Thursday, 7 June 2018

Badges and buzzes

Despite the busy lead-up to the Art Trail - with all the preparation it brings - I have managed to sneak in a few nice walks in the sunshine.

Bank Holiday Monday = pub lunch surely? And what better way to justify this than to walk there and back. well, almost. We decided to park in the layby by the Fovant Badges viewpoint out west of Salisbury, and head over to Broadchalke. A lovely loop we've done many times before, but always worth doing again! The Badges - as you may recall - are regimental badges cut into the steep chalk escarpment overlooking the village of Fovant. They're best viewed from afar, but the walk takes you right passed them, whereupon they take on a more abstract quality.

Signs of a past spectacle of cowslips, the singing of corn bunting, yellowhammer and skylark, and spectacular views down to the valley below, made our steep ascent worthwhile. We then looped down through various chalk valleys towards Broadchalke for a delicious lunch in the sun. The route back took us along an old droveway, with more beautiful views, including a red kite swooping over the treetops. the latter has become a much more common sight around Salisbury now, which is great to see in these days of doom and gloom. The final descent took us along an ancient trackway, cutting across the steep escarpment, lined with clumps of horseshoe vetch, with yet more skylarks. Stunning.

Then, last Sunday, we decided to head to the New Forest. At this time of year, careful planning is required. A sunny day in the forest is attractive - so the hordes often descend. Starting from a less-touristy spot - the Canadian Memorial - we walked down to Burley along the cycle paths. Although easy, it seemed long in the heat of the sun. It passed through tranquil ancient woodland and conifer plantation, with the hot sap creating a summer scent reminding me of childhood holidays in the South of France. dense stands of tall foxgloves lined the way, with trees humming with life - notably a deep buzz of a hornet, which we watched for a while at a distance. Detouring away from the cycle paths and the road on the final approach to Burley, where a cold drink awaited, we crossed a beautiful wildflower meadow, with good clumps of common spotted orchids and spearwort, before lunching in a lovely patch of woodland sat on a fallen tree.

Quenching our thirst in the village, we took a slightly different route back, which we more than slightly regretted due to a seemingly-impassable bog dotted with dead trees with unstable branches to cling onto. None of the party were lost! Taking a beautiful woodland ride over a lovely stream, where we watched beautiful demoiselles dancing in the sunlight, showing off the male's iridescent turquoise wings, we rejoined the cycle path back to the car. A long but beautiful walk avoiding most of the crowds.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Calling on cue

I was just wondering when I might hear a cuckoo - it is May after all - and lo, walking up to Old Sarum the other day, I heard my first one. I wonder whether it is the same one (they do live for several years) as I always seem to hear one down there. After that, I just kept hearing them.

Last weekend saw me finally get to two of my favourite haunts, albeit late for some floristic spectacles. First up was Garston Wood - the bluebell wood of choice every year, near Sixpenny Handley south-west of Salisbury. Although the bluebells were sadly over, other woodland species were taking their moment to shine. Orchids - the strange green flowers of twayblade, the beautiful deep magenta of early purple, and one small spike of a common spotted. Together with the delicate tufts of sanicle, and the intriguing yellow hooded towers of yellow archangel, as well as some patches of ramsons still trying to make a show, it was a bit of a botanist's dream! Our route took us out of the RSPB reserve into neighbouring fields, where we had a great view of a male cuckoo flying across in the distance, together with the calls of skylarks and yellowhammer. We also had views of a pair of buzzards, including one sat in a tree staring at us from afar.

Next up was Martin Down (of course), where I had hoped to catch some of the cowslips - they were, sadly, a bit past their best, but still showing enough in numbers to enjoy. I couldn't see any burnt-tip orchids (possibly too late) nor adonis blue butterflies (possibly too early!), but the short turf next to the enormous Bokerley Dyke earthwork contained lots of chalk milkwort (deep indigo and white morphs), with patches of the striking kidney vetch. In the distance, calls of the rare corn bunting, lots of skylarks and yellowhammers. But the most beautiful - and reassuring - was the calling turtle dove from the hedge next to the main car park! We heard several on our travels. These beautiful doves face a very difficult life and journey, with populations having declined alarmingly. They overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa, facing food shortages and lack of habitat. Their migration across the Mediterranean is littered with hunters poised atop hills trying to shoot them out of the sky. And then when - if - they finally make it, they face similar food and habitats shortages over here, due to intensification of agriculture. Martin Down is a bit of a haven though - you can always hear them. This persecution also afflicts the cuckoo, with numbers declining. It may be sad to face a British countryside without the calls of quintessential birds such as the skylark, turtle dove and cuckoo.

Finally, today we popped up to the delightful village of Tisbury, just west of Salisbury, for a quick walk up and around the lovely countryside here, and a visit to the wonderful Messums art gallery. Our route crossed the Nadder, in a beautiful spot with clear water and water crowfoot flowering. We then headed up the valley sides for great views over the village, accompanied again by yellowhammers and skylarks, before reaching our end point of Fonthill lake. This is part of the large Fonthill estate, with 'grottoes' created along one side, although not publically accessible.

With the Salisbury Art Trail about to kick off (2nd - 17th June) I'll be busy each weekend demonstrating my painting at Henderson's Bakery in the Market Square, so less opportunity for walks and therefore blog posts. Hope I don't miss any more natural spectacles!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Enjoying the sun

The weather has been a bit topsy-turvy of late - boiling hot one moment, cold the next. The spring flowers are cracking on despite the temperature differences, so there's no time to delay in getting out there and enjoying the spectacle!

On the Bank Holiday weekend, we made the most of the amazing weather, starting with a shortish walk in Bentley Wood. This mixed plantation woodland east  of Salisbury was once ancient woodland, and so the ground flora still spring into life at this time of year. I've never seen the bluebells looking so good here - stretching as far as the eye could see. There was a bit of debate about whether they were native or hybrids with the non-native and invasive Spanish bluebell. Although there were some dubious patches (less deep in colour, more upright and not drooping on one side, not fragrant, pollen more of a blue/green colour rather than creamy white), we soon found ourselves surrounded by the scent and sight of native bluebells, to the extent we got slightly lost admiring it all!

The next day we headed off to the beautiful Dorset coast - it was bank Holiday Monday, so we thought we'd head to the less touristy spot of Kingston. Here you can walk from the lovely Scott Arms pub - with its amazing view of Corfe castle - to the coast path, and along to Chapman's Pool. Our way to the coast was marked with snow-like ramsons cloaking the vegetation either side of the path, with glimpses of bluebells further down the valley. Then we emerged from the woods, to a high ridge running alongside a dramatic valley, towards the coast. The sea was a deep azure blue, but the horizon difficult to locate due to the haze in the strong sun. We walked along the coast path for stunning views of Chapman's Pool - a small circular bay - before looping back up to the pub!

After a delicious lunch, we decided to have a potter around Kimmeridge Bay - another lovely coastal spot, but much more touristy. We parked in the small quarry carpark (avoiding the toll parking!) and walked down through the village and fields to the beautiful bay. Very different geology here (part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), with hard bands of rock projecting out into the bay, beneath softer shales where ammonite fossils are easily found. The rock pools are also worth a look - the water is so clear you can easily spot several types of seaweed and anemones. In fact, the Dorset wildlife Trust has an undersea snorkel trail on the other side of the bay.

We'd had such a great day, we didn't much mind the awful traffic on the way back. To be expected really - everyone wants to visit this beautiful part of the world, which I'm lucky to have not too far from me.

Monday, 30 April 2018


Hurrah for spring - I always think that no matter your interest in the great outdoors, pretty much everyone in the UK loves bluebells. I mean, you'd be crazy not to right?!

It's always a bit of a tricky balance to catch them at the right time. Now I'm working from home more at the moment, this has meant more quick forays to local haunts, including to track progress of the bluebells. First up was Grovely Wood on the Wilton estate just outside of Salisbury. It's never been up there as my favourite bluebell wood (that would be Garston Wood, but that's a bit further out), but I was surprised to find some good patches. At least, they will be - probably are by now - but when I checked on them, they weren't quite ready.

The next evening, this time based in Winchester, we ventured to Crab Wood, where the bluebells were a magnificent carpet in places. Also wood anemone and primroses spotlit by the changeable sunlight, but not much else going on.

Then this weekend - thinking it was the bluebell peak and visiting a friend in Essex - we requested a visit to the nearest bluebell wood, and were rewarded with a beautiful blue haze. The sweet scent of them was quite powerful in some parts, and what also made the walk great was to see other ancient woodland indicator plants there too - yellow archangel was of particular note. But even the commoner stuff - greater stitchwort - made for a stunning mosaic of blue and white in the dappled light.

I hope to catch Garston Wood this weekend, where the ramsons (wild garlic) should be out as well as the bluebells, and possibly even some early purple orchids to add to the riot of colour.

It's at times like these I simply could not live anywhere else - hurrah for bluebells!

Monday, 23 April 2018

An Aural Amble

Two posts from me this week! I'm just back from a short after-work walk (love these longer days) and simply had to share.

I head out of my road, accompanied by the sound of sparrows, chaffinches, a wheezing greenfinch, and blackbirds. Crossing the road and descending the steep hill, bordered by an overgrown hedgerow adjacent to the neighbouring farmland, I hear a white throat call from the depths of the undergrowth and a yellow hammer 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'ing in the distance.

Reaching the Avon Valley Path - which borders the river with its mosaic of habitats - the air really came alive. As well as the blackbirds, shrill wren and chaffinches, climbing over the stile the chorus was suddenly punctuated by a very loud and staccato series of notes - Cetti's warbler singing from the reedbeds. Another warbler was also making its presence felt - the repetitive two-note call of the chiffchaff, with numerous males calling at each other across the valley. The trio of notes from the song thrush, and the alarm call of the robin, were also emanating from the woodland. Finally, the not-quite-so-evocative calls of rooks, wood pigeons and pheasant.

And this was in the course of a 45 minute walk - actually, the first 15 minutes yielded pretty much all of these, and no doubt I missed a few.

No great rarities, but even so, if you know a few calls, it really brings a whole new appreciation to a simple walk. The RSPB website is very handy for checking you've heard what you think you have, so get out there and see how many you can hear in a few minutes!

Hazy Spring Day

It certainly has been a topsy-turvy Spring so far - my photos range from snow to blistering sunshine, and yesterday was no exception.

Given that it was scheduled to be another lovely sunny day, we headed off to Win Green, highest point in Cranborne Chase, and about 40 minutes west of Salisbury. We started at the pretty village of Tollard Royal, parking by the quaint duck pond, and heading up through woodland and farmland to stunning views across a variety of chalk valleys.

At this time of year, although few flowers were visible (apart from some scattered early cowslips), I could see the various intricate forms of the short-turf loving downland species, such as rock rose and wild thyme. It's going to be beautiful in a month or so's time.

Our route took us through patches of woodland too, with the heady scent of wild garlic or ramsons warning us of a magnificent green carpet of their leaves, almost stretching as far as the eye could see in some places. The flowers weren't quite open - it will be like it has snowed all over again in a few days' time! There were also bluebells - their own sweet scent occasionally caught on the wind in amongst the garlic! And of course, lots of primroses, lesser celandines and violets - the British Spring really is one of the best in the world.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The squelch

It's rained rather a lot over the last few months, with the result that it's a bit squelchy out there. Of course, this is great for wildlife on the whole, but makes for slower progress on one's walks!

I'm recently back from my Cornwall trip, where epic levels of squelch were encountered on our coastal walks. It's always nice to visit a different geology - lots of granite and clay, making for flashier rivers engorged with water from the land, and greatly enlarged-feet when walking across fields! We did also get great views of the craggy coastline - so different to our more gentle and sheltered Solent coast.

On Sunday, expecting drizzle, we headed off to this coast - this time to Beaulieu in the New Forest. parking for free at the Motor Museum, we walked into the pretty and ancient village and onwards along the Solent Way to Buckler's Hard. We encountered a sign saying 'riverside path unusable - follow cycle path'. Well, having encountered the epic squelch in Cornwall and survived, we felt that we could probably make it.

It was rather soggy/flooded in parts, but the recent dry weather had obviously greatly improved things, so we were able to pick our way through. It was rather quiet, given the sign, which should allow the footpath to recover swiftly, and also had the benefit of allowing us tranquility to enjoy the beautiful setting.

On our walk to Buckler's Hard, the tide was in on this tidal stretch of the Beaulieu River, which flows into the Solent. This meant we had to content ourselves with the views of the various boats, as well as the wildflowers in the beautiful ancient woodland - wood anemone, violet, primrose and the New Forest speciality of narrow-leaved lungwort. There were some wonderful ancient old oaks along the way too.

We unexpectedly dined in the rather posh restaurant (highly recommended!0 due to the pub being rather full of people sheltering from the rain outside, then headed back the way we had come. this time the tide was out, allowing waders to move in to feed on the mudflats and remnant saltmarsh. Indeed, the tidal pool in Beaulieu itself had emptied, allowing flocks of oyster catchers, and the odd shelduck and black-headed gull to probe the mud.

All in all, a great walk, despite the squelch and drizzle!