop of haws.


And finally some more suitably autumnal beech leaves to celebrate the transition from autumn to winter.

beech leaves,autumn

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Fawley and Farnborough

Old Street

Walks following the Old Street in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire.

Wantage - Ridgeway
Ridgeway - Farnborough
Farnborough - Catmore
Catmore - Hermitage
Hermitage - Bucklebury

After completing the long trek around the Vale of Pewsey I set about completing the recording of the routes as Google Earth paths. Here is a Google map of this one (14 miles):

View Fawley - Farnborough in a larger map

Looking at the tapestry of walks over the last ten years I considered what should be my next project. To my, perhaps too ordered, mind I wondered about linking together some of my previous walks. The most glaring omission was a tiny segment of the Ridgeway. Although I have travelled the full length, I must confess one small segment (less than a mile) was made by car rather than on foot. I decided that this walk would put that little omission to rest. I started at Fawley, a small village in the Berkshire Wessex downlands. I have always imagined this was where Thomas Hardy set the opening chapters of Jude the Obscure, his last and most controversial book (the 'hero' is named Jude Fawley and the descriptions all fit). A gloomy but all too reasonable take on rural communities in Victorian England. Jude Fawley sees the lights of Christminster (Hardy's name for Oxford) from the Ridgeway to the north of his small village .Inspired to become a scholar, of course impossible at the time for a poor farm labourer, his life alternates between misfortune and tragedy. Back to the walk... The first of several views is from the path to the Ridgeway looking west towards Lambourn and the White Horse.

Fawley view west

The Ridgeway is an impressive path, here it is of dual carriageway width. This stretch is one of the few that is believable as a drover's way - as it is wide, dry and flat it would be suitable for driving livestock to market. Other stretches that are labelled 'Ridgeway' would be totally unsuitable.


The tiny stretch I needed to walk was as boring as I had expected (just a 'road' with no views), however just to the north is the impressive Iron Age camp at Segsbury Camp. It is vast with a ditch and rampart all around it. From inside you can look down on the town of Wantage and to the north east Didcot power station is a prominent landmark.

Segbury castle

Wantage view

A mile or two further along the Ridgeway is a monument to the wife of Lord Wantage. A Victorian who helped found the Red Cross Society.

Wantage monument

I then turned off the Ridgeway to walk down a pleasant dry valley running south and out of the stiff north-easterly breeze. It's name is appropriately enough 'Old Street' that runs from Wantage to Reading.

Old Street

It is getting late for flowers but there were patches of bright Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris).

Toadflax,Linaria vulgaris

The long haul up a muddy path to the east of Farnborough was rewarded by a lovely view to the east, towards the Goring Gap in the far distance.

View to West Ilsley

One of the few other flowers that looked fresh and bright in the sunshine was this chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum)


Black bryony fruit were glaringly evident in the hedgerows.

black bryony

Turning west to Farnborough the sun caught this Old Man's Beard.

Old mans beard

Last year I found at this time a good selection of butterflies feeding on ivy. I did see three red admirals and a few other butterflies but only one Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) was at all co-operative.

Polygonia c-album

Farnborough, (that is Farnborough in Berkshire, no aeroplanes in evidence), is a tiny little village with a small church to match.

Farnborough church

On the way back to Fawley I happened to spot the most impressive creature of the day. Growing out of a beech tree was a massive fruiting body, each bracket was larger than a dinner plate (probably Polyporus squamosus). It was about the only fungi I saw all day, quite surprising for early October.

Polyporus squamosus

From the sublime to the sinister. On the wires of the fence I walked along were two dried up corpses of what I believe were moles. Why I do not quite understand, except perhaps this was close to gallops and the owner wanted to make a point of removing the hazard to the horses.


The final shot is a more comforting scene, except of course when considering that these partridge will be providing sport for the guns in a week or two.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Garden Flowers

With the start of October the garden is looking more like autumn every day and so its appropriate to look back on the flowers I have taken over the last few months. Nearly all of the annuals that I grew from seed this year gave outstanding performances.

First here is one of my favourites, a bee (Buff-tailed bumble bee) 'stealing' the nectar from Abelia grandiflora. Rather than trying to enter the narrow tube flower it punctures a hole at the top of flower and so avoids pollinating it.


Rudbeckias were grown from seed and have flowered long and brightly. For a while they were very popular with hover flies.


Going back to earlier in the year, one of the early stunners were aquilegas that seed themselves around the garden.


Also out in May is this lovely veined geranium.


Continuing the pink theme, Weijelia was another late May flower.


At the same time berberis was proving irresistible to bees.


A rather ancient Kolkwitsia amabilis bush (over 15 years) never fails to be totally covered in bloom, also in late May.


Another faithful flowering plant which came as an offshoot from father's plant is this yucca. This time moving forward to July.

yucca flower

One of the advantages of being a lazy gardener is that I neglect to clear out containers that manage to harbour 'annuals' that you would expect the frost to have killed off but come back fighting. This vibrant blue larkspur is one example.


Also in July, the Black Eyes Susan (Thunbergia 'Salmon shades') I grew from seed had started to flower and is still full of flower.

black eyed susan

By the end of July the humble Nasturtium 'milkmaid' in a lovely pale cream, rather than the usual vibrant yellows and, red had come into flower.


Bellflowers are a rewarding group of flowers to grow, this is one of the more delicate species (Campanula ramosissima 'Meteor').

campanula,bell flower

By now a range of butterflies were busy in the garden including this Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus).


By chance I caught this hover fly (Syrphus ribesii) on a Chicory plant - which does grow wild here about and is also planted as an agricultural crop.

chicory,hover fly

One of the more extra-ordinary perennials is the Everlasting Pea. Some years it waits until the end of June until springing into very active growth. Unlike sweet peas it flowers for months but regrettably has no scent.

everlasting pea

Another plant still flowering well and grown from seed this year were 'standard' Petunias. Reliability is a bonus sometimes.


I did not have much luck germinating Mimulus 'Monkey magic' , I was left with only one healthy plant but it was worth the effort.


I grew these on the basis of the seed catalogue picture, the flowers were good but the foliage disappointing and the colour pinkish rather than the blue I expected (Papaver somniferum).


Not that many ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) around this year compared to others but they always are so attractive to look at - everyone's favourite insect!


A chance seed strayed into a border somehow but I let this sunflower grow for once and was rewarded by a huge yellow flower.


Still at their peak of flowering are dahlias that I originally grew from seed but now over-winter as tubers in the garage. Reliable and trouble free, although they do need a lot of watering.


To end where I began, another bee on an Abelia bush, this time showing how you are supposed to gather the nectar.