Our bathroom is still being upgraded, so this morning I decided to make myself scarce by visiting Hardcastle Crags and taking a walk along Hebden Water.
Half-way to Gibson Mill, I was delighted to spot a northern hairy wood ants' nest at the side of the path. Believe it or not, this one was very small. I saw one once that so big, from a distance, with all the ants moving across its surface, I mistook it for a woodland pond. Trust me. You had to be there. Continue reading A walk in Hardcastle Crags→
I went to stay with my old friend Mike in the south Manchester suburbs on Friday. In the evening, we took his dog, Milly, for a walk through Kenworthy Woods, along the banks of the River Mersey, and around Chorlton Water Park. I had never been there before, and was astonished to find such a large expanse of greenery right next to the M60, so close to Manchester. An area of precious green belt.
As we walked through the woods and along the river, Mike and I demonstrated to each other our general ignorance of trees, hazarding guesses at various species. We agreed on ash, and there were willows of some description, and hawthorns and horse chestnuts and sycamores. I think I impressed Mike at one point by confidently identifying alder, although, to be honest, it was little more than a guess. And there were some trees with heart-shaped leaves. I had no idea what those might have been, so I guessed lime. I really must get my head around trees some time, like Emma Warren is trying to do.
On the bird front, I don't think I've ever seen quite so many swifts in one place before. There were scores, if not hundreds of them, flying low over the river and lake. At one point, one of the swifts flew within touching distance of me. It was quite a thrill. I regretted not bringing my camera, but the light was poor, rain threatened, and the swifts were being true to their name.
Milly wasn't the least bit interested in the stupid swifts. Far more interesting to her were the bait boxes of the anglers fishing in the lake.
A walk with Jen and the Hitchins in a Hertfordshire wood which doesn't exit yet: Heartwood Forest, a Woodland Trust initiative to create a 850 acre wood from open fields in just 12 years.
I have to say, the open fields which are to be replaced are looking rather beautiful at the moment, with all their poppies and cornflowers:
But new British woodland must surely be a very good thing. Especially when it will join together existing smaller woods, two of which we walked through.
The trees were mostly hornbeams—a species unfamiliar to this Northerner. Many of them had formerly been coppiced, but not for many years, so the trees had now grown to great height from a common base, giving them a surreal, rather eerie look, reminding me rather bizarrely of giant bulbs of celery.
A number of low earthworks ran around the woods, many of them marked by hornbeam coppices. These were presumably some sort of boundary markers, the significance of which is now no longer readily apparent.
We tend to forget that all the fruit and vegetables in our local supermarket is descended from wild plants. Our sweet, modern-day plums, for example, started off many generations ago as that bitterest of berries, the sloe [Prunus spinosa]—also known as the blackthorn.
Today, the beautiful, white sloe blossom was out in abundance, contrasting beautifully with the plants eponymous black thorns.
Wild sloes are pretty much inedible. I speak from the bitterest of personal experiences. But the wild fruits still come in very useful. I look forward in anticipation to the day, next autumn, when today's blossom will have been transformed from this…