Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Fawsley to Daventry walk

Despite a foggy start the day looked promising. Chris was going to Byfield so I got her to drop me off on the A361, about half a mile west of Fawsley. The fog was already dispersing, allowing the sun to break through as I struck out along a minor road. Minor it may have been but a surprising number of vehicles kept me on my toes. This, plus a drab landscape, made the first few hundred yards less than pleasant.

Norman St John Stevas, who on his ennoblement became Baron St John of Fawsley, died in 2012 so I was unlikely to meet him. Today, Budget Day, he would have been stuck in front of the telly anyway.

Dog's Mercury is one of our earliest native plants to
come into bloom. Fawsley,  18 March, 2015
Beside the road plants of Dog's Mercury, Mercurialis perennis, were pushing up through dead twigs. This curious member of the Spurge Family, Euphorbiaceae, would come high in a vote for 'Britain's dullest plant' but it is of some interest. It is regarded as an indicator of ancient woodland and here we must suspect that this location was once well wooded. It attracts few insects but a couple of not-very-exciting fungi sometimes attack it. 
Evernia prunastri clings to a tree trunk near Fawsley Hall
18 March, 2015

A tree trunk with flourishing tufts of the lichen, Evernia prunastri, did little to raise the level of excitement but I was shortly to leave the road and take to the fields.

The Fawsley Estate boasts some largish lakes and, as I was leaving the road, Horse Pond came into view. Like all the lakes here it has been formed by damming a stream, a tributary of the River Nene. A Great Spotted Woodpecker in an alder sidled out of view around the trunk as I approached.

Trees are not easily killed. This ash tree has lost its crown and the dead side branches are sprouting fungi, but new growth is flourishing on the other side of the trunk and there is plenty of life there yet.

Apart from ash and alder there were some fine oak trees. Devoid yet of leaves the typically angular branches stood out clearly against the now blue sky.

Not all were in the peak of condition.

Some were dying...

...and some were dead. I was pleased to see that these giants were being left to slowly decay. They will support a whole new suite of organisms over the next few years...

Oak sapling with sheep-proof surrounds.
Fawsley Estate, 18 march, 2015

...and the landowners were ensuring that a new generation of oaks would be there in the next century and beyond. 

A flock of fieldfares took to the wing at my approach, chak-chakking with alarm.

Beech, Fagus sylvatica, had been planted.
Between Fawsley and Badby, 18 March, 2015

Beeches had also been planted but, unlike oak, ash and alder, these are not native to Northamptonshire. Nevertheless they are welcome because imo they are among the most handsome of trees. The elephant-grey bark is a good way of recognising a beech and the slender tapering buds are a clincher.

These were not all in the best of health either, with fungi eating away at the base of the trunk on more than one specimen.

Ganoderma pfeifferi (probably) at the base of a beech trunk.
Between Fawsley and Badby, Northants. 18 March, 2015

A closer look suggests that this fungus is Ganoderma pfeifferi. It is particularly associated with beech in parkland - exactly the situation in which I found it. But I should state that I never submit fungus records to the Wildlife Trust; I am not an expert.

Another couple of hundred yards and I found myself entering Badby Woods and simultaneously joining the Knightley Way. 

The Knightley family (sometimes spelled Knightly) came from Staffordshire and settled at Fawsley in the early 15th Century, becoming one of the county's most distinguished families.

I worked my way through the woods, with thousands of green spikes of bluebell pushing through the soil, to come out into green fields beyond.

By now my legs were feeling a bit heavy so I was glad to see the tower of Badby church through the trees. But there was quite a way still to go...

Dog's Mercury was present at the edge of the village but here it was a little more advanced, with the stamens clearly showing.

As I passed the churchyard I was surprised to see that Dickie Bird was interred there; I didn't know he was dead! However a closer look revealed that our National Treasure had not departed Lord's cricket ground to be at hand for other Lord's works; the dates didn't match. He is 82 next month and still very much with us.

Then it was a long slog up from Badby to Daventry. It is only about fifty metres of ascent but all I can say is that on the unforgiving tarmac it felt more. 

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, was flowering in profusion
at the edge of Daventry. 18 March, 2015

Right at the edge of the town, as I crossed the A45, I was greeted by a bright 'golden throng' of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. It is a plant that tends to favour heavy clay soil but that didn't seem to be the case here. It doesn't take a botanist to recognise that it is in the same family, the Asteraceae, as dandelions.

The bee, Bombus terrestris, was working the
flowers. 18 March, 2015

A bee was tucking in to the nectar. I am not an expert on bees either but there is little doubt that it is Bombus terrestris. It is very common but it pleased me greatly to see it, and I completed the last few hundred yards of the four and a half miles heavy footed but light hearted.

And if you have stuck with this blog to the very end - well done!

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