Friday, 24 January 2014

Northward Ho!

A public footpath runs north from Byfield, starting from near Fiveways and meandering over fields towards Hellidon. I have hardly used it and so, being a decent day (at least it was dry), I decided to walk part of it.

Red Dead-nettle.
Byfield, 24 January, 2014

A clump of Red Dead-nettle. Lamium purpureum, was flowering bravely, if rather pointlessly, as I left the village, The genus Lamium gives its name to the large Lamiaceae Family, which includes sage, mint, lavender and many other aromatic herbs and sub-shrubs. Until relatively recently it was called the Labiatae Family.

But were its flowers really pointless?  

Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola, near Byfield
24 January, 2014
Beneath a hedgerow a little further on Spurge-laurel was also coming into bloom. Its flowers, being greenish and rather small, are inconspicuous but compensate for this by being quite sweetly scented. (My blog for 3 December, 2012 looks more closely at this rather curious plant.)  Presumably the occasional bee, stirred from its rest by a spell of sunshine, may pay the flowers a visit.

Some 40-50 years ago iron ore was being extracted from the Byfield area and I believe that the field through which I was walking is the site of one of these quarries. 

This boulder appears to have little iron oxide showing
and was perhaps overburden, removed to reach richer
seams. Near Byfield,  24 January, 2014

Some pretty hefty boulders lay at the field edge. They would make splendid features in a rock garden but getting them home would be a big problem. This particular specimen looks to have been recently exposed by ploughing; elsewhere these rocks were covered with moss.

I was walking parallel to a stream which at one point had been dammed to form a smallish lake. Willows will survive in wet ground but the rather deep water had proved too much for this specimen as it appeared to be deader than a Norwegian Blue parrot. But yea, there is life after death, and a little further on a similar specimen had sprouted a striking cluster of bracket fungi.
Blushing Bracket (?) on dead willow
near Byfield. 24 January, 2014

As I have stated before, I am no mycologist but it is probably the Blushing Bracket, Daedaleopsis confragosaThe concentric patterning of light and dark brown on the upper surface looks right. Furthermore my books agree that it is found "on deciduous trees, especially willow". 

The gills on the lower surface of the bracket also look right for this species. Apparently it is not edible. Perhaps it is me, but I didn't really fancy trying it anyway.

Same species, lower surface showing pattern of gills.

Of course, bracket fungi generally lead to the death of the host so perhaps it was this, rather than the ultra-wet conditions, that led to this tree's demise.

I pressed on, following the trail of a Muntjac. Judging by the freshness of the slots it had passed through within the previous 24 hours.

There is clearly a very considerable population of these deer hereabouts but their crepuscular habits means that they are not observed as often as might otherwise be the case.

I continue heading north. A ridge to my left looked suspiciously like the retaining wall for some sort of lake. The ridge was topped by tell-tale willows and yet I had walked this track a couple of years previously; surely I couldn't have overlooked such a feature? 

A raised earth wall indicated the presence of a
 lake - or did it? Nr Byfield, 24 January, 2014

Sure enough, as I approached, several lengths of plastic piping hardened my suspicions. It turned out to be a substantial stretch of water with a surface area probably about ten thousand square metres.

Lake adjacent to Manor Farm, north of Byfield
24 January, 2014

The spire of Holy Cross church, Byfield
24 January, 2014

How extraordinary that I'd followed this route without noticing it. Clearly I had been intently examining features of the hedgerow to my right and had not even glanced to the left. Under grey skies the water looked cold and uninviting, but it demands a return visit when things have warmed up a bit. 

Looking south across the lake the spire of Byfield church stood out prominently. I took a photograph then, with a horrible grinding noise my camera lens jammed. It had been giving cause for concern over recent weeks but it was clearly kaput.

So it was home - and on to the internet to look for a replacement camera!

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