Thursday, 23 February 2017

'I expect a view'

A view is a key requirement for a walk, particularly one in winter when wildlife isn't doing much. Luckily, I have many such places around me!

Last Sunday we opted for a visit to Pepperbox Hill, just south of Alderbury off the A36. The Pepperbox itself - a folly built in 1606 - is well preserved and set amidst chalk grassland and scrub. If you want along the chalk ridge, following the ancient Ox Drove, you are rewarded with sweeping views across to Salisbury, Cranborne Chase and Bentley Wood. It is hard to do a loop though - it's a bit of a 'there and back' walk - and it can get very muddy!

During the week I've had a few spare moments to get some exercise in my lunchbreak, featuring walks along the Nun's Walk Stream in Winchester. A small chalk stream tributary of the Itchen, it's had a lot of restoration work done over the years, and runs along an ancient footpath, with associated old buildings and ruins. On my walks, I saw a large area of frogspawn, and watched a little egret and pair of grey wagtails feeding. All within a stone's throw of the city centre.

I'm just back from braving a walk in Storm Doris on a day off work. I'd elected to walk around Langford Lakes Nature Reserve and then climb onto the surrounding hills, but when I got there, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust-owned reserve was closed due to high winds! I had to rapidly find an alternative route and parking place. Instead, I parked on a nearby verge (tut tut) and walked through the opposite Langford Trust-owned bit of meadow and river towards the footpath by the church. Lots of snowdrops! I then began my climb up another Ox Drove, picking my way over falling trees and branches and keeping a constant eye on the swaying trees above me! Eventually, with no cover at all higher up on the hill, I was forced to descend due to not really being able to stand up! Still, the constantly changing weather conditions made for lovely light on the landscape - most excellent views!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Combining pleasures

As well as loving walking, I also love painting and drawing. And with a teleconference cancelled on Thursday, I had the opportunity to take the afternoon off and head up to (where else?) Martin Down for a spot of sketching.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon, and quite mild - Spring is in the air! I decided to head across the reserve, up to Pentridge Down. Rising above Martin Down, you are rewarded for your climb with stunning views across the reserve and beyond to surrounding villages and the sweeping landscape of Cranborne Chase. I didn't quite make it to the top of Penbury Knoll (a hill fort and 185m high) as I wanted to have some time sketching - there is an amazing rusty old harrow (for raking the fields) that forms a brilliant foreground.

The return trip was very muddy, but I really hate walks where you retrace your steps - better to have a muddy circular route! Arriving back at the carpark, and with very little wildlife spotted en route, I heard my first yellow hammer of the year, warming up for the busy few weeks ahead. I can't wait for everywhere to burst into life.

Monday, 13 February 2017


It's been a very contrasting few weeks, what with my trip to snowy climes, and then the pathetic attempts at snow here!

I had been skiing on the Italian/French border, which had featured lots of snow (unlike last year's heatwave!). I always love the journey on a chairlift - taking your mind of loss of feeling in increasingly-numb extremities through trying to identify the wild animal tracks. Evidently, lots of mountain hares and foxes present - a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

One day there was a complete deluge of snow, where we opted to go for a walk along one of the mountain paths. I love the way the snow coats pretty much every surface, including seemingly vertical tree trunks. One tree we stopped by, though, had the most amazing lichens attached to it. Amazing forms and colours - easily overlooked.

And indeed, this was also the remark we made on yesterday's walk in Bentley Wood. Not much to see at this time of year, apart from the sudden growth of fungus on the timber stacks, forming apricot-hued frilly rings around cut trunks.

There were many signs closing paths due to 'wildlife management' - with the tell-tale illustration of a stag. In fact, we saw several herds of fallow deer. In high numbers, their browsing prevents the regrowth of sensitive woodland plants. Without the wolf to control them, it's down to us instead!