Friday, 27 September 2013

Wootton Rivers, Durley and Savernake Forest

At last an opportunity to take the total tally of walks on this blog over the 1,000 mile mark. All within 50 miles or so of home. The weather has stayed too hot for walking and then turned wet and cloudy so seven weeks have passed since the last long walk. I had misgivings about doing the walk as the forecast was for increasing cloud and the planned walk was 14 miles long which is a bit long to fit in the shortening length of day. Here is a map of the walk:

View Wootton Rivers and Savernake Forest in a larger map

The aim was to add a missing section of the Kennet and Avon canal between Great Bedwyn and Wootton Rivers to the south-east of Marlborough. I started off on Mud Lane, the start of an ancient track-way that runs along the ridge east-west to Martinsell and Knap Hill. Late September is a time of transition with not a great deal to see, too late for flowers and butterflies and too soon for autumn colour and fungi. Here was a flower with three types of fly clinging on: small white butterfly; hoverfly and fly.


The path leads down to Wootton Rivers, a quiet, picturesque village, here I joined up with a previous walk to Martinsell. A fair number of old thatched houses, and a pub but no shops.

Wooton Rivers

I managed to miss the church at Wootton Rivers as it is just off the main street, I retraced my steps and took a look.

Wootton Rivers,church

It was then down to the canal, where there was more activity than I normally see. A number of house boats were moored along the bank. Unusually too, I saw five boats under way in all. There are three locks on this stretch as it flows down east towards Bradford-on-Avon and Bristol.

Kennet and Avon canal,lock,boat

Here I saw a patch of fungi on the grass beside the canal. They are shaggy inkcaps (Coprinus comatus), it gets the name inkcap because it soon decays to a mass of black sludge.

Shaggy Inkcap,Coprinus comatus

The canal bends this way and that making it a pleasant stretch to walk. At the bridge under the A346 Marlborough-Burbage road is the Burbage Wharf; which is a reconditioned wooden crane dating back to 1831, the last one to survive on the Kennet and Avon canal.

Burbage Wharf,canal,canal crane

A mile further on and the canal disappears into a tunnel. The only tunnel on the canal, it is 500 yards long. The tow-path goes up and over the railway which runs parallel for this section. Away from the gloom of the deep cutting for the canal there was some wild-flowers still in bloom, including geraniums.


When I reached the Savernake Road I had to make a decision, it would take a further four hours walk to get to Great Bedwyn and back. It was warm and sunny - so I was tempted - but decided to believe the weather forecast and take a shorter route via part of Savernake Forest (so wak was only ten miles long). On the road was this attractive building of fairly indeterminate age.


I followed the road through Durley and past Tottenham House an ancient pile built by Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury. I then turned into Savernake Forest along the Roman road that led from Mildenhall to Andover. Savernake is the only privately owned ancient forest in Britain.

Savernake forest

Along the road leading into the depths of the forest there was a lot of fungi emerging. Including Magpie Inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea).

Magpie Inkcap,Coprinopsis picacea

In fact there was quite a lot of fungi around, too many to include. This is I believe False Deathcap (Amanita citrina).

False Deathcap,Amanita citrina

Navigation within Savernake is a little tricky, there are many tracks and paths but no markers or maps to help the visitor. So I was rather pleased to end up where I expected to, at the place marked as 'column' on the map. This is associated with Thomas Bruce of Tottenham House, he seems to have engaged in a lot of tree planting at Savernake. The column was erected to mark the recovery of King George III from his madness. Thomas Bruce was Lord of the Bedchamber and must have been closely involved in the care of the King. The inscription reads: In commemoration of a signal instance of Heaven's protecting Providence Over These Kingdoms in the year 1789 by restoring to perfect Health from a long and afflicting Disorder, their excellent and beloved Sovereign George the Third. This Tablet was Inscribed by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury.. Quite interesting, I had no idea that such a monument existed.

Column,monument,Thomas Bruce,Earl of Ailesbury

Now back to the more earthly, and one of the first signs of autumn colour, bramble leaves turning bright red.


I followed the evocatively named ‘Charcoal Burner's Road’ and started seeing the older trees that I hoped to see - much of the north and central areas have been re-planted fairly recently. Mostly they were beech trees, one had a good deal of bracket fungus probably Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondesa).

Hen of the Woods,Grifola frondesa

Now for the main natural history excitement of the walk. I was buzzed by a large yellowish insect which was too large for a wasp or bee. I was very lucky that it settled and started to explore a decaying tree trunk. With a good deal of respect for hornets, I did not get close enough to catch a super-macro image, this is as close as I dared. There is a concern that Asian hornets are poised to invade the UK, so I was somewhat relieved to identify it as Vespa crabro our 'common' hornet.

hornet,Vespa crabro

My main motive for briefly revisiting Savernake Forest was to see some magnificent ancient trees. These are hard to capture by camera as they are so large and surrounded by other trees, the scale can only be appreciated at first hand. Here is a lovely old beech.


Fungi were coming up here and there in the woods. These look like a dish of tempting new potatoes.


On the western fringes the beeches give way to oaks, and there are many grand old specimens.


One last old oak tree.


As I made my way through the southernmost part of the Forest these elderberries caught my eye. The prospect of autumn fruits seems a good place to end this special walk to mark the thousand miles.


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