Friday, 24 June 2016

Tidcombe and Hippenscombe Bottom

I was determined to go for a walk as half the year has already gone and I have only made six major excursions into the countryside. This walk also marks the passing of a total of 1,500 miles on the walks posted here.

I started at the tiny village of Tidcombe, I had visited on two occasions before, May 2010 and September 2012. It has a small ancient church which I described on the first of these walks.

tidcombe church

Here is a map of the 7.5 mile walk:

I knew I was in rural Wiltshire from the fact the paths were all overgrown and hard to find, still I persevered. My first shot is just a pretty coloured snail.


My first target was a nearby area marked on the map as 'Open Access'. Some of these turn out to be a little disappointing - often steep slopes unsuitable for anything except sheep grazing, with little to be seen. In this case Tidcombe Down and the lower slopes started to look promising. I saw at last a Large Skipper butterfly, the first this year.

large skipper,butterfly

I soon started finding Common Spotted Orchids here and there but the numbers kept on rising with groups of dozens of them. Although scattered around the large area of the Down there must be thousands of orchids in flower - a very impressive display. This is one of the more dramatically coloured orchids - they were very variable.

common spotted orchid,orchid

Dotted among all the thousands of Common Spotted orchids were a few smaller and distinctly different orchids. They were Fragrant orchids - even though I could not detect any smell, they have the long tails to the flowers and have no strong spots.

fragrant orchid,orchid

I was pleased to also see some Common Blue butterflies flying around, the male blue butterfly is particularly striking against the yellow flower of bird's foot trefoil. The Down had all the plants you would expect on undisturbed chalk download: Milkwort, Fairy Flax, Scabious, Cowslips, Ladies bedstraw.

common blue,butterfly

This is a general view to give a flavour of the area - very much a patchwork of trees and fields among the downs.


My path west led me towards Fosbury hillfort - a very impressive ancient monument. On the way I had to pass this bunch of energetic and inquisitive bullocks.


Another object of the walk was to explore an 'Open Access' area fringing the hill-fort on the steep ground. Unfortunately the one shower of the day came over at this time so I decided to leave it until another time. However the area does look promising with thyme on ant hills and lots of rock rose. By the path was a single Crosswort plant.


Close by a striking five spot Burnet moth was feeding on Bird's foot Trefoil. There are six spot, five spot as well as Narrow-bordered five spots - this one seems to have 4.1 spots! The antennae have an unusual dark blue hue.

burnet moth

Walking down the attractive path took me to the farm at Hippenscombe Bottom. I then followed along the track that follows a sinuous path along the valley bottom. You can appreciate why the Romans decided to divert their normally straight roads to avoid having to cross this deep valley (I have a map demonstrating this on this page).


On these walks I like to explore some new areas - rarely repeating a previous itinerary so I can harbour the hope of unexpected delights. I was not disappointed on this walk. When the track along the bottom started reaching higher and less productive ground the farmer had left a whole large field to wild-flowers. I can see from Google Earth that it has been fairly recently cultivated but now was a really impressive meadow. The dominant plant was buttercups but the area had hundreds of large nodding thistles (Carduus nutans). Nearly every plant had bees on the flowers. Often more than one!

nodding thistle,bee

This flower had four bees on it - and four different species. It underlines the importance of bumblebees rather than honey bees and it seems that bumblebees that are most affected by neonicotinoids.

nodding thistle,bee

I was not quite alone in the valley, a roe deer was keeping an eye on me in the distance before it flounced off. I saw no other walkers all day.

nodding thistles,deer

The warmth trapped by the valley made it an attractive location for butterflies, I was delighted to see a flash of bright yellow and then stalked the butterfly responsible. Unfortunately they always sit with closed wings, but you can see the hints of yellow on this female Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus). They are summer migrants, helped over the channel in warm southerly winds. Unfortunately, although they try, they are not hardy enough to survive our winters.

clouded yellow butterfly,butterfly

Along the track taking me back towards Tidcombe there were one or two more butterflies. In particular a Small Tortoiseshell - one of the first in this year's first brood.

small tortoiseshell,butterfly

I could have posted more butterfly photographs. In my last walks at Sparsholt and Bramshill I had lamented the low numbers and poor variety. I saw on this walk: Common Blue, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Clouded Yellow, Ringlet and Small Heath. Not bad as it was fairly cool and windy.

The track affords a fine view over the green and pleasant land.


Finally just a sweet little flower - a Cut-leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum).

geranium,cut leaf cranesbill

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