Monday, 29 June 2015

Seven Barrows and Devil's Punchbowl

I spoke too soon in my last post which was supposed to be a last visit through nature reserves, well I managed squeezed in one or two more before temperatures soar into the forecast 90s later on this week. For my previous walks in this area see Lambournand Letcombes.

The principal destination was at the Seven Barrows BBOWT Nature Reserve. There are a total of nineteen iron age barrows in the valley, seven are clustered together on the valley floor. (c. 3500-2500 years old). I was hoping there was a chance of seeing a Marsh Fritillary there but no luck. There was little evidence of Devil's bit Scabious and as this is their key food plant seeing them was unlikely. What I did see around one of the barrows was a good number of fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea). First time I had seen any this year.

fragrant orchid,Gymnadenia conopsea

I also found a cinnabar moth, before it decided to hide underneath a leaf.

cinnabar moth

The onset of summer was evident in the range of butterflies to be seen. Not only meadow browns but now a good number of Ringlet butterflies (Aphantopus hyperantus).

ringlet,Aphantopus hyperantus

And summer evident in the plants too, this is common toadflax that I always consider a late summer flower.


The Small Skippers I saw last week had now be joined by Large Skipper butterflies (Ochlodes faunus).

Large Skipper,Ochlodes faunus

Further up the valley is the probable reason for the cluster of Iron Age barrows, a Bronze age long barrow. It is considered the oldest long barrow in the UK dating back 5,400 years. In the following Iron Age our ancestors often placed their memorials in view of what would have been a dramatic older burial site. Much of the barrow is hidden by a wood but the southern edge has a ditch and beyond that an area of meadow. Here there was an abundance of flowers and butterflies - more than at Seven Barrows. The ground is more fertile and the pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramdalis), grow tall and lush and in great numbers.

pyramidal orchid,Anacamptis pyramdalis

Also available in white:

pyramidal orchid,Anacamptis pyramdalis

I then drove up the valley to where the road meets the Great Ridgeway. The original plan was to do a twelve mile walk through the villages but I had dallied for too long by the barrows. I parked at the top of Blowinghole hill which has another historic connection. King Alfred (a local lad, he was born at nearby Wantage) is said to have used the perforated sarcen stone as a trumpet to gather troops before the pivotal Battle of Ashdown (871CE).

I walked Eastward on the Ridgeway, which here is the genuine article - an ancient track-way keeping to the level, high downland. On a few occasions the impressive panorama of the view into Oxfordshire and beyond opens out.

south oxfordshire,ridgeway view

I then came to the H.Q. of the White Horse Model Club where enthusiasts fly their remote controlled planes on most fine days. It has a permanent base with even a 'runway' and a hut. It is only three miles from the Uffington White Horse.

model air plane

I then headed into the Devil's Punchbowl, a deeply cut, steep valley. Here is a view of the dramatic chalk downland. Difficult to believe this is crowded Southern England and not some remote northern moor.

devil's punchbowl

Here was a host of butterflies, nearly every flower seemed to have a butterfly on it. In the distance I saw a large orange butterfly flitting around and even though I did not get very close I am told it could only really be a Dark Green Fritillary (not really all that green). I saw one knapweed with five meadow browns clustered together on it. The most common by far were marbled whites and small heaths - hundreds if not thousands of them - here are the two conveniently poised together on knapweed.

marbled white,small heath,butterflies

I went on a search for henbane, which I had seen here in May 2011 but could not spot it, may be lost among the nettles. When I stopped for a late lunch I was delighted to see a pair of kestrels hanging in the warm air stream running up out of the valley.


A plant you rarely see with its petals open is yellow-wort, there were quite a few dotted around. There were also pyramidal and common spotted orchids, squinancywort, thyme, ladies bedstraw, st. johns wort, agrimony, nodding thistle....


I then headed back to the car along the Ridgeway with many more butterflies and flowers to admire on the way. This Black Bryony was particularly shiny and lush.

black bryony

My total tally of butterfly species fourteen, three new ones for the season - brimstone, ringlet and silver washed fritillary. The full list was therefore: Small white, large white, marbled white, brimstone, common blue, small blue, small tortoiseshell, meadow brown, speckled wood, silver washed fritillary, ringlet, small skipper, large skipper and small heath. I'll finish with one more view I took of the Devil's Punchbowl.

devil's punchbowl

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