Last weekend I ventured north to collect a painting from Devizes, which enabled me to meet up with a friend, who took me to his local downs - Pewsey Down NNR.
I've been wanting to go here for ages, but have never gotten round to it (well, with Martin Down on the doorstep, why bother?!!). It was well worth it - such a contrast from my usual haunt. The views from the top of the ridge of hills are stunning, and the topography perhaps more typical of some of the Dorset downs. The NNR forms part of a larger chain of hills running in a ridge north of Devizes in the Vale of Pewsey, some of which are Iron Age hillforts. The steep slopes - enhanced by archaeological alterations - provide excellent habitat for a wealth of typical chalk downland plants, together with associated invertebrates. And the recently-restored Pewsey White Horse - which you can walk up to - provides another focal point in the landscape.
On the car journey to the NNR, along a scenic minor road, a weasel ran out in front of us - don't worry, it timed it perfectly and survived - but I saw this as a good sign of things to come!
The flowers seemed a bit behind this year, with the orchids only just starting to get going - however, my friend Tom knows the site well, and located a great sheltered spot with lots of orchids - mostly common spotted, but also fragrant and lesser butterfly orchid.
The thyme was out in abundance, noticeably covering the ant hills (with their associated micro-climate of increased temperature - all those busy bodies!), together with the mass of yellow hawkbits, mouse-ear hawkweed and other dandelion-types, the delicate flowers of fairy flax, and with kidney vetch just going over. In amongst the flowers, I spotted a forester moth - these are beautiful iridescent green day-flying moths, in decline nationally due to the loss of their unimproved grassland habitat.
So, overall, a very successful walk and I hope to be back on this down in the future - although, I do hear the call of Martin Down again (it has been ages since I popped down)...