Friday, 17 November 2017

Beech Hill, Swallowfield and Riseley

Friday dawned as a bright autumn day after the first significant night frost in the area. I drove to Beech Hill with the aim of linking up with two previous walks. I had visited Beech Hill over four years ago in April. Here is a map of the route:

The autumn light made the buildings look splendid. This is the pub in Beech Hill - The Elm Tree

Beech Hill,The Elm Tree

I had a brief look at the small village pond. On the previous walk spring flowers had been found, today I was delighted to see a Grey Wagtail feeding on the pond edge. Unfortunately only got a rear end view before it flew off.

Grey Wagtail

I then followed a path east from the village and immediately found a plant unexpectedly still in flower in mid-November - Borage (Borago officinalis) - quite close to gardens but growing on waste ground.

I then joined an old track that runs straight from Spencers Wood to Stratfield Saye (home to the Duke of Wellington). Fine autumn colours were to be seen along the way - particularly the yellow of Field Maple.

field maple

I spotted a couple of trees full of mistletoe and this one had plenty of berries.

mistletoe

I continued on the old track and crossed the A33 Swallowfield bypass - a road I used to commute along every day. Close by I found an 'artistic' composition of acorn cups.

I passed through Spencers Wood, took quite a few pictures and then headed south on Sussex Lane to a solar panel array close to the River Loddon. Along the perimeter I found Nipplewort (Lapsana communis) still in summer mode.

Nipplewort,Lapsana communis

Nearby was another plant out of normal flowering cycle - Mayweed.

The path came to an area had dumped lots of materials of various types: muck, building waste, machinery. I have come to welcome seeing such places as they offer a range of habitats for wild-flowers. In this case I was delighted to see a plant I have only seen in one or two places and have never been able to correctly identify on my own, it is Weld (Reseda luteola) - a source of yellow dye.

Weld,Reseda luteola

Just passed this area a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) was giving its alarm call.

Dunnock,Prunella modularis

I then came to Swallowfield. The village, like Spencers Wood, grew in size after the railway brought prosperity to Reading, there are few old building and no sense of a village centre. On the fringe is Swallowfield Park, a grand former stately home (Earl of Clarendon) now converted into luxury apartments. This is one of the gate houses.

Swallowfield Park

I then continued south and the footpath took me across a rather unusual crop : the herb Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). A large area was planted and smelled strong in the faint breeze. Many of the plants had a flower or two on them. It was here I joined up with a previous walk from six years ago. I can now claim to have walked all the way from home to here and then on to Hartley Wintney and beyond.

Rosemary,Rosmarinus officinalis

I then reached the old Roman road that leads from Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) to London (Pontibus Londinio). Here it marks the Hampshire-Berkshire boundary. After the Romans left the length and straightness of the road led it to be given the name 'Devil's Highway' presumably because such a construction was beyond human endeavour. Here the light caught Sweet Chestnut leaves on the Hampshire side of the road.

autumn

Riseley has more of the feel of an old village. In the village was one or two timber framed buildings.

Riseley

I then headed back over the A33 on a muddy track. Along the track there were quite a few fungi - I think Common Funnel mushroom (Clitocybe gibba).

Common Funnel,Clitocybe gibba

Along the whole walk I spotted may be a dozen wild-flowers still in flower, not bad for mid-November. This one is Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) .

Common Hogweed,Heracleum sphondylium

A cloud came over and so picture opportunities were limited for a while, I passed Stanford End mill and the gatehouse for Stratfield Saye before heading back north towards Beech Hill. It was now after 2pm and the shadows were lengthening, but they did bring out the autumn colours even more.

autumn

Back at Beech Hill the afternoon light was lighting up the church. None of the villages I passed through seemed to have an old church (this one only 1867) confirming their relatively recent development.

Beech Hill

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Purley and Pangbourne

This time a local walk - I am lucky to be able to walk from home and taken in some beautiful river and woodland scenery. It did not start out all that promising, it immediately clouded over after the sun had been out for the previous few hours. I walked down to Purley-on-Thames and joined the Thames Path. Just at this point I saw a plant (possibly a garden escape) alongside the path, it was Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum)

Tutsan,Hypericum androsaemum

For most of my three mile walk along the River Thames there were lovely autumnal views across to the woodland on the Oxfordshire side.

autumn,view

On the edge of a field I spotted a heron (Ardea cinerea) strutting slowly along. There were cattle in the same field and a bullock took exception to the bird and chased it off soon after I took this picture.

heron,Ardea cinerea

Another striking view over the river...

autumn,view

I found Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) at Purley-on-Thames, some plants were in fruit as well as some still in flower.

Black nightshade,Solanum nigrum

The views kept on coming. In this one you might be able to make out alpacas close to the river across the river and a cormorant at the top of the tree.

autumn,view

And there were quite a few boats moored; with the cold windy conditions not a single boat was actually sailing along the river.

thames,boats

A pair of swans were nibbling away at duck weed where a stream joins the Thames.

A marshy patch was home to a large clump of gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus) now in fruit.

gypsywort,Lycopus europaeus

Walking over Pangbourne meadows I came to the Whitchurch toll bridge and decided to make use of the autumn light to visit the church at Whitchurch-on-Thames. This attractive view is of the old mill on the river Thames with the church behind it.

whitchurch

The church has a number of interesting old memorials but it has been tidied up a little too much in the Victorian era (1857 ) - which had taken away some of its original charm. An Anglo-saxon church stood on the site as far back as the 9th century.

whitchurch church

I then took my normal footpath back home to Tilehurst. It passes along a stretch of the River Pang.

River pang

The path climbs up into Sulham Woods. Many of the beech leaves had fallen to give the woods their winter carpet.

autumn woods

I did a short scout around in the woods looking for fungi. I only found one, some form of Lactarius (funnel fungus) I reckon.

fungi

In the middle of the conifer section of the woods the afternoon light was creating a nice sunbeam effect.

That was the end of the walk that ended up taking 8.5 miles - a much longer one than I had originally intended.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Harpsden in autumn

Another bright sunny and quite warm day - an opportunity for a shorter walk to explore the Harpsden village (for extensive history see here) area south of Henley-on-Thames accompanied by, for a change, two friends who acted as local guides. Here is a map of the 6½ mile walk.

We started at Harpsden Church in the churchyard primrose were flowering out of season, the name ‘prime rose’ suggests it should be the first and not the last to flower in the year.

primrose,primula

The church looked to have been extensively rebuilt by the Victorians from the outside but there were many original features inside including an unusually decorated font and some nice brasses. In the porch were some of the original medieval floor tiles - I liked the endless knot design motif that I had not seen before.

harpsden church,medieval tiles

In the bright autumn sun some of the oak trees were still in full leaf.

oak tree

I hoped to see lots of fungi but instead it turned out to be a wild flower-fest instead. Amongst the many unusually late flowering plants was a whole bank of Hemlock (Conium maculatum) along a field edge. Along this stretch I linked with a path along the Thames from six years ago.

hemlock

On the hedgerow of a lane we saw wild basil in flower and here Hedgerow Cranesbill (Geranium pyrenaicum).

geranium pyrenaicum, hedgerow cranesbill

The Bottle and Glass pub at Binfield Heath is an old thatched house. The pumpkins outside show they are ready for Halloween. Not sure what the strange bird is supposed to be on the top of the thatch though.

Bottle and Glass,Binfield Heath

In terms of butterflies there quite a number of Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) and one Peacock but sadly no Small Coppers.

Red Admiral,Vanessa atalanta

Our path took us through some mixed woodland, regrettably no fungi were evident but the autumn light did make for an attractive view.

autumn woods

Turning north we came to an unusual looking barn, this is because I was reliably told that it has been relocated from Suffolk so is not in the local style. I had already walked this small stretch two years ago.

suffolk barn

The walk over fields gave good views over surrounding countryside.

A hedgerow had a number of wild-flowers as well as shrubs laden with fruit. This Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) was in good shape considering it is late October, but then there has yet to be a frost.

common mallow, malva sylvestris

Approaching a new housing estate on the outskirts of Henley-on-Thames we were surprised to see a plant in full bloom. Initial guesses were Physalis (Chinese lantern) or Thorn-apple. A little research found it to be ‘Apple of Peru’ Nicandra physalodes so it is a member of the same Solanum (potato) family. It grows best in disturbed ground and is non-native it crops up here and there because the seed is often found in bird seed. Online references have differing opinions on toxicity - most Solanums have some poisonous parts - but it seems it is much less of an issue that the nightshades and thorn-apple.

apple of peru, nicandra physalodes

At last, on an old stump I did find some fungi - but rather tiny. May be one of the Coprinus family but it was a very poor day for fungi - it has been too dry.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ashampstead and Aldworth

Normally mid October is a good time for fungi in the woods so I headed for some of the woods around Ashampstead. It was the day of hurricane Ophelia, that was battering Ireland at the time, its chief effect here was to bring in very warm air so I could wear a T-shirt for probably the last time this year. The route was a complex network of paths and lanes of around 10½ miles in total. Here is a map of the route:

I have explored this area quite a bit, other walks I have done include Jan 2011, June 2012, March 2014, Dec 2014. This time I was pleased to see blackberries were still in flower.

blackberry

And also in fruit.

blackberry

I walked north-east to the old village of Aldworth. It has a delightful church some distance from the centre.

Aldworth church

Its most noted attraction inside the church are the carved sandstone effigies of the de Beche family, known as the Aldworth giants because of their unusually tall stature.

Aldworth church,giants,tomb

Churchyards can be good for wildflowers as the soil is left undisturbed however many are mown too regularly to let 'weeds' prosper. At Aldworth there was some wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare) still in flower.

wild basil,Clinopodium vulgare

To my delight on the verge just by the church there were some somewhat rarer and more attractive flowers - Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens).

pale toadflax,Linaria repens

At the village of Aldworth I saw another unusual thing, this time an old Fiat 500 Topolino (c. 1940) looking rather splendid.

fiat 500

Up until now there had been periods of sun and pleasantly warm if not hot but then cloud came over. The sun became an orange glow, people around the UK were wondering if this might be the apocalypse. In fact it was a mix of Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian wild fires that had put particles in the air that diffuse the light.

sahara sun

I walked over fields to Westridge Green and just by the busy Streatley-Hermitage road was a mass of ivy in flower. There were two Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on the ivy somehow coping with the gusty wind. It was too windy to expect to see many butterflies, I only saw one other, probably a Small Tortoiseshell. May be the last I will see this year.

red admiral,butterfly,Vanessa atalanta

I explored a number of strips of woodland but regretfully no sign of fungi. There were plenty of pheasants though, I even saw a trailer full of beaters moving into position for a shoot. There are many still around including this female of the species.

pheasant

The cloudy conditions did not allow for many good panoramic views. The autumn colours were not yet very strong, and with the high winds many leaves had already fallen. This view gives a guide to the general view - lots of trees over undulating downs.

My hunt for fungi proved to be in vain. It has just been too dry in the last few weeks for them to choose to come up. I had deliberately chosen a walk through areas with clay that are somewhat damper, but no luck. I saw a few field mushrooms and this amazing area of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). The air was sickly sweet with the smell of them.

honey fungus

Walking back from Ashampstead Common back to Ashampstead a sweet chestnut had shed most of its fruits, luckily the winds didn't bring any more down while I was taking this photograph they most certainly would hurt a bit if they hit you on the head.

sweet chestnut

By the side of the track some splendid late flowering Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) were found.

self-heal,Prunella vulgaris

A final treat was a few clumps of what I hope is Wood Barley (Hordelymus europaeus).

wood barley

The sun came out again right at the end of the 11 mile walk. I was able to pop in for tea with a friend at the village of Ashampstead.