About this Blog

This blog reflects our twin interests in walking and natural history, especially botany.

"Ich wandle unter Blumen

Und blühe selber mit ..."

Heinrich Heine

Walking is important to us as a way of being in direct touch with the environment, experiencing species and habitats in their ecological and historical context. By walking between different flower sites we experience the character of the general countryside, getting to know as much where flowers are not as where they are. Walking allows for the serendipitous - chance encounters with animals, meetings with local people, unexpected species - which enrich the experience.

We set up this blog to share a variety of mainly day-long walks centred on "iconic" flower sites and locations of rare plants, where these are publicly accessible. The accounts include descriptions of the routes taken, key plants seen, other wildlife encountered, and anything of general environmental or historical interest. All the walks allow time for looking around (some flowers need searching for), photography etc, and usually include a half-way stop for refreshment at some suitable establishment. The walks are seasonal, depending on the flowering/fruiting times of different species, although one cannot hit the peak time for all species seen on one walk, and the best timings will vary from year to year. Lengths vary but the walks may be anything up to 12 miles or more, so an early start is recommended.

A certain knowledge of our flora is assumed, but those less familiar should be able to identify most of the plants mentioned with the help of one of the good field guides - Blamey, Fitter and Fitter Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland (A&C Black) or Francis Rose The Wild Flower Key (Warne) - although occasionally recourse may be needed to more technical tomes such as Clive Stace New Flora of the British Isles (Cambridge) or the specialist volumes published by BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) on grasses, sedges, umbellifers etc.

While examining plants it is interesting to note the galls, leaf-mines and fungi (rusts etc) that are often specific to particular taxa. For galls we use Redfern and Shirley British Plant Galls, for leaf-mines http://www.ukflymines.co.uk/ (which also includes lepidopteran and other mines), and for fungi Ellis and Ellis Microfungi on Land Plants, although this is a technical tome rather than a field guide.

Our completed walk around the coast and borders of England is described on http://www.coastwalking.blogspot.co.uk/ and our current walk around the coast of Wales is on http://www.coastwalkwales.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 18 March 2013

Berkshire: Inkpen Crocus Field and Steventon

12 March 2013                                           OS 174: Newbury & Wantage

Length: 20 minutes & 30 minutes, with a drive in between.

This was our second late-winter bulbs trip of the year, while we waited for the native plant season to begin.  The Crocus Field at Inkpen is managed by Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, with summer grazing by cows, and is the most extensive crocus colony in the country, which is documented to extend back at least 200 years and could be much older, local lore attributing the introduction of the bulbs by returning Crusaders. 
          We parked by the Village Hall at SU372642.  Immediately south of here is Pottery Lane (although we saw no road sign to that effect), a minor cul-de-sac between large houses followed by a bridleway leading west.  Under the hedges along here we immediately saw the usual snowdrop garden escape Galanthus nivalis 'flore pleno'.
Galanthus nivalis 'flore pleno'

A track peels off left to the Crocus Field after about the fifth house.  Under the hedge were two other garden escapes, the spotted leaves of Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis, and Creeping Comfrey Symphytum grandiflorum, but the latter had been badly affected by the current cold snap after a "false spring" a few days before had encouraged it to come out in full flower.  (Today the air temperature was 1ºC, with a very cold east wind that gave a chill factor of some -6 or -7ºC.) 
Creeping comfrey devastated by frost

At the end of this short lane a gate leads into the Crocus Field, a pasture bordered by gardens on the north and east sides and sloping SW down to a brook, where it rises again beyond. 
The Crocus Field from across the brook
The dark purple Spring Crocuses Crocus vernus - there seemed to be just the one species - are distributed all over the first field, with a few having established themselves in the grass beyond the stream, where there were also some small clumps of Primrose Primula vulgaris in flower under scrub. 

 The densest crocus colony was straight ahead from the approach lane, along the eastern side of the field, but wherever you walk you have to be careful not to tread on the flowers.  The spread, which looks as though it had started from the inhabited edges of the field (making the crocuses most likely to be ancient garden escapes), is so extensive that they have obviously existed here for a long time.  A tiny percentage of the flowers are a white-coloured variety.  On such a bitterly cold day few of the flowers in the open grassland had opened, despite a sunny morning, but many had spread their petals in the shelter of the brambles along the north edge. 

Spring crocus in Crocus Field

Sheltered crocuses open in the sun

A few white crocuses can be found among the purple
The young ferny shoots of Pignut Conpodium majus were conspicuous in the turf, confirming that this has long been unfertilised pasture. 

Spring crocus and pignut leaves, Crocus Field
The stream flowed under a thin coating of ice that had made pleasant patterns.  This was the first time we had got round to visiting this unique site and we found it well worthwhile.

Icy brook

We drove north from here to the village of Steventon between Wantage and the sky-dominating cooling towers of Didcot.  We parked just off the B4017, the main road through the village, in the car park behind the Co-op.  Although an old village it has suffered from a lot of modern development that has swamped the remaining old houses.  Nevertheless the ancient stone causeway survives, called of course The Causeway, extending almost a kilometre, running the whole length of the village NE-SW towards the church, starting just north of where we had parked.  It is a raised embankment that enabled residents to cross the former marsh around which the village had been built, an interesting variant on the village-green.  It existed at the beginning of the C15th and is still a well-frequented and -maintained path of vertically-implanted stones with steps down and up from the odd lane crossing it. 

The Causeway, Steventon, near the church

The marsh is now dry and occupied by allotments, parkland and a playground.  The grassy sides of the embankment are planted to a mixture of common bulb-plants.  Those currently in flower (there were many daffodils yet to come) included more snowdrops as above, as well as the simple flowered version, also Winter Aconite, the pale purple Early Crocus Crocus tommasinianus, Compact Grape-Hyacinth Muscari botryoides, Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus, 'Bob Minor' (similar to last but deeper yellow petals), 'February Gold' and the neat dwarf cultivar 'Tête-à-Tête', yellow Dutch Crocus Crocus x luteus and more spring crocus, but a deeper shade than at Inkpen. 
Planted spring crocus by the Causeway are darker than those at Inkpen

Compact grape-hyacinth (which has hooded leaf-tips)

Daffodils 'Bob Minor' and 'Tete a tete'

Daffodil 'February Gold'

Dutch crocus
The stream bordering the causeway, which presumably drains the lower land (although the water-table is no doubt lower now anyway), supports Lesser Celandine Ficaria verna and primrose. 
Stream near The Causeway with snowdrops

 Tree-stumps alongside the path had conspicuous white Lumpy Brackets Trametes gibbosa.  (While 'Steventon' is usually interpreted as "estate of a man Stīf", it has also been suggested that the first part may derive from styfing OE "tree-stump"!)

Lumpy bracket

 The main Paddington-West railway line passes right through the village and the causeway just before the church and the level-crossing here is a major obstruction, as trains pass every few minutes at great speed.  On the other side the causeway ends just before an open space bordered by streams (with Stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus), with the manor house, its old barn supported on brick arches, and the church of St. Michael and All Angels. 

Arch-supported barn near Manor House, Steventon

The church dates back to before 1086, and there must have been an earlier church on the site, as there is a venerable 1200-year-old Yew Taxus baccata at its SW corner, massive in girth, although not all that extensive in height and reach, which may have survived from an even earlier Celtic religious foundation.

Old yew Steventon Church

 Another large tree, although of a faster-growing species, is the London Plane Platanus x hispanica by the entrance gate to the churchyard. 
Bole of old plane-tree by wall of Steventon Church

The grass is well-mown and contains few species of interest.  There is a patch of snowdrops and a small fenced area just to the right of the entrance with winter aconite, Dutch and early crocus, snowdrops, and daffodils 'Tête-à-Tête', just past which, by the path, is a clump of Stinking Iris or Gladdon Iris foetidissima, so common by old churches for some reason.

Steventon churchyard: early crocus, Tete a Tete daffodil, snowdrop, winter aconite

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