Thursday, 11 July 2013

Froxfield to Little and Great Bedwyn

Dry summer heat continues to limit my appetite to go on long walks. Today the remnants of a cold front brought a welcome dip in temperature and out I went. Last week I completed as much of the Thames Path as I wished to do; so attention turned to the last remaining long distance path in the area and that is the tow-path of the Kennet and Avon canal. I have now already done the stretch from Reading to Hungerford and a little bit beyond at Wooton Rivers. This walk fills in one more piece. Windsor is at the extreme east edge of Berkshire, this stretch is all in Wiltshire, just touching the western boundary of Berkshire at my starting point at Froxfield. Coincidentally I walked along a section of the A4 in both cases. Here is a Google map of the 11.5 mile walk:

View Froxfield to Little and Great Bedwyn in a larger map

Froxfield has a lovely little church dating back to the 12th century, locked up unfortunately.

Froxfield Church

Froxfield is on the busy A4 trunk road between Marlborough and Hungerford, it is a small village with some thatched houses and a very elegant 'Hospital' apparently founded by the Duchess of Somerset in 1694 called 'The College' and would have housed mainly pensioners.

Froxfield Hospital

I left the village and started along the Kennet and Avon canal path. Here the canal follows the railway for a good many miles. The new railway took away all the business from the canal. I only saw one boat actually moving on the canal during my walk, I am sure there is a sharp decline in interest in canal boats, and that is worrying as the canals cost so much to keep navigable.

Froxfield Hospital

Now for the wildlife. As mid-July approaches Spring flowers have diminished and my interest turns more to butterflies. Some flowers were still quite striking, not sure which one this is, it is in the brassica family I think.

veined flower

Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) was in flower in many places.

woundwort,Stachys sylvatica

Along the canal I saw this pair of damselflies locked in amorous embrace. They were flying around as a eight winged pair for some time.

damselfly,copulation loop

I then reached the small village of Little Bedwyn, a lovely quiet place with a fine Norman church and some thatched cottages. There was a nest of swallows in the church porch, a second brood of about four youngsters were being fed by busy adults.

Little Bedwyn church,church

I retraced my steps to the canal path, where work was in progress repairing the canal side and locks. I continued to be distracted by butterflies - primarily male Meadow Browns. More interestingly I saw a dozen Small Tortoiseshells too, encouraging as these are possibly in decline. Regrettably they refused to sit still for me and all I can offer is the less appealing under-wings of a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) as evidence.

SmallTortoiseshell butterfly,butterfly,Aglais urticae

The path led on to Great Bedwyn where I left the canal side. There were many attractive and interesting buildings in the village, too many to include in this entry. The name 'Bedwyn' does sound rather Welsh, indeed when I first saw the name as a train destination I had assumed it was in Wales, but there is apparently no strong evidence for this. A major Anglo-Saxon battle is tenuously associated with the place. It has a large Norman church built on top of an earlier Saxon one. Somehow it did not have the charm of Froxfield or Little Bedwyn. I thought this preaching cross in the graveyard was more attractive than a photo of the church. I presume the vicar used it to preach in the open air, today would have been a good day for spreading the Word.

Great Bedwyn,preaching cross

On the south side of the canal was an idyllic looking thatched house.

Great Bedwyn,thatch house

The rest of the walk was away from all habitation going west and then north through woodland and farmland. The butterfly species changed, I now saw Speckled Woods and this early Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus).

Gatekeeper,butterfly,Pyronia tithonus

Lots of geraniums (crane's bills) were in flower. For a change here is quite a striking plant, Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum; used as aromatic straw for beds)

lady's bedstraw,Galium verum

The paths become more difficult to follow as the signs were few and far between. This view shows an extensive area laid out to clover, the bees were very appreciative.

clover field

On the edge of woodland, this Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) looked magnificent.

tufted vetch,Vicia cracca

I then had great difficulty finding the path, there were no signs and lots of tracks going in all directions. I accidentally stumbled on a little meadow full of Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

common spotted orchid

My search for the path became even harder. I spotted this overgrown sign but it led to a field with no hint of a footpath, I had to judge the route as best as I could after clambering over a very rickety locked gate.

footpath disused

Struggling onwards I at last located a well maintained track the ‘Long Walk’ which follows the crest of the ridge. The area has been recently cleared, I had hoped it would be woodland - as it is on the map - to give relief from the sun.

Long Walk

The end of my walk took me down back to the canal. Here I saw a couple of flashes of bright orange, and after a little patient investigation tracked it down to a pair of Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album).

Comma butterfly,Polygonia c-album

It is appropriate that the last thing I saw of interest on this section was a butterfly. I had seen a fair few on the walk: Small tortoiseshell (12); Marbled white (6); Small white (2); Large white (1); Speckled Wood (6); Meadow Brown (hundreds); Gatekeeper (4); Red Admiral (1); Comma (3); Small Skipper (2) and Large Skipper (3). All fairly common but good to see after a difficult year for butterflies. This is a Large Skipper (Ochlodes faunus) feeding on a Scabious flower.

Large skipper,butterfly,Ochlodes faunus

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