Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Pied Piper of Lamblin.

A dry, windless day. Disappointingly chilly (about 6 degrees tops) but I decided that I could do with a longish walk. It turned out to be interesting rather than exciting.

We have had no significant rain for over a fortnight so conditions were unusually dry underfoot. My maternal grandmother always called this month 'February Filldyke'; she may not have been aware that this appellation goes back to 1557, when it appears in the notes of the farmer-poet Thomas Tusser regarding good husbandry: 'February fill the dyke, with what thou dost like.'

Anyway, I found the ground nicely firm for walking as I set off across the fields towards Newnham. I passed the old windmill (my blog for 3 February) and a couple of slightly incongruous larch trees. 

Larch near to Newnham Windmill
12 February, 2015

Larch, Larix decidua, is unusual among conifers because of its deciduous habit. As a wild tree it is found right across Europe from the Carpathians to Norway so, although it is not native to Britain, is is hardly surprising that it is commonly self-sown. I gathered a few cones for examination at home.

There were one or two stiff climbs to make me puff and blow a bit but I appreciated the variety provided by the undulating terrain.

I then struck off across sheep-grazed pastures feeling like the Pied Piper; every field through which I passed had its little flock and invariably they gathered behind me. Who was I? Where was I going? Had I got any food for them?

They would stand around as I crossed each stile as though to see me safely over.

I found that I had a couple of squeeze
stiles to deal with

There were a couple of examples of 'squeeze stile' to negotiate. They're not very common in this region but very effective, allowing easy ingress and egress by humans but apparently being too awkward for sheep to negotiate. Certainly all the sheep I saw appeared to be in lamb and their rather rotund bodies wouldn't have got through.

Looking down to Newnham Hall.
12 February, 2015
I was now able to look down to Newnham Hall, a Grade II listed building, with Newnham church beyond. We learn from Wikipedia that Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer lives 'near Newnham'. Is this his residence? Obviously, for reasons of security, information of this kind is not bandied about freely so we can only speculate.

I pressed on. It was now a steep drop into Newnham but I barely entered the village. No sooner had I reached the first few houses than I was heading back towards Daventry, albeit by a different route.
Butterbur was coming into leaf.
Newnham. 12 February, 2015

A patch of Butterbur, Petasites hybridus, occupied an area of damp roadside. Despite its Latin name this member of the Daisy family is not a hybrid but is a true species. It looks rather ordinary at this time of the year but the leaves will eventually be enormous - almost a metre across - and it will bear purple flowers. This Butterbur will be worth re-examining later in the year for insects as some interesting picture-winged flies are associated with it.

Of course, having descended steep slopes down to Newnham, it was pay-back time and I slogged my way back uphill.
Honey Fungus steadily destroying a tree stump.
Newnham. 12 February, 2015

But not until I had inspected an old tree stump and photographed the fungi at its base. They were, of course, yet more examples of Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea. Gardeners may curse this species if it attacks an apparently healthy tree but it effectively begins the process of breaking down the tree's tissues as a step towards recycling all the nutrients locked up in the wood.

The return was less than pleasant. To make my walk more circular I did about a mile of road walking. Traffic was busy, the road was narrow and there was no footpath; I had to be alert.

But all was well.

I was almost into Daventry when I saw a scattering of fungi on a grassy verge.

The tan coloured gills were quite distinctive and the cap was about 45 mm across.

What is it? It is probably something ridiculously common but I am still scratching my head!


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