Saturday, 22 July 2017

In raptures over rampions

Hurrah for summer, when our beautiful chalk downlands are at their kaleidoscopic-best.

Last Sunday I was very grateful to Marin Cilic for a bit of a damp squib of a Wimbledon Men's Final, resulting in a longer walk on Old Winchester Hill NNR. It was humid and overcast, but somehow this only made for a more atmospheric yomp.

Situated on a chalk escarpment in the South Downs National Park, it's notable for it's myriad of wildflowers and insects, and ably grazed by a herd of hardy Herdwick sheep from the lake District.

They need to be hardy - on a bleak winter's day, there is little cover, apart from the large blocks of woodland near the bottom of the slope, including an ancient yew woodland. And some of the paths are on some formidable slopes!

We walked across to the Iron Age Hillfort, where the ramparts are wonderfully defined and smothered in all manner of beautiful plants - betony, small scabious, ox eye daisy, ladies bedstraw, hawkbits, knapweed and marjoram. But to top it all off, now is the time to view the spectacle of the bright blue flowers of round-headed rampion.

Every time I've been on the reserve - and I've done a fair bit of surveying up here - it's been earlier, missing out on seeing this beauty. So, my reaction was rather predictable! Apparently, they are most common in the South Downs than anywhere else in the country.

Looking further than the flowers, the views from up there are spectacular, across much of the downs inland, and out across to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

Our route back to the carpark meandered along the slope, down through dark, ancient woodland, then up an incredibly steep slope - much pausing to admire the view along the way!

So, with National Parks Week about to start, use this opportunity to get out there and explore this wonderful park and especially the NNR.

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