I would have liked the stile to be time-warped, fissured and encrusted with moss and lichen - but Kentle Wood, barely fifteen years old, isn't like that. Fences and stiles are new and trees are young, and yet the Fumitory which grew beneath that entry stile has, being an annual, already died, hopefully leaving behind seeds to provide progeny on and on over the years.
Of course, just outside the woodland boundary tree trunks did bear a rich growth of lichens but they are taking a long time to colonise younger bark inside the surrounding fence.
Again, outside the wood, gate posts were capped with mosses. If I had found them within Kentle Wood I'd have taken a sample for identification. Another time perhaps.
At this time of the year annuals, by and large, provide what few flowers are present in or on the way to the woodland. Of course there are always buttercups and daisies, perennials both, to undermine my comments, but where ground is disturbed by trampling there we may find speedwells, chickweeds, and Nipplewort, Lapsana communis, with its little yellow dandelion-like flowers on wiry stems.This last-named plant can often be quite tall and I often wonder if it occasionally perennates, but I can find no evidence of this in the literature. It is a common and hardy plant, known in the Middle Ages as 'papillaris' from the Latin papilla - nipple; it was often used for treating sore or cracked nipples.
Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, hardly merits a mention of course, but I frequently bend down and examine a plant as it may be galled by several organisms, most of them fungi; many of us will have casually noted the bright orange encrustations of Puccinea lagenophorae. But at this time of the year there is rarely anything to be seen.
Shepherd's Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris, occasionally crops up too. Even in the depths of winter some of its capsules were ripe enough to spill out little golden seed-coins.
Where was I?
Oh yes. Beneath the stile the well-trodden ground was bare and free of fumitory. I arrived as a red-faced woman was clambering over hoping, I suspect, that I didn't notice the fart which escaped as she heaved her considerable bulk across the woodwork. I was tempted to comment on the birdsong but held my peace.
I followed her a few safe moments later and set off down the main ride. I had no particular reason to be visiting Kentle Wood but, no claustrophiliac I, this was simply an opportunity to stride out and get some fresh air into my lungs. Just as well, for there was little to see; although conditions were mild it is still winter.
After a few minutes I realised that, despite the lengthening days, I was losing the light.
Several daisies, on my outward journey had been fully open.
Now they were closing, shutting up shop as it were, and explaining their original name of 'day's eyes'. Like groundsel, I often have a closer look as this species too is galled, in this case by about four species, often overlooked, This species sometimes exhibits teratology - abnormal growth - often in the form of fasciation (flattened stems) and fan-shaped flowers. Causes are not fully understood but probably involve hormonal imbalances in the cells.
As I say, the light was fading and I'd had my jaunt. Home.