Saturday, 28 February 2015

The perks of work

Although my week started off with a visit to Birmingham for a training course, it did mean I could walk into Salisbury to catch my train, taking me passed the amazing view of Old Sarum. Unfortunately, last Sunday's planned visit was rained off, but at least I got to enjoy the view of this Iron Age hillfort from a distance, across the watermeadows of the River Avon valley.

Old Sarum was the original Salisbury (a hillfort in the Iron Age, subsequently consolidated by the Romans), but having developed into an Anglo-Saxon stronghold, with its own cathedral and castle, the clergy had control over the water supply and were expanding at a rate that placed a significant pressure on the population, crammed into the small hilltop. The decision was made to move the cathedral and most of the population down into the river valley, where the current cathedral is today.

This left many ruins among the rich chalk grassland to be grazed by sheep - it became a 'rotten borough' where nobody lived but which still attracted votes. Now, the ruins are very much still evident - cared for by English Heritage - and extensively used by the local population (note to all Salisbury residents: you can get into the castle for free if you bring proof of address. You can access the rest of the site for free anyway). I have been lucky enough to attend several training courses on grass identification (exciting) on the site, as the grassland (including the ramparts of the old hillfort) are grazed and therefore quite rich in plant species typical of the chalky soils, and alive with invertebrates on a summer's day.

Yesterday, despite having to spend the morning in a portacabin at Martin Down NNR for work, I did manage a quick walk around the reserve in the sunshine. You can really feel that spring is in the air now, with the hazel catkins evident, a profusion of gorse flowers, and skylarks just starting their melodious proclamations - a taste of much, much more to come.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Can nature heal?

Whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I usually feel compelled to get outdoors - I'm not sure whether it simply takes my mind off things, or whether immersing myself in the natural environment physically/physiologically makes me feel better. There are many studies showing that nature is good for you, reducing stress levels in particular.

Last Sunday's trip out included the additional healing power of animals (also known to have therapeutic effects), this time in the form of llamas! I visited Clarendon Park Estate, just outside Salisbury - it not only features beautiful views back towards the Cathedral, but a 13th century royal palace (modifying an earlier Anglo-Saxon hunting lodge) grazed by the aforementioned llamas, and ancient hazel coppice woodland. Wikipedia also tells me that the main house was used for the famous Chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses - you learn something new every day!

It's a tranquil spot - few people seem to have discovered it, despite being on the ancient Clarendon Way. Every year Naomi House Children's Hospice based in Winchester runs a sponsored walk of this 26 mile route that runs between Salisbury and Winchester cathedrals. A few years ago I walked this with my sister - a beautiful route through stunning countryside and picturesque villages, with gorgeous views of the sweeping river valleys and chalk hills, so well worth doing from that point of view, in addition to raising money for an excellent cause. This year it is running from Salisbury to Winchester (previous years have run the opposite way around) - check out their website for details.

When we visited last week, the snowdrops were out, coating banks beneath parts of the park plantation woodland, indicating it's non-native origin. Despite this status, they are as much part of our early spring as bluebells are for late spring - widely naturalised and beautiful.

Tomorrow I'm off to Old Sarum, where Salisbury all began, and thankfully, walkable from my house - let's hope the sun keeps shining for more amazing views.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ready to start exploring again

I managed to get a bit of a wildlife fix while I was skiing in France a week or so ago. Asides the amazing scenery, and spotting of animal tracks from the chair lifts (probably mountain hare and fox), we went snowshoeing for an afternoon in Parc National des Ecrins. This started off amazingly well, as the park staff had set up a scope, fixed on a herd of 10 or so ibex grazing on the mountains on the far side of the valley!

Most unexpected, but we were able to watch them scraping the snow to get to vegetation beneath - must be a hard life for them, but as the herd included several kids, they obviously weren't doing too badly. Apparently, ibex are exceedingly easy to hunt, allowing people to approach very close, to the extent that they had to be reintroduced and no hunting is now permitted.

Now, back in the UK, and with the sun shining, do I detect a whiff of spring (probably wishful thinking)? Time to get out there and explore the locality (as I appreciate this is supposed to be all about my local patch and so far I'm not doing too well at that!). I'm thinking somewhere with a nice view...