Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Mortimer to Basingstoke via Silchester

In my list of possible walks the one that has lain unused the longest was this one, between Mortimer and Basingstoke railway stations. The delay was partly because this is mainly farmland with lots of muddy clay and partly because of having to walk through a mile or two of urban Basingstoke. As it has been so dry for so long, I took the plunge on the last of a predicted run of warm April days. Here is map of the 13 mile walk:

I have been to Stratfield Mortimer a couple of times before; it has a fine church which although fairly modern (1869) has a striking design.

Stratfield Mortimer church

In just a week of copious sunshine the fields have become a sea of yellow rapeseed flowers.

rape seed flowers

My path running SW is along the side of Foudry Brook that flows from Bramley to Reading. Going to inspect the stream I disturbed a heron that noisily took off and flew away.

heron

Heading north towards Silchester I heard a pair of Lapwings that were being chased by a buzzard. Lapwings are becoming quite rare in farmland areas so it was good to see a pair, even if in the far distance.

lapwing

I then followed an ancient winding track to Silchester. Before Silchester became a Roman city it was a town in the Iron Age. I reckon this is a track to the prehistoric settlement before the imposition of the Roman roads that spread out in straight lines in all directions. Along this section were many ancient woodland species: Dog's mercury; Wood anemone and the Goldilocks buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus). I also saw a Speckled Wood butterfly but it was this Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) that really caught my eye.

Greater Stitchwort,Stellaria holostea

An inquisitive calf followed me along, rather thankfully on the other side of the fence!

friesian calf

In the ruins of the impressive Roman Amphitheatre at Silchester (pictures previously published so won't repeat) was an attractive plant; it was growing on the north side where it catches the sun, I was hoping it was some rare native plant, but I now think it is a naturalised group of Triquetrous Leek (Allium triquetrum).

Triquetrous Leek,Allium triquestrum

The Roman outer city wall on the south side is the most impressive; you can see it stretching right to the horizon.

Silchester,Roman wall

The ancient walls offer an interesting habitat for chalk-loving plants. Too early in the year to see all that much, there was wall rue of course, but I think this little gem is Saxifraga tridactylites.

Saxifraga tridactylites

Also on the walls but on the west side and under tree cover was Navelwort (which sounds unpleasant) Umbilicus rupestris. The curious leaves have the 'stalk' in the middle of them. This is the developing flower spike, it will be an impressive sight when in flower.

Navelwort,Umbilicus rupestris

The warm spell had brought bluebells into flower very quickly.

bluebell

To the south of Silchester one wood in particular had a good display of bluebells.

bluebell

I made my way towards Pamber Forest - a large area of mixed woodland east of Tadley. It was at this point that I heard my first Cuckoo - another increasingly rare event. Lots of butterflies here as elsewhere on the walk (Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood, Small White), but I have included many photographs of these recently so will make do with this Brimstone.

brimstone butterfly

I headed on the straight track south through the middle of the forest. It is an extensive area and I had little time to explore.

Pamber Forest

My path took me onward to Little London which is a village strung out along the road with a nice pub (the Plough). One house had many UKIP posters and a flag for the ongoing election campaign. The name ‘Little London’ may come from seasonal farm workers coming from London or it may be a corruption of Loddon which is a river flowing near by.

Little London

I continued generally south east towards Basingstoke from here. One of the first areas I saw was a fragment of an old wood with Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) plants in bud.

Solomon's Seal,Polygonatum multiflorum

Another nice woodland species to see here was Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), just coming into flower.

Yellow Archangel,Lamiastrum galeobdolon

In many places along the way there were pretty violets in flower. I think this is Common Dog Violet.

Common dog violet

On the fringes of Morgaston Wood I was delighted to see masses of Cuckoo Flowers (Cardamine pratensis) - so called because they come out when the cuckoos arrive. As I heard my first cuckoo earlier on in this walk, they had timed it well this year.

cuckoo flower,Cardamine pratensis

In Morgaston Wood there was a fine selection of Spring flowers among the Lesser Celandines and Bluebells: Wood anemones, Moschatel, Pignut, Woodruff, Solomon's seal and Goldilocks.

Sherborne St. John church

I walked down to Sherborne St. John, a nice little village by a brook. The church was impressive but locked. The last stage of the walk was into Basingstoke, the area to the north had an extensive housing development under construction - the footpath was shoved aside and difficult to follow. I then had to navigate 1.5 miles into Basingstoke without a useful map; this was quite a challenge as I had never been to this area before and it is a maze of roads and suburbia. Using just the direction of the sun I managed a pretty well straight course avoiding the main roads. In the middle of the estates on a bit of wasteland were cowslips, and as I had not seen them before them on the walk it was good to see them.

Cowslip

I have restricted the photographs, I took over 150 in all, so I could have included a lot more!.

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