Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Winter begins

It couldn't last. The meteorological start of winter is the first of December, three days away yet, but the wildlife doesn't check the calendar; there have now been four or five frosts - at least one of them very sharp - and the dahlias are no more. Hive bees are probably now tucked in for the winter but there are still a few flowers such as ivy and white dead-nettle for any bumblebees with the temerity to set forth and forage.
I also set forth today, with no particular objective in mind other than a vague idea of making myself familiar with as-yet unknown areas of Daventry; for a small town it has lots of little surprises.
About three months ago I discovered a Foxglove Tree, Paulownia tomentosa, in the heart of Daventry. Its huge leaves have now fallen but this has exposed the curious fruits. The flower buds are already present but will remain dormant through the coldest months, to open in the spring - providing they have not been killed off by a harsh winter.
Brilliant blue sky, but it was very cold. The fruits of a Foxglove Tree
stand out clearly. Daventry, 28 November, 2017
My walk, in bitingly cold conditions, took me into the Southbrook area, passing tangles of Traveller's Joy, Clematis vitalba, on the way. This member of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, may appear quite different from our idea of buttercups until one remembers the similar feathery styles of the related Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris.
The tangled silky styles of Traveller's Joy scrambled through shrubs.
Daventry, 28 November, 2017

Bearing in mind my comments about bees in the opening paragraph I kept an eye open for nectar or pollen sources but, other than Laurustinus and various forms of Mahonia there was little to be seen. There was one plant producing pollen in plenty but of no interest to bees. I refer to the Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, surprisingly still in flower. The flowers are either male or female, usually on separate plants, i.e. dioecious, and the male plants produce wind-blown pollen of no interest to bees.
Common Nettle in flower, Southbrook, Daventry.
28 November, 2017
The foliage is highly nutritious, attracting numerous phytophagous insects, including the caterpillars of Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, during the warmer months. Many books have been written on the subject and some horticultural writers encourage people to spare an odd corner of the garden for a clump of nettles but the general abundance of the plant renders this quite unnecessary.

'Insects on Nettles' by B.N.K. Davis, a useful introduction to the
invertebrate fauna of nettles.
There may have been a general lack of flowers but there was plenty of colour, not least from the Acers in gardens and at the wayside. This Field Maple, Acer campestre, with primrose-yellow foliage, was quite arresting. It is our only certain native maple (Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus is probably alien) and I am told that it can be distinguished from exotic maples by a milky exudation from a damaged leaf, but I have never observed this. The wood is exceptionally hard and is used for veneers and fine wood-turning. Apparently harps are also constructed from this material and it was used in mediaeval times for carved drinking bowls called 'mazers'.
Field Maple, lovely in its late autumn foliage. Southbrook, Daventry.
28 November, 2017
A quite different foliage is to be seen on Magnolia grandiflora and I mention this because today I saw a particularly fine specimen of this tree from the southern U.S.A. completely filling a garden along Norton Road.
A fine example of Magnolia grandiflora, aka Evergreen Magnolia or
Bull Bay. Southbrook, Daventry. 28 November, 2017
The leathery evergreen leaves have a glossy upper surface and an orange, rather downy lower surface. I suppose there would be a deep shade cast upon the house in question but I for one would be loth to remove this handsome tree. 
The underside of the leaves are a rusty orange.

I have had more exciting days but I arrived back in Daventry's town centre well satisfied with my morning's jaunt, feeling that I had earned a hot chocolate in a local café.

Finally, an apology. I had intended to publish this blog 24 hours earlier but, overcome with joy at the news of the royal engagement, I had to wait until the trembling in my fingers had subsided. (Oddly enough, just 21 minutes after the news broke of the engagement, the government announced that benefits would be frozen for the next 12 months. Now there's a coincidence.)

Friday, 24 November 2017

Alders and churches

Surveys have revealed that whereas some 15-20 years ago people tended to do a big weekly shop at a favourite supermarket they now visit a variety of stores and purchase a smaller number of items at each. Certainly Chris and I fit in to this pattern; we will on occasion get in a 'big shop' but now give our benison to a wider range of retailers according to whichever ones happen to be convenient. I now make a habit of regularly walking into Daventry for exercise and generally return home with a few goods.
Today Chris was going to Byfield and she dropped me off at a handy point allowing me to walk into Daventry by a different route.
I approached the town from the south-east and followed a footpath parallel to South Way. The side of the footpath had been planted with a row of Grey Alders, Alnus incana. Its leaves were still green but acquiring an unhealthy-looking yellow shade in places as a prelude to being shed. The female cones from the current year were still intact but the male catkins for the coming season were already well developed. The trees provided welcome shelter from a very strong wind. 
Male and female he made them... Grey Alder, Daventry.
23 November, 2017

Yesterday I had been discussing with my friend Lynda the virtues of Laurustinus,Viburnum tinus. This evergreen shrub from southern Europe is greatly valued for its corymbs of flowers which are currently present and will be enjoyed over the next few weeks. I noted many specimens on my walk and a deep sniff detected what plant catalogues call a 'light fragrance' i.e. detectable by bloodhounds but few humans. It produces fertile seed and the occasional seedling will sometimes be found in a neglected park or shrubbery.
Laurustinus flowers in a Daventry garden. 23 November, 2017

I mention this shrub because today I also passed a garden with a hedge of Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, which was also bearing flowers. This was far more of a surprise. Firethorn berries are much enjoyed by birds and seedlings crop up quite frequently around our gardens, probably being bird-sown, but the flowers have no business to be around this late in the year.
...also available in red. Firethorn 'berries' in a Daventry garden.
23 November, 2017

Perhaps these two shrubs have a superficial resemblance to each other in that both are evergreen with white, actinomorphic (radially symmetrical) flowers, but the former is in the Rose Family, Rosaceae whilst the latter is in the Adoxaceae. Incidentally most botany or gardening books will state that Laurustinus is in the Honeysuckle Family, Caprifoliaceae, as its transfer to the Adoxaceae has been fairly recent. 

Firethorn in flower, Inlands Rise, Daventry.
23 November, 2017
Speaking of honeysuckle, in several of the gardens I passed what appeared to be Henry's Honeysuckle, Lonicera henryi, in flower. This climber, from western China, has become very popular in recent years being tough, evergreen and floriferous but its main season of flowering is normally June or July. Is it yet another species producing an extra crop of very late blooms?
A honeysuckle (Lonicera henryi?) flowering in another Daventry garden.
23 November, 2017

I plodded on and was pleased to see, some thirty yards ahead, a mass of Sowbread, Cyclamen hederifolium, on a bank. But my delight was short-lived; as I got a little closer I could see that in fact it was a tangle of Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon, a member of the Mint Family. The taxon present was the subspecies, argentatum. The foliage is not unlike that of Sowbread but even at a distance I ought not to have been fooled. In fact this subspecies is quite an interesting plant. It appears to be unknown in the wild and presumable arose as a garden cultivar. All samples examined appear to have identical DNA so it seems that what we have is one widespread, extremely vigorous clone.
Yellow Archangel masquerading as Sowbread. South Way, Daventry.
23 November, 2017
I was now approaching the town centre having followed a rather zig-zag route that took me past Daventry's Holy Cross Church. It always strikes me as a rather odd structure. The building was completed in the second half of the eighteenth century and is in a sort of classical style but, presumably as an afterthought, a brown traffic cone has been stuck on what could have been a nicely proportioned tower.
Holy Cross Church, Daventry. 23 November, 2017
The main structure makes use of local ironstone and, to be fair, probably looked smart at completion but since then, despite repairs in 2013, a combination of graffiti and badly weathering masonry means that parts of the church walls look quite shabby, decrepit even. Inside there is an attractive Venetian window (I always look at the stained glass) and Henry Willis's organ is much admired.
Enough! I've delayed the highlight of the day for too long.
People speak of The Parthenon, the Sistine Chapel, the temple complex of Ankgor Wat. All pale into insignificance before the majesty and splendour of Tesco's, Daventry. I gathered a few comestibles, made my offering to the priestess at the High Altar (£14.81) and thus spiritually refreshed I set off for home and temporal refreshment in the form of coffee. 

Tony  White  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk  

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


We are now only ten days short of December and still flowers persist. I took yet another of my  more or less weekly walks into Daventry, telling myself that it does me good; presumably weary limbs are a sign of glowing health. I constantly vary the route and still find odd unexplored corners - 'Here be dragons!'
As I set out I briefly turned and looked back at our front garden. The cacti I planted out about a month ago look in good shape. It is a gamble but I have chosen a fairly sheltered spot and frosts should not present a problem. More important is sharp drainage and I incorporated a good proportion of sand and gravel into the planting mixture.
Our embarrassingly phallic cacti seem happy. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
21 November, 2017
We have now experienced a couple more sharp frosts but the fuchsia nearby is still blooming happily. This plant is a puzzle and may be bird-sown as many fuchsia varieties bear succulent purple fruits, probably consumed by blackbirds and the like.
Only a metre or so away a rose has produced late blooms - not tattered left-overs from the late summer but genuine fresh buds opening.
The rose 'Golden Showers' is yet producing blooms.
21 November, 2017
Far less surprising and, in fact only to be expected, were the blooms on a eucalyptus. The tree is probably a Cider Gum, Eucalyptus gunnii, and its creamy, powder-puff flowers can now be expected through December and maybe beyond.
Eucalyptus gunnii was passed en route for Daventry centre.
21 November, 2017
Fruits will follow but I suspect they will be without seed. I was about one third of the way through my journey as I passed this tree and further along I noted gorse in bloom (expected), an abelia, Abelia x grandiflora - not really a surprise - and a sophora, probably Sophora microphylla or one of its closely related hybrids. This specimen was a robust shrub or small tree which I regularly observe and which will now be in flower to some degree over several months. I have sown seed from this plant but I think slugs took the emerging shoots. 
It was on the way home, my arms sagging with spoils from Tesco* that I received a moderate and final surprise. Keck, aka Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, was blooming, its umbels frothy with tiny white flowers. I ought not to have been surprised for that little amount of ambient warmth found in urban areas seems sufficient to trigger flowering; in the open countryside it would have been a more noteworthy event. The plant may also have been subjected to mowing and this late flowering was perhaps a response.
The umbels of Cow Parsley, usually an April-May flowerer.
Daventry, 21 November, 2017
To be honest I am making a fuss over nothing for on New Year's Day in 2016 a survey by the BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) found 612 species of wild flower in bloom! Now that IS remarkable. The seasons are getting topsy-turvy indeed.

* I have fallen out with Waitrose. The quality of their goods is undoubtedly high but I cannot forgive them for giving away free copies of the Daily Mail to their cardholders. Yes, I know they offer The Guardian too but for me the racism, bigotry and sheer nastiness of the Daily Mail puts it beyond the pale.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Taking a risk

I took a risk with my reputation today and walked into Daventry wearing a bowler hat and galoshes, thus making myself inconspicuous. In this 'Babylon of the East Midlands' [Daily Mail] one cannot be too careful.
There have been a couple of freezing nights recently with encrustations of frost on the tops of cars. Our dahlias appear to have escaped harm but I was on the lookout for damage. By this time of the year autumn colours are often largely confined to the foliage of trees and shrubs, so I was pleased to see that a plant of Yucca filamentosa was in full flower. Its raceme of ivory flowers was unlikely to attract bees over these last weeks of 2017 but stranger things have happened. Yuccas are now placed in the Asparagaceae Family but it is difficult to envisage a plant less like asparagus.
Yucca filamentosa in Park Leys, Daventry. 19 November, 2017
A while back Chris and I were recalling how, as children, we would wander to school gathering spiders' webs on a twig bent over into a shape hooped like a snow-shoe. The webs seemed invariably to be on privet hedges, but such hedges seem far less common today. I recalled this reminiscence today as a passed such a hedge. It consisted of Japanese Privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium, this apparently making a tighter, denser hedge than out native privet, L. vulgare.
A privet hedge can be very dense. Coppice Close, Daventry.
 19 November, 2017
Most of the flowers and fruit were generally lost in the process of hedge clipping but privet flowers are very fragrant which, despite their rather cloying scent, I quite like. As I have mentioned before in these blogs, beekeepers are happy to see the flowers go since, although they produce copious nectar, the subsequent honey has been described as 'nauseating'.
Oddly enough, as I crossed the London Road, a little further into town, a passed a shrub of Ligustrum vulgare. It was carrying a good crop of fruit, and if they look a little like olives it is worth remembering that privet is in the Olive Family, Oleaceae. This shrub is unlikely to have been planted and may have clung on since the time when this area was open countryside. The berries are moderately toxic and medical help should be sought if significant quantities have been consumed. There are nearly forty other species of Ligustrum known, many from China but the etymology of the word is not clear; it may somehow refer to the region of Liguria in northern Italy.
The fruit of Common Privet, London Road, Daventry.
19 November, 2017
All very interesting but, as I have said, during the autumn months it is foliage which generally catches our attention. Sycamore is such a commonplace tree that we could be in danger of ignoring it for much of the year, but it grabs our attention in the autumn. It leaves may turn a fiery gold but to my mind this pale gold coloration is equally attractive.

Sycamore, St Peter's Close, Daventry. 19 November, 2017
I also photographed this cherry tree and it struck me how similar the foliage is to that of witch hazels, especially when this autumn bronze colour has developed.
Cherry foliage. Coppice Close, Daventry. 19 November, 2017

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Is it really mid-November?

I suppose our back garden is moderately sheltered but we are situated at the edge of Daventry, itself a small town, only about 300 metres as the Crow, Corvus corone, flies. The warmth associated with large urban areas, especially London, is hardly a factor and Stefen Hill is not really considered balmy. Yet a remarkably large number of plants are still in flower.
The climber, Thunbergia alata, commonly known as Black-eyed Susan, is on a wall which offers some sort of protection, but it is a native of east Africa and really enjoys warm conditions. Yet it seems happy enough. 

Thunbergia alata, aka Black-eyed Susan, remains in bloom on our
garage wall. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 November, 2017
Our plant of Salvia x jamensis 'Hot Lips' is also flowering profusely although most plant guides regard it as tender. The parents of this hybrid are Salvia greggi, from southern Texas and S. microphylla, a widespread species found from Arizona to Mexico. Neither of these species seems likely to have imparted hardiness to their offspring and yet it is unfazed by November's weather
Hot Lips - Salvia x jamensis - is still open for a visit from a bee.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 November, 2017
From Mexico too come most of the Dahlia species involved in our garden varieties. The slightest of frosts usually reduces their leaves to a mushy, dark green mess but nevertheless they are still blooming happily for us with buds still being produced.
Dahlias on 15 November. Ridiculous! Stefen Hill, Daventry
Until I sat down to write this blog it hadn't occurred to me that, with the exception of the Thunbergia, all the species being considered are of American origin, for also in flower is the Argentinian Vervain, Verbena bonariensis. It hails of course from the vicinity of Buenos Aires, hence bonariensis, and should again be only borderline hardy. Having said that, I've never had trouble with this verbena in the past; maybe that part of Argentina gets chilly winters.
Verbena bonariensis goes on and on. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
15 November, 2017
What conclusions can be drawn from all this? Basically nothing I suppose. We have had a couple of light frosts recently but not enough, it seems, to damage these four plants and I am tempted to conclude that these lingering flowers owe their survival to climate. warming. Certainly in my youth we would have had frosts, or maybe even ice on puddles by now. One sharp frost however and we can kiss these flowers goodbye so we'll enjoy them while we can.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fighting back

We are all familiar with stories about human destruction of the natural habitat, from trawlers scraping the sea bed with their nets to litter left by climbers around the summit of Everest; from turtles dying having swallowed polythene bags in mistake for jellyfish to the unacceptable loss of soil through short-term farming practices. We fight back in tiny ways. I avoid buying 'Velvet' brand toilet rolls because of the unnecessary destruction of primary forest for their production and I never buy Cadbury 's chocolate for a similar reason - in this case the cutting down of rain forest for cocoa plantations. Are my actions a waste of time? I honestly don't know. I should really take the course chosen by Jeremy and become a vegetarian. (I refer here to my son Jeremy and not Jeremy Corbyn although both set an admirable example.)
These thoughts crossed my mind as I visited Daventry earlier today because as I walked from the car park (cars are, of course, another related issue) I noticed how plants are fighting back too. A few rosettes of Common Whitlow Grass, Erophila verna, had rooted at the foot of a wall. In themselves they do no damage but they do assist in the accumulation of soil, material in which more robust plants may later root. 

Common Whitlow Grass, Daventry town centre. 14 November, 2017
Notice the gaps in the brickwork
The tiniest nooks and crannies may accommodate a chance seed; it may be wind-blown, as in the case of Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, or deposited in bird droppings as with Brambles, Rubus fruticosus. The result is the same, a plant whose roots  begin insinuating themselves into the mortar to create ever-widening cracks.
Oxford Ragwort to the rear of the town library, Daventry.
14 November, 2017
Oxford Ragwort is an annual or short-loved perennial but brambles are woody plants and present a more serious problem. If not removed their roots will widen to a point where structural damage will result. The specimen I photographed is of no consequence as the area is due to be redeveloped shortly but elsewhere...
A bramble growing strongly in a wall to the rear of Daventry's library.
14 November, 2017

Oxford Ragwort is an introduced plant (from southern Europe) and so too is Buddleia, Buddleja davidii, a native of China. On the M40, where it cuts through the Chiltern Hills I have noticed huge swathes of buddleia cloaking the chalk face. It is helping to bind the walls of the cutting in place or will their roots split the chalk and cause it to crumble? Perhaps it is too soon to tell but the situation is doubtless being monitored. 
A buddleia seedling, only small at he moment, but if ignored...
Certainly masonry in Daventry is being weakened by buddleia and the consequences are likely to be serious if these attacks are ignored. It grows rapidly and produces great quantities of seed and as a woody plant its destructive powers are considerable. The seed may be wind-borne but the dispersal mechanisms are as yet not fully understood.
...it could develop into a problem. North Street, Daventry.
14 November, 2017
I found it damaging brickwork in three places during just a short walk but it wasn't the only culprit. Cotoneasters have red, orange or yellow fruits much consumed by birds. The seeds pass through a bird's gut to be deposited elsewhere. Much like buddleias, cotoneasters (this example was unidentifiable to species) will split brickwork and in the case in question the damage was too severe to be easily rectified.
A cotoneaster has developed in a similar manner. Daventry town centre.
14 November, 2017
A few days ago here in Daventry I found another plant dreadfully difficult to eradicate yet whose destructive powers are legendary, lifting paving slabs and seriously damaging the foundations of buildings. I refer to Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica. Lacking prompt action when found the consequences could be very serious indeed.
Japanese Knotweed. Daventry. 3 Novermber, 2017
Does all this matter? Probably not, but my fevered imagination foresees two possible scenarios where the situation could get out of hand. One involves a widespread plague akin to the Black Death, consequent on mankind failing to produce antibiotics to cope with rapidly mutating pathogens; the other involves a financial catastrophe where money for essential repairs simply isn't available. Both would result in people too busy ensuring their survival to worry about nature's fight back.
Absolutely impossible of course. Pharmaceutical companies will obviously come up with an answer and no government could possibly starve local authorities of resources to that degree. 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

St Peter's Church, Wolfhampcote

In a curious, inexplicable way, the Church of St Peter, Wolfhampcote, is one of the most impressive churches I know of. It isn't the stained-glass windows - there aren't any. Nor is it the tapestries, carpets or beautifully carved altar screens or misericords: if there were any they were removed long ago. No, it is the sheer simplicity of the interior. 
The Church of St Peter, Wolfhampcote. 10 November, 2017
The church is no longer used for services although it remains consecrated. It is now cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust and, although I admit to being an atheist, it pleases me that this building appears to be in safe hands. The simplicity of the building helps to focus the visitor on features which might be otherwise overlooked. The 13th Century chancel arch, for example is pleasing in its form and proportions. Above the arch is a royal coat-of-arms of Queen Anne - although I doubt she paid the church a visit.
The chancel arch with, above, the royal coat-of-arms of Queen Anne.
10 November, 2017
The simple pews are small, rather fragile-looking and very basic. I didn't risk sitting on one.
The pews could hardly be more simple.
The parishioners would have faced the very basic altar, not distracted by stained glass; as I have said, there isn't any. In theory any valuable stained glass could have been removed for safety but I suspect that isn't the case. The church would have been cold and uncomfortable but we know that in mediaeval time non-attendance was generally not an option.
View towards the altar of St Peter's Church, Wolfhampcote.
10 November, 20
Outside, the building is again simple. It is possible to imagine church representatives and local worthies leafing through an architect's brochure and choosing something within their means. The structure has subsided in places and cracks have been plugged with mortar.

Masonry was thickly encrusted with lichens. St Peter's, Wolfhampcote.
10 November, 2017
A number of table tombs formed a small group and the headstones in general were a lichenologists paradise but time was pressing. I tore myself away and continued my journey.

Tony White  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, 10 November 2017

Walk: Braunston to Daventry

Chris was off to Rugby today with her friend Ann for what I gathered was a spot of retail therapy. I was dropped off at Braunston and I intended to walk back to Daventry via  Wolfhampcote, Miry Bridge and Kentle Wood.
I set out heading south-west along the towpath of the Oxford Canal. The weather was behaving nicely and the walking was pleasant if not breathtakingly exciting. I turned back from time to time and watched the slender church spire of All Saints in Braunston shrinking in the distance.

At this point Braunston is still in clear view. 10 November, 2017
According to my Ordnance Survey map I would soon be approaching a bridge that once carried the Great Central Railway over the canal and I became mystified as no such bridge appeared. Eventually I found traces of the structure but the bridge itself had clearly been dismantled. Never mind, a series of other smaller but nonetheless attractive bridges allowed me to find my bearings on the map.
A number if simple but attractive bridges were passed on my walk.
Between Braunston and Wolfhampcote, 10 November, 2017
Eventually I crossed the canal to turn almost due east and approached the mediaeval village of Wolfhampcote. Apart from a few scattered dwellings and farm buildings the village no longer exists. These D.M.V's - deserted mediaeval villages - are scattered about the midlands and indeed I had just passed the D.M.V. of Braunstonbury. Of this settlement even less remains, a few hummocks in the fields being all that is visible. The Black Death was perhaps a factor in the depopulation, not necessarily by wiping out the villagers but encouraging them to drift away to seek a better life elsewhere in a country desperately short of farm workers.
The squat tower of St Peter's, Wolfhampcote.
10 November, 2017
Before long the Church of St Peter's, Wolfhampcote came into view. It is quite a fascinating building with so many points of interest that I do not propose to deal with it here but to give it a blog of its own. After spending twenty minutes or so at the church I pushed on.

What on earth could these pigs expect to find in this deep mud?
Courtesy obliged me to say hello to a group of Saddleback pigs wallowing in the mud at a nearby farm. I'd have stayed for a chat but I needed to press on.
Heavy loads of coal from Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or Yorkshire would
once have thundered over this bridge, heading for London.
  Near Wolfhampcote, 10 November, 2017

My route now took me under the old Great Central Railway. The track-bed is now in places a haven for wildlife, perhaps too choked with vegetation for delicate plants but surely a refuge for many creatures.

I was now walking virtually due south, travelling more or less parallel to the infant River Leam. To use the word 'river' is a tad overstating it, but that is how it is marked on the map, and it is quite important since here it forms the boundary between Northamptonshire to the east and Warwickshire to the west. Since leaving the canal I had in fact been in Warwickshire and would continue to be so for the next mile or two. 
The River Leam. Its waters will flow into the Avon and on to the
 River Severn. 10 November, 2017
This was an area which, a century ago, would have been rich in wildlife but there was little out of the ordinary to be seen. True, November is not a month associated with bounteous flowers but there should have been more than Fool's Parsley, Aethusa cynapium, to be seen among the stubble. Cases of poisoning are rare as the plant is nauseously smelly when crushed.
Fool's Parsley is a seriously toxic weed. In stubble near Wolfhampcote.
10 November, 2017
A flock of fieldfares took to the wing as I approached. I was surprised as I was still some distance away, but then, skimming the hedgerow where they had been foraging, came a sparrowhawk. Missing out on a kill it swerved away with its familiar flap, flap, glide flight.
I was now climbing out of the Leam valley and my legs were letting me know that I'd covered something like four miles; my brain told me that I had about two more to go. As the slope eased I recovered my stride and, via the western edge of Kentle Wood, I re-entered a built-up area and within an hour I had my feet up with a hot coffee before me. Bliss!


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Towards Newnham

You visit a library or a bookstore such as Waterstones and search the shelving in the section marked 'TRAVEL, UNITED KINGDOM' and find a book called something like Great Walks in Britain. You pull out a likely-looking tome and turn to the index, looking for 'Northamptonshire'. Nothing. You pull out another book and repeat the exercise. Again, nothing. The fact is that I am unfortunate enough to have been born and to live in a county with an exceptionally featureless landscape. Sure enough, some of the villages are pretty with old buildings and walls constructed from a warm, mellow sandstone, sometime pale, sometimes dark but always attractive. But if you seek mountains or high, rolling hills, if you are in search of glittering lakes, waterfalls, or even the tiniest glimpse of a coast, look elsewhere. All we have hereabouts are low, sheep-grazed hills or heavily farmed arable land. For the record, 91% of the land around Daventry is farmed compared 57% in the U.K. as a whole; 1% of the land around Daventry is 'natural' compared with 35% over the U.K.as a whole [see footnote]. Furthermore much of the land is covered with clay so sticky that if you are foolish enough to walk on it after rain, for even a few steps, you soon find you are taller by two inches.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps a little.
My childhood friend, the late Trevor Hold, travelled widely but he wrote:
                                       ...it is to that unassuming shire
                                       where I was born that my own spirit flies,
                                       homing to her parks and ancient trees,
                                       the sandstone manor and the weathered spire,
                                       the steady river ambling to the sea.
                                             Wherever I may live, my exiled eyes
                                             Will seek that landscape and those gentle skies.

I, lacking Trevor's poetic vision and sheer humanity, mutter to myself something about silk purses and sows' ears.
Having got that bellyache off my chest (!) there are some local walks that, given good weather, can be very pleasant, and I set out on such a stroll earlier today. My target was Newnham Windmill, a Grade II listed building set at the edge of steep escarpment with lovely views to the west across into Warwickshire. It is farmed by Matthew Moser using environmentally friendly methods in an endeavour to allow wildlife to flourish on this mildly acid land. To some extent he is successful but going by some other farmland in the area he is a voice in the wilderness.
Blackberries were still available for birds, mice and the foxes who will delicately pluck the fruit. Even though Chris and I were gathering them eight or ten weeks ago some of them have yet to ripen.
Some blackberries have yet to ripen. Hedgerow between Daventry and
Newnham. 8 Novermber, 2017
It is this variability that makes the Blackberry, Rubus fruticosus, so interesting that some botanists - batologists - have spent years studying this plant and splitting it into hundreds of microspecies.
Equally variable are crab apples. There is only one true Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris, but cast-aside apple cores from a host of varieties have given rise to many faux crab apples and hybridisation is commonplace. As they soften they will provide food for a range of creatures.
These apples will soon fall and become available to many creatures.
Between Daventry and Newnham. 8 November, 2017
Hawthorns are still heavy with fruit so there is no immediate likelihood of birds going hungry and it is this hedgerow bounty which attracts fieldfares, redwings and, if you are lucky, waxwings, to join in the feast.
The quantity of fruit left on the hawthorns will eventually attract many
birds including migrants. 8 November, 2017
Another quite different type of fruit is also nibbled by mice, slugs and snails and the larvae of flies. I refer to toadstools. Perhaps not fruit in the generally accepted sense but they are nevertheless the fruiting heads of fungi, whose thread-like hyphae insinuate themselves through the soil playing an absolutely vital role in the whole cycle of life, death and decay. Many are puffballs, like this Stump Puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme, occupying - where else? - a decaying stump at a field margin.
A mossy stump bore the fruiting heads of Lycoperdon pyriforme.
There are several rather similar species found in Britain but a close look at the general shape (pyriforme means 'pear-shaped) and the surface detail make this one easily recognised.
The surface is only slightly papillose. 8 November, 2017
The sun was now very bright but I had not allowed for a very heavy dew and my feet were getting soaked. No way was I going to make it to the windmill, not because of fatigue but I had paused so often that I was way behind schedule. Fence posts, and at one point the sun-warmed brick wall of a old barn, had yielded lots of flies. I took a gentle stroll round a small pond, complete with reed-mace and then decided it was lunch-time.
A small pond was a habitat for Lesser Reedmace.  8 November, 2017

     Footnote.  Figures supplied by the Corine Land Cover inventory      

Tony White   E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk