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.

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