Thursday, 26 July 2018

Savernake Forest

Grand Avenue

Savernake covers some 4500 acres (7 square miles). The royal forest established in the 12th century covered an area of some 150 square miles, but this would have included villages and open ground as well as woodland. It was put into the care of Richard Esturmy  has passed down from father to son (or daughter, on four occasions) in an unbroken line of hereditary "forest wardens". The current Wardne is David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan. It is now the only ancient forest in Britain still in private hands. The private status of Savernake is maintained by shutting the forest to the public one day per year. (All this from Wikipedia.)

I started from Postern Hill and followed the path into the woodland. I was struck first of all by the size of some of the trees - ample evidence that this is an ancient forest.

I loved this dramatic fallen tree trunk left by the side of the path.

Soon afterwards I turned left into White Road, more of a track really, and noticed on Google maps that the Cathedral Oak was just off to the left of the path. I naturally made a detour to see this magnificent specimen which is nearly 10m in girth. It is at least 1000 years old; and probably the seconds oldest tree in Savernake, and maybe the second oldest in the UK according to Wiltshire Walks.

Returning to White Road I followed it to where it met the A4 on the north side of the forest and then made a 90 degree turn to walk down the Grand Avenue, passing by this lovely group of Teazles.

I have to say that although planned by Capability Brown, the Grand Avenue was not much fun to walk along. The road surface is very rough and every time a van or car went by vast clouds of noxious dust were thrown up. After a mile and half of this I was delighted to reach the junction called Eight Walks, where (reasonably enough) eight paths meet. The route led now along Great Lodge Drive, which was a much more inviting prospect.

The adjoining fields gave way to light woodland and I managed a couple of butterfly pictures - a lovely Brown Argus ...

... and a Small Skipper.

There were also a couple of sightings of a Silver-washed Fritillary, one of my favourite woodland butterflies.

The delightful Great Lodge Drive ended near Christ Church (by T H Wyatt, 1851 for the Marquis of Ailesbury, the then forest warden). It was declared redundant in 1979 and is now a rather splendid private house.

The final leg was in many ways the best of all: a meandering narrow path through the forest, roughly parallel to the A346. I had many more Silver-washed Fritillary sightings, but just one photo opportunity: this rather battered specimen.  I did see a mating pair engaged in the rather wonderful ritual where the female flies in a straight line and the male loops above and below her.

This path brought me at length to the car park.

Conditions: very warm, but quite cloudy.

Distance: 5.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 157 (Marlborough & Savernake Forest).

From: here.

Rating: four stars. Really enjoyable walk (apart from the Grand Avenue). I am looking forward to exploring other parts of the forest.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Welford to Newbury (Lambourn Valley Way 3)

Cornfields near Welford

This is the third and final stage of the Lambourn Valley Way (Stage 2 is described here). We set off from the edge of Welford Park and walked though a bit of woodland to emerge into a wonderful landscape of corn fields.

We crossed the M4 and arrived at Tulloch Farm which had simple, but elegantly shaped barn.

Further great expanses of golden corn followed.

As we approached Boxford we passed a pig farm with a cast of adult pigs standing or wallowing in muddy water and piglets prancing around likes lambs. I hope my grandchildren will like this photo when I show them.

Entering the village we passed a lovely thatched house on the left ...

... crossed a small bridge over the Lambourn, with a wonderful late Victorian sign warning that "persons in charge of locomotive traction engines and other ponderous carriages are warned against attempting the passage of the bridge".

This was the view of the river from  the other side of the bridge.

And finally there was surely a former mill.

We continued parallel to the river, but out of sight of it, in an arc beneath Hoar Hill. We recently discovered a vineyard in Enborne, rather to our surprise, but here was a rather newer but absolutely massive one. The picture shows maybe a quarter of the vines. It would be great to soon be drinking locally made sparkling wine!

At the end of this section we entered a short but rather lovely section of woodland.

Emerging from it, there was another cornfield with the green river valley behind it.

Soon afterwards we reached Woodspeen and Bagnor Manor. We had just a glimpse of a substantial Georgian house. Reaching Bagnor we passed the Watermill Theatre and crossed the pretty Winterbourne stream.

After a refreshing drink at the inviting Blackbird pub we headed away from the Lamborn towards Speen (there is an alternative route via Donnington, butthat would have taken us too far away from our destination, our home.

Speen offerfed this delightful late Victorian village hall ...

.. this sort of barn raised on stone toadstools ...

... and the substantial church of St Mary, set in very large church yard with a large number of grave stones. The church is medieval in origin, but what you see now is almost entirely the result of 19th century rebuilding.

We walked past waterworks and parallel to Speen Lane to arrive at Northcroft Park and, soon afterwards, the Kennet & Avon canal. Another half a mile or so brought us home.

Conditions: a lovely warm day, if a bit cloudy.

Distance: 7.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars. A really nice walk and rather lovely to end it at our own house.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Worth Matravers to Kimmeridge

Kimmeridge Bay

We are pursuing an occasional project of re-doing the South West Coast Path in Dorset as a series of longer and more linear walks than we did the first time. Our complete walk along the South West Coast Path, from Poole to Minehead, can be found in a separate blog here. Our most recent walk was the wonderful one from Kimmeridge to Lulworth almost a year ago.

We set out from the car park at the back of the Bay and climbed up to the Clavell Tower. This splendid folly dates from about 1820 and was spectacularly dismantled in 2005 and moved 80 ft away from the cliff edge because erosion of the cliff was threatening its survival. It is now owned by the Landmark Trust and available as a two-bedroomed holiday let. The current guests can be glipmsed on the circular terrace.

We walked along the cliff top admiring the numerous butterflies (Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, later a few Walls, Skippers). The view ahead to St Aldhelm's Head was magnificent.

The back to the west was also rather lovely. The still, shallow water was fascinating.

We passed Rope Lake Head (on the left in the photo below), with Swyre Head just out of view inland on the right and began the long steep ascent of Houns Tout. I had the delight of seeing my first Lulworth Skippers along this section.

As we reached the top, the view back was really inspiring.

After a nice little rest on a concrete bench we headed on to soon be above the picturesque Chapman's Pool. It is reminiscent of Lulworth Cove in its shape.

The route now is quite confusing. You descend (of course) and are gradually directed inland to join the clear path skirting this large hill (it seems to have no name: at least there is none shown on the OS map).

You go a surprising distance inland and then take a sharp right and climb up an attractive path to West Hill. This is the view if you look back.

At the top there is a wonderful view to the west over Chapman's Pool.

We passed the Royal Marines Association memorial and reached Emmett's Hill, which is notable fro steps down to close to sea level, followed immediately by more steps up to St Aldhelm's (or St Alban's) Head.

At the top, we again encountered St Aldhelm's chapel. It is square with one massive column in the centre supporting four vaults which hold up the roof. There is an altar in the corner opposite to the doorway lit by a small lancet window. It dates from about 1100. It is unlike a normal church in that the four corners are oriented towards the cardinal points of the compass, whereas churches are normally oriented along an east-west axis. It was restored in the 19th century and has definitely been a chapel since 1874.

We now meandered along the coast to reach the strange are of former stone quarries that is Winspit.

It was still more than a mile up a meandering, but always climbing, path to reach Worth Matravers and a cold drink in the welcoming pub. This is the view back from near the top.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about 9 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: Five stars.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Kew Gardens

The Palm House

It is about eight years since we last visited Kew. This visit, with our daughter and grandson was so interesting that I felt it had to be blogged.

We started from the main entrance (Victorian Gate in Kew Road) and admired the magnificent Palm House. It was built between 1844–1848 by the iron founder Richard Turner to the design of architect Decimus Burton. At the time it was the largest greenhouse in the world.

In front of the Palm House is a pleasant lake with a campanile behind it. Curiously it is not even marked on the official map. It tuns out that it was also built by Decimus Burton in the 1840's. It is 32.42m (107ft) high and was originally designed as a water tower and chimney for the Palm House, to which it is connected by a tunnel. However, it was not very successful and became purely ornamental after changes were made to the Palm House.

In front of the Palm House gardeners were putting the finishing touches to an elaborate and ornate series of flower beds. It seemed to us to be an extreme example of the municipal flower beds found in civic parks up and down the country. Why not have a more natural-looking planting of wild flowers which are more amenable to wildlife?

We headed off in the direction of the famous Kew Pagoda and first passed the enormous and imposing Temperate House. This too was designed by Decimus Burton. Building began in 1860 and it opened to the public in 1863. It is twice the size of the Palm House and is home to temperate plants from around the world.

We continued along the long grassy avenue of trees that leads to the Pagoda (know very reasonably as Pagoda Vista) and spent some time, with a bit of success, trying to identify the trees. This cedar was especially imposing and photogenic.

Here is the Great Pagoda, designed by Sir William Chambers and completed in 1762 as a gift for Princess Augusta, the founder of the botanic gardens. Chambers had previously traveled to China. It is a ten-storey octagonal tower, almost 50m high. Each level is 30cm narrower than the one below.

It has just re-opened after extensive renovation, which included reinstating the 80 dragons which originally adorned the roofs, each carved from wood and gilded with real gold. The dragons were removed in 1784 and were rumoured to have been sold to settle George IV’s gambling debts. However, experts believe that since they were made of wood, they had simply rotted over time. Quite by chance, today was the day of the formal re-opening and if you look closely you can make out Prince Charles talking to an interviewer among the knot of people over to the left.

We walked along the wonderful Cedar Vista (also well-named) and after a break for lunch headed towards the wonderful Aquatic Garden, dating from 1909, on the opposite side of the Gardens.

Our next destination was the Orangery and en route we stumbled upon Turner's Oak. Was it perhaps named for the great painter J M W Turner?

No, it was created by a nurseryman, a Mr Turner of Essex in 1798 by crossing the English oak - Quercus robur - with the Holm oak - Quercus ilex. It is about 6.25m in girth. It was very impressive, but since then I have seen the Cathedral Oak in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire which is nearly 10m in girth and at least 1000 years old.

Soon after we emerged in front of the exquisite Orangery. It was the work of Sir William Chambers (who also designed the Pagoda - and Somerset House in London). The Orangery was completed in 1761. Sadly, it was found to be too dark for its intended purpose of growing citrus plants and they were moved out in 1841. After many changes of use, it is currently used as a restaurant.

We had one final delight: Kew Palace. This charming building in the Dutch style was built in 1631 and was long known as the Dutch House. It was used by the Hanoverian kings but was abandoned after 1844 and many of its ancillary buildings were demolished during the 19th century. It was restored during the early years of this century.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: maybe 3 miles.

Rating: five stars. A great place to amble round, even without going into the great greenhouses. Maybe next time.