Saturday, 31 January 2015

Ashmore and Stubhampton Bottom

The pond at Ashmore

In Dorset for the weekend and ignoring the severe weather warnings we decide to go for a walk in Cranbourne Chase. Ange has found an interesting circular walk from Ashmore, 219m above sea level, allegedly the highest village in Dorset.

We head off to the east, passing the attractive church of St Nicolas. It is medieval in origin but, as is so often the case, most of what you see now is the result of a Victorian restoration.

Soon we leave the road and follow a mid-field path downhill. The view ahead is very inviting.

Soon we are walking along the side of a slope with a nice view off to the right.

This path leads into Balfour's Wood and we follow a path that leads down to Stubhampton Bottom. This pleasant winding track leads along the valley bottom through the woods and subsequent fields for nearly two miles. 

 As we emerge into open country we see a shooting party emerging from the field on the right. We have heard a lot of guns on all sides so far and we learned from a chap walking his dog that today is the last day of the shooting season. He said that what we had been hearing was the beaters having their go: "they'll be sorting out the weaker males before the start of the breeding season". We wondered how they would identify these weaker males - presumably any that were stupid enough to be shot. He acknowledged that there weren't many left. This group however looked too gentrified to be professional beaters.

Eventually we reached a road and quickly turned left to follow Ashmore Bottom where we saw the same gang (they had passed us in their Landrovers). They seemed now to be blazing away at anything that flew over - without success, happily.

The track now turned more grassy and offered more visual appeal.

After a brief stretch through woodland we passed a farm where we attracted the attention of some horses which galloped over from the opposite side of quite a large field. The sun had come out now and the horses and the countryside beyond looked very pretty. A bit further on a group of oak trees caught my eye in the sun, with dark clouds behind.

 After this we walked through Wiltshire Copse to find our way back to Ashmore.

The village pond looked lovely, viewed from the opposite side in the mid-afternoon sun.

Conditions: cold, especially in the biting wind. Very muddy most of the way.

Distance: 7 miles.

From: Dorset walks (Pathfinder Guides)

Rating: 3 and a half stars. Better in summer.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Mongewell Park to Streatley (The Ridgeway 7)

The Thames at Goring

After a very long break, principally the result of injuries to key participants, we resume the Ridgeway, pricking up the route at Mongewell Park near Wallingford. We walk along the parallel to the Thames to soon reach the pretty village of North Stoke. On the right we notice the Arts and Crafts style Village Hall, with delightful lettering over the door.

A little further we bear right past the church of St Mary, whose chancel dates from the 13th century and nave and tower from the early 14th.

We continued along the same line and then turned right to bring us to the river, wide and fairly featureless at this point. In the trees to the left there was a well preserved concrete pill box from the second world war. We are used to seeing these further south - e.g. on the Kennet and Avon Canal, but I don't recall seeing one in this area before.

Now we followed the tow path beside the river, under a brick railway bridge by Brunel, until we we had to turn inland to pass through the impressive village of South Stoke. The first main sight being this enormous barn under restoration.

On the right was the well-named Corner House. Pevsner confirms our assessment of a Georgian House being added on to a much earlier one.

On the left is the 13th century church of St Andrew, much restored in the mid 19th century.

Gradually the path draws closer to the river until eventually you are walking quite close beside it. A flock of Brent Geese could be seen, curiously static in the water, with the North Berkshire Downs behind.

Soon we were in Goring, where Ange lived as a child, ...

... where we noted a surprising advert for Tango lessons and admired the 12th century tower of St Thomas of Canterbury church.

It remained only to cross the river (see photo at the head of this post) and adjourn to the Bull pub for lunch. It was that very day under new management and all was chaos in the kitchen.

Conditions: grey, cool.

Distance: 5.8 miles. Distance now covered 44.1 out of 86.8 miles, so we are over half-way. We have vowed to increase our pace and get it finished with dispatch.

Map: Explorer 170 (Abingdon, Wantage and Vale of White Horse)

Rating: three and a half stars. Varied and enjoyable.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Iguazu: Upper Trail

The Falls from a viewpoint on the Upper Trail

The Iguazu Falls are an astounding 275 separate (or at least, separately identified) waterfalls arranged in a 4km wide horseshoe. The number of waterfalls in fact varies seasonally according to how much water there is in the river. Most are in Argentina, but some are in Brazil. The maximum drop is about 90m. They are the result of a geological fault which developed 200,000 years ago.

A couple of days ago we walked the Lower Trail, which offers great views looking up at the Falls. Today we are doing the Upper Trail, which offers views looking down. We were advised that late afternoon (say 4pm) was the best time to do it, and naturally we followed that advice.

The entrance point is a walkway over a small river. This continues through light jungle until you reach another, rather pretty, stream rushing from the right.

As you approach the first view point, there is a fantastic view over a waterfall downwards to one of the viewing points on the lower trail.

We had been told there was normally a rainbow over the Falls in late afternoon and soon we started to see it over the area we had walked along when we did the Lower Trail.

At the second view point the Falls stretched away towards the Brazilian side.

This view, with a waterfall in the foreground, is perhaps even more dramatic.

And soon there was an even more perfect view of the rainbow.

The most dramatic view of all was from the final view point, where the Falls were at their most elemental.

Conditions: hot, sunny.

Distance: only just over a km there and back.

Rating: five stars.

The New Seven Wonders of the World voting process did not include Iguazu among its winners (Christ the Redeemer, Great Wall of China, Macchu Picchu, Petra, Chichén Itzá, Colosseum, Taj Mahal), but it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature a few years later.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Iguazu: Macuco Trail

The entrance to the trail

Today we decided to take a 3.5 km trail through the sub-tropical jungle to a small pool. Naturally I hoped we would see butterflies on the way.

We set out mid-morning and we were mildly disconcerted when the barrier bore a cerrado (closed) sign. We pressed on however and quickly found ourselves on a broad mud track through greenery. It did not feel so different from home.

What was different was the soundtrack. It was very noisy and most noticeable was a creature shouting yiss at the top of its voice. Eventually I homed in on the source, a nondescript cicada.

And quickly afterwards we spotted this beautiful plant which assured us that we were indeed in a foreign country.

And soon after this there was an especially beautiful tree ... 

... which turned out to house a Variable Cracker butterfly.

I chanced to turn round following a butterfly and I was shocked to see a long snake slithering across the path where we had just walked.I haven't managed to identify it, and to be honest I am not sure if I really want to know.

Quickly we spotted a Blue Shadow hiding in the undergrowth. It a type of Owl butterfly, with blue upper wings.

We reached the end of the trail beside a stream which forms a waterfall down to a small pool where the younger people who have been doing the walk are disporting themselves. This is the view across towards the muddy Iguazu River.

And this is the view down to the pool.

On the way back we spotted (with some difficulty!) a Blue Leaf butterfly ...

...  a Red Rim ... 

... and a Malachite. 

This was a great delight as we have seen this beautiful butterfly in butterfly houses from Stratford to Costa Rica, but never before in the wild.

Conditions: Sunny and hot, but at least there was plenty of shade in the jungle.

Distance: about 7 kilometres.

Rating: four and a half stars/

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Iguazu: The lower trail

Part of the falls

We have moved from Buenos Aires to Iguazu in the northwest of Argentina, home to the famous waterfalls and said to be of the best places in the world to see butterflies. We are staying at the Sheraton hotel inside the national park and we decided to begin our exploration by walking the Lower Trail (Sentado Inferior). I was thrilled to photograph my first Iguazu butterfly on the way to the start of the trail: a Crimson Peacock.

We had taken, unintentionally, a short cut towards the main falls, but this meant that we built up nicely to the main event.  Soon we came to our first waterfalls, a twin cascade called Las dos hermanas, the two sisters. 

This was quickly followed by a smaller waterfall, Bossetti, with a distinct rainbow effect where the water hit the pool below.

 We emerged onto a view area where a more dramatic wall of water was to be seen.

We now took a steep path down down a track which seemed to lead to San Martin Island and were immediately greeted by a Giant Swallowtail which was just demanding to be photographed.

It was soon joined by a Broad-banded Swallowtail.

As we walked along the path by the water we noticed a number of very wet people coming towards us and eventually we worked out that this path led to where the boats which gave you a close-up view of the falls departed from. We remember getting quite well soaked on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara a few years ago, but these were much smaller craft and the soaking on offer seemed much more comprehensive.

I did get a nice picture of a Julia butterfly along the way however.

When we could go no further we retraced our steps, but this detour had offered some good views of the falls and a few butterflies, so it was well worth it.

We now found ourselves going against the flow of people, but soon reached a major view point, where people were jostling to take selfies using the selfie-sticks that were all around. I opted for a high view-point above the crowd.

At the back of the viewing area I was pleased to spot this cheerfully coloured Plush-chested Jay.

The remainder of the walk back to the start was relatively uneventful. Various colourful butterflies glided past, but none would agree to be photographed.

Conditions: sunny and hot, but cooled by the spray from the falls.

Distance: the actual trail is 1.6 km.

Rating: Five stars.