Sunday, 20 December 2015

A rare trip out

I was very lucky this week to be able to get out as part of work - making a change from the usual back-to-back meetings!

This followed on from a good yomp up to the Clarendon estate last Sunday, up to the see the ruins of the royal hunting lodge (see previous posts), and of course, the llamas! The position of the ruins, high on top of a chalk ridge, with excellent vistas all around, as well as the unusual accompaniment of the llamas, makes it a very atmospheric spot that few experience. 

Then, with a week of Christmassy events - both work and social- our team Christmas meeting involved a trip out to the edge of the New Forest, near Breamore. At Castle Hill, we parked on a ridge overlooking the wide expanse of the River Avon floodplain. The silvery ribbon of the river snaked in wide meanders across the valley, with the colours really popping in the dull winter light. After a bit of a chat about agricultural improvement and runoff of nutrients into the river, causing water pollution, we headed off into the Forest for a very muddy potter amongst the plantation forest. A welcome respite from the mince pies and meetings!

And I've just got back from another good stroll at Martin Down - with all this rain, it's becoming quite limited in finding locations with suitable ground conditions to avoid slipping and sliding around. The sun was shining, but apart from that and some sheep, it was uneventful - not even one bird.

Of course, it's going to be full-on-festivities in the next couple of weeks (I'm lucky enough not to have to work between Christmas and the New Year), so I will be a little quiet on here until probably my birthday weekend. Let's hope that winter gets a little more forceful, as my garlic is already a foot high and will probably need harvesting at this rate! Merry Christmas everyone! 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Great Yews

I've been a bit quiet on here lately - something to do with building a flat pack wardrobe (don't ask, just don't...), Christmas shopping, and various Christmassy events!

Anyway, took the day off today, after a week of meetings, for a nice long walk in the patchy drizzle. I wanted to explore somewhere new, and the Whitsbury area has been one I've had on my 'to do' list for a while. This is the edge of Cranborne Chase, the picturesque area that includes Martin Down.

I started on a track just a little way along from Salisbury Hospital at Odstock. The map showed I had plenty of choice in terms of footpaths/byways, so planning a route was tricky, but in the end, substrate condition forced my hand (i.e. it was very muddy/flooded!). the walk took me passed Clearbury Down - a SSSI chalk downland and hill fort, with the unimproved nature of the grassland contrasting markedly with the intensive grassland and arable surrounding it.

I eventually ended up walking along the county boundary between Hampshire and Wiltshire, with a very distinctive hedge mostly made up of yew, and filled with birds. I heard several farmland bird species that have experienced a rapid population decline in recent decades, including many corn bunting, a flock of fieldfares, yellowhammer, and possibly some linnet. Check out the RSPB website to hear them for yourselves. The corn bunting, in particular, is a speciality of the Chase area, loving the wide open spaces and lack of hedgerows, although is very rare elsewhere.

This took me to the edge of another SSSI (and SAC - of European importance)  - Great Yews. the citation for the site (legal document supporting the SSSI designation) cites it as a nationally-rare habitat, and unusual in being on mostly flat ground and purely yew in some areas. The trees were certainly spectacularly-wide, with estimates of age suggesting most are in excess of 200 years old.

Returning to the path, I carried on up then looped back on myself, affording great views across the undulating landscape, before retracing my steps to the car. There's much more scope for further walks here, with many permutations available - the only trouble is, the byways are so deeply rutted that in wet weather they flood very easily and with the underlying chalk making things very slippery, it can be quite hazardous! I'm certainly glad I braved it though, and will be coming back when perhaps drier!