Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A weekend of various hills

I do love a hill - I'm afraid I just could not live in the flatlands of the east!

Last Friday I ventured north of Devizes to the very scenic Roundway Hill, an Iron Age hillfort and site of a famous battle in the Civil War, where the Royalists crushed the Parliamentarians. It's other name is therefore Oliver's Castle. In any case, it's now a beautiful Site of Special Scientific Interest, protected for its chalk downland. When we visited, the cowslip display was just over, but the chalk milkwort (bright blue patches) and early purple orchids were providing a beautiful patchwork of colour. The abundance of the rare corn bunting, together with other farmland birds such as yellowhammer, made for a very atmospheric walk. The views are amazing right across the plain, and only a very short drive from Devizes.

Then, on Monday, and having seen the article in the National Trust magazine promoting the site, we headed off for Hambledon Hill in Dorset (west of Blandford). Luckily, we found a parking spot (very popular due to the article!) and embarked on the short but strenuous uphill climb to the top. Another hillfort, it was recently bought by the Trust, with help from Natural England. previously it had been under private ownership, but managed by NE. It's a National Nature Reserve and rightly so - as the second largest hillfort in western Europe (second only to Maiden Castle, also in Dorset), not only does it form an intrinsic part of this historic landscape, but the chalk downland it supports is also nationally declining. Again, chalk milkwort was in evidence, together with horseshoe vetch and hoary plantain.

Having headed back down for lunch, we embarked on another walk, this time to Hod Hill. This is another hillfort, but this time it was requisitioned by the Romans for one of their forts. We chose a wooded path to take us up to the top, which was a mistake, as it quickly peetered out. This necessitated a scramble on near-vertical woodland slopes, with very thin and friable chalky soil, clutching at hazel roots and hugging many trees, only to find a barbed wire fence at the top to negotiate.

We all successfully managed this, stopped to admire the stunning views and wildflowers (including my nemesis the rock rose - cause of much hay fever!), then headed back to the carpark exhausted.

Next week I'm in Turkey so won't be posting for a little while.

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