Friday, 1 September 2017

Greywell, Mapledurwell and North Warnborough

I decided to tackle the longest standing planned walk that had lain un-walked for over five years. I seem to remember a vague plan of extending my network of walks as far as Farnham to complete the rather neglected south-eastern part of my local area. Here is a map of the walk:

I started at Greywell which is close to the source of the River Whitewater where fresh spring water flows from the chalk downlands to the south of Basingstoke. The water is nice and clear and water cress is one of the common plants.


The marsh-loving plants were still in flower including Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Purple Loosestrife

The stream is dammed to form a millpond and there is an attractive looking mill house, but this section is popular with walkers and so there is little privacy.


The walk by the stream is part of the Three Castles Path that runs from Winchester to Windsor. I had by chance walked a part of the Winchester section through Itchen Abbas exactly a month ago. It seems like a reasonable long distance path to try to follow from end to end. The section began along a quiet lane and then along a track from ‘Four Lanes End’ to ‘Five Lanes End’. There was a good range of flowers in the hedgerows including a lovely Nettle-leaved Bellflower (Campanula trachelium).

Nettle-leaved Bellflower,Campanula trachelium

In fact this area had far more wild-flowers than my walk a week ago in South Oxfordshire. I then left the Three Castles Path and headed over fields to Mapledurwell. As the crop in the fields was potatoes the farmer had not sprayed with herbicide and there was a good range of ‘arable weeds’. Poppies were still flowering away.


September can be a good month for butterflies but this year with cool weather in August there does not seem to be that many. The Meadow Browns have gone and I only saw Speckled Woods (several); one Red Admiral; one Comma and a number of Cabbage Whites - this one is I think a Small White (Pieris rapae). So far this year I have not seen any Clouded Yellows, Small Coppers or Painted Ladies, but it is not yet too late.

Small White,Pieris rapae

Among the arable weeds still very much in flower, was a nice clump of what I believe is Lucerne (Medicago sativa) - which is grown as a leguminous fodder crop.

Lucerne,Medicago sativa

In the hedgerows the signs of autumn were showing - ivy in flower and plenty of haws and here, sloes.


I walked down to Mapledurwell which has another spring that feeds the River Whitewater. Along the emerging stream was a bank of bright yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus).


At Mapledurwell I hoped to see a good range of plants in a marshy area I saw seven years ago. It was not to be, a new housing estate has been built and the stream has been canalised so there is no nice marshy area any more. The only plant I could see really was watercress. So I set off back towards Greywell and to avoid a busy road followed a little used path on the edge of the M3. However, like last week, I had to run the gauntlet of cattle. Instead of bullocks this time it was cows with calves - which can be equally dangerous. So I was a little concerned when they galloped over to check me out - my path took me directly through the herd. After a little talking and arm waving they kept their distance, although I am sure they were just being inquisitive.


The path led to the end of the Basingstoke canal, the final section into Basingstoke has long ago been removed and built over.

Basingstoke canal

The canal is now mainly silted up with barely any water in places. Wildlife has moved in and now bulrushes occupy the main channel.


I followed the canal path up to the entrance to the famed Greywell Tunnel at 1,230 yards which is quite a length. There was no tow-path so a boat had to be pushed through by using your legs to push on the walls - it could take six hours in virtual pitch dark. The disused canal has been taken over by important colonies of bats and because of this happy chance has been made an SSSI.

I then followed the rough overground path of the canal and saw in front of Greywell House a group of guinea fowl.

guinea fowl

At Greywell I joined up with the Three Castles Path again at the other tunnel entrance. Here the long distance path follows the tow-path of the Basingstoke canal for quite a few miles. Along the way is one of the reasons it is called Three Castles as this is the remains of Odiham Castle. The other two castles are Winchester and Windsor. Odiham Castle was built at the time of King John - conveniently half way between Windsor and Winchester which were then top seats of royal power. It then became a royal prison - for King David II of Scotland 1346-57. However it was already a ruin in 1603 with the fine facing stones re-used in other local buildings - only the 'rubble' core remains.

odiham castle

Here I decided there was not enough time to complete my full route, I has clocked up 9 miles and the whole planned walk looked like it would be double that and it was clouding over. So instead I headed back via North Warnborough. I explored a marshy area to the north-east of the village and there spotted a Grey Wagtail - always a delight to see these busy creatures.

grey wagtail

To the north of the village is a very good marshy area through which a small stream flows. It had a great number of wild-flowers that prefer damp conditions. I believe this is Blue Water-speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica).

Blue Water-speedwell,Veronica anagallis-aquatica

Another marshland plant that I was pleased to see still in flower was Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).

Ragged Robin,Lychnis flos-cuculi

I also found one plant of Marsh Marigold or King Cup (Caltha palustris) still looking like it was May rather than September.

Marsh Marigold,King Cup,Caltha palustris

Having completed this section I am left with quite a large gap to link it with my other walks. I have followed Wayfarer's Way to Dummer which is over 8 miles away to the West and I have reached the outskirts of Hartley Wintney six miles to the north-east. So there is plenty of scope for more walks in this area.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Stadhampton, Drayton St. Leonards and Newington

Moving from the extreme west of my region for walks in my last walk near Devizes, I took advantage of some sunny weather to explore an area near the northern extreme - not all that far from Oxford. I had intended to revisit an area near Goring, but I decided I must seek pastures new. It also provides a bit of a break from all the flowers I have been posting recently. Back in December I explored parts of Shakespeare's Way and this walk extends the coverage as far as Chiselhampton. :

I started off at Stadhampton Church. This is a church where a lot of money has been spent to turn it into more of a community centre than a traditional church. The pews are replaced with stacked chairs and there is a kitchen and toilets in the church. It is an attractive modern building, but call me an old romantic, I do really prefer crumbling ruins!

stadhampton church

The area I explored is on the lower stretches of the River Thame before it joins its confusingly named bigger brother the River Thames at Dorchester-on-Thames. The Thame valley is rich rolling countryside and the river itself rather placid.

river thame

A Red Admiral butterfly was warming itself close to some blackberries by the side of the road near the Thame at Chiselhampton. The other butterflies I saw on the whole walk were Small White, Green-veined White, Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood.

red admiral butterfly

I then headed south to Drayton St Leonards on a track between fields. In this area of rich soil the farmer had left very little space for wild-flowers and I only saw a few plants other than nettles including this knapweed - probably Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra).


The village of Drayton St Leonards is named after the church of St. Catherine and St. Leonard.

Drayton St Leonards church

It's a small church and not a great deal inside, but the decorated pulpit (1880s) is unusual. The angel looks rather glum.

Drayton St Leonards pulpit

The village is not that far from Abingdon and Oxford, and so it has many modern commuter homes, but here and there are some older buildings of the original village.

Drayton St Leonards cottage

After crossing the River Thame again I retraced part of walk from last December to Newington. A reminder that it was late summer was the presence of pheasant feeders. A rather startled pheasant was not far away.


As I was having my lunch sitting on a stile I began to study the immediate vicinity and to my delight a tiny ladybird was crawling over a leaf. I think it is the 22 Spot Ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata).

22spot yellow ladybird, Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata

I came back to the small village of Newington. The church is now ‘redundant’ but its grandeur reflects previous glory.

Newington church

An old path leading directly to the church took me out of the valley. One of the fears of walking alone through fields is the possible attention of a bull, particularly on very rarely used paths like this one. Well in this case it was a whole herd of bullocks. They have an inquisitive nature and followed me along. the path They played Grandmother's footsteps for a while - sneaking up on me whenever my back was turned. They looked pretty fearsome, particularly the closest one. I retain some sympathies for them, as regrettably, they are not long for this world having reached the target weight.


Escaping the herd over a style I came across a large mass of Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) and within it a few plants of Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara).

woody nightshade

After surviving the herd of bullocks the next challenge was a field of corn (maize). The first section was fine - the farmer had chopped down a path through them but then I was faced with a further field across the stile in the picture - a wall of corn six foot high. It was a large field with no margin so I had no choice but forge a path through the corn as best I could. Without GPS it would have been all too easy to get lost in the middle of it all!

footpath blocked

I emerged from the corn and rejoined the Shakespeare's Way and followed the path back towards Stadhampton. Along the field margin was a delightful flower - Greater Willowherb (Epillobium hirsutum).

greater willowherb,Epilobium hirsutum

I crossed the parkland of former Ascott Park with its strange dovecotes to reach the fringes of Stadhampton. Here I found a single Bugloss plant (Anchusa arvensis).

bugloss,Anchusa arvensis

Back by the church I noticed that there was a large number of swallows and house martins getting ready to depart. I had seen another flight of swallows at Drayton St. Leonard, so they must have got through the cool, damp summer OK.

swallows,house martins

And last of this very mixed batch, focusing in on a smaller group of birds in their departure lounge among the wires.

swallows,house martins

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Wansdyke and Bishop's Cannings

I planned out this walk over five years ago and have finally got around to doing it. The recent weather has been of grey skies with quite a bit of rain. As it had rained so much yesterday I thought I ought to head to the chalk hills as the paths are never muddy. Perhaps because the weather had discouraged from walking for so long I overcompensated and took rather a lot of photographs (194) nearly exhausting two camera batteries in the process. The walk was about 14 miles; here is a map of the route:

The original ambition was to do a considerable section of the Wansdyke which is an impressive man made feature running from Marlborough to Devizes (roughly). The Wansdyke is by most people considered a post-Roman defensive system built up to defend against the Anglo-Saxons and then Danes who occupied the Thames Valley and this line would have helped keep them out of south-western and southern Britain. It is a shortened form of ‘Woden’s Dyke’ after the Anglo-Saxon god who also gives us Wednesday. However, I believe this section - from Marlborough to Devizes was older and merely re-cut in later times. It is rare for such a significant feature to be built in a short period for one purpose as it would represent such a huge amount of effort. I consider a smaller feature was present back in the mists of time as a tribal boundary.

The first part of the walk was a pleasant ascent to the ridge along which the Wansdyke runs, harebells were in good numbers.


The ditch is impressive. It runs along the crest of the chalk downs for some miles. It marks an important watershed, to the north the waters drain east into Kennet that ends up at London, to the south the waters drain west to the river Avon through Bath and Bristol.

Wansdyke ditch

It was only when I reached the Wansdyke that I remembered my original reason for wanting to walk this route. I had visited Avebury with its amazing stone circle (the largest in the world), south avenue but also Silbury Hill. Silbury Hill is one of the most impressive earthworks and its function has been the subject of much debate. It is the largest man-made mound in Europe. It is located some distance from Avebury and seems unrelated to the other ancient features. It has now been reliably dated to the late Neolithic (2490-2340 BCE). I wondered whether its chief function was to advertise the presence of the tribe in the valley. Silbury Hill is certainly very prominent in the landscape, and if it was left as pure white chalk it would have stood out like a beacon. You can just about see Avebury church to the right of the hill in the distance,

Silbury Hill

This is the view of Silbury Hill a couple of miles further along the Wansdyke. I had to wait for the sun to catch the hill so it stood out rather like the white chalk would have done. I think it would clearly advertise to anyone coming north from the Vale of Pewsey that this land was occupied by a powerful tribe.

Silbury Hill

The land then fell away a little but the Wansdyke was still present as a significant ‘gash’ in the landscape. Centuries of farming have not really dented its splendour. I can't help thinking of a dim echo of the Great Wall of China!

Wansdyke ditch

There was a fairly strong northerly breeze and on the protected south side were a number of butterflies soaking up the sun. The real star was this Wall Brown butterfly (Lasiommata megera). I had only seen one other wall brown before - about a month ago in the same area. It is a pretty thing much more exciting than the name suggests.

Wall butterfly,Lasiommata megera

Over much of the chalk were plants of Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus) dotted here and there.

red bartsia,Odontites vernus

Silverweed (Potentilla anserina or Argentina anserina) was also in flower .

silverweed,Potentilla anserina picframe

I found my favourite thistle - the Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) - along the Wansdyke path.

woolly thistle,Cirsium eriophorum

A wildlife friendly farmer had planted a wide strip alongside the walk with wild-flowers. He had installed bird boxes along the side of a barn. The blue flower that always impresses, common in the mixes that are sown, is Phacelia - but not really a full native flower.


A bit further along I made another discovery. I saw a few blue flowers which I took for scabious but on closer inspection they were rather different and much more 'blue'. I believe this is Round-headed Rampion (Phyteuma orbiculare). I had thought this flower was only found in the Sussex downs. Looking online it does have a good population in this area and there is very little else it can be. Quite an exciting find as I had not expected to see it here.

round headed rampion

This particular stretch of path had been heavily grazed by cattle and that had helped the more interesting wild-flowers prosper rather than grass..


I then left the Wansdyke path to explore the Vale of Pewsey to the south. The track had a good range of wild-flowers including kidney vetch, field scabious, meadow's cranesbill and great willowherb.

These walks always give one or two wildlife surprises. Apart from seeing the wall brown and the rampion I must count seeing about 50 house martins among the highlights. They must have had a tough time in all the cool and wet weather and were making best possible use of the sunshine by sitting on the warm slates of one house. There were continual comings and goings which is encouraging for a species that is now much rarer than it used to be.

house martins

I then came to the small village of Bishop's Cannings, quite the epitome of a rural idyll. One villager had set out fresh eggs for sale with an honesty box, which is always a good sign. The church took my breath away. It has a strange look, monumental but as if several churches have been stuck together. My thoughts turned to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. The manor of Bishop's Cannings was owned by the bishops of Salisbury (hence the name) from Norman times so the bishop had the funds to extend the church at several stages in the current architectural style.

bishops cannings church

The church had many interesting features, I regret I had not much time to spend there. One of the most unusual is the ‘monk’s carrel’ which is a seat used for confession decorated with exhortations for good behaviour in latin dating back to the 15th century.

bishops cannings,monks carrell

It wouldn't be a proper English village without a quaint old thatched cottage, so here you go.

bishops cannings cottage

And so down to the Kennet and Avon Canal. Another walking project that is almost complete; in sections I have walked all the way along the towpath from Reading to Pewsey. I now was able to walk the section from Bishop's Cannings to Alton Barnes leaving only a couple of short sections to complete. I joined it at the swing bridge just by Bishop's Cannings where a boat had just gone through.

kennet and avon canal, canal, swing bridge

I am not a great fan of canals, particularly when they have long straight sections. However here it is a series of gentle curves and it had a nice wild-flower ‘verge’.

kennet and avon canal, canal

Near a defunct swing bridge was a plant that likes damp conditions. It is gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), so called because it yields a dye that people used to darken their skin (before tanning aids) and so look more like gypsies.


Eventually I reached Honeystreet with a nice canal-side pub (The Barge Inn) and then headed north to Alton Barnes and Alton Priors. The villages are only half a mile apart but each has its own church. The church at Alton Priors is larger and on the south face of the tower was an unusually large sundial. Accounting for British Summer Time it was still keeping good time.

alton priors,sundial,church

I was going to include another butterfly at this point but decided to economise on pictures. I saw a good many Meadow Browns, a few Common Blues, Small Tortoiseshells and one or two Red Admirals, Peacocks, Green-veined whites and Small heaths. A prominent feature of the landscape that can not go unrecorded was the Alton Barnes White Horse. Not quite as impressive or as old (only 1812) as the one at Uffington.

white horse

I then followed the last segment of what is considered the Great Ridgeway. On the steep undisturbed slopes north of Alton Priors was a good selection of wild-flowers including Clustered Bellflower. In one area were some Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) plants in flower. This is a plant now often planted as part of a mix as the leaves are considered to add useful protein to fodder. Up here though I think this one has been here a long time and could be considered 'native'.

sainfoin,Onobrychis viciifolia

As I climbed up the steep path from Alton Barnes at 6pm a farmer was just about to start harvesting a huge field of wheat - he would be busy well into the night. I end with one final view looking east along the bases of the chalk downs towards Martinsell and Oare, they look a bit like the Seven Sisters to me.

chalk downs