Monday, 16 August 2010

The Heather Blooms on Cranesmoor

In the middle of August, the New Forest heathland breaks into bloom and the landscape glows in shades of soft pink and purple. After long weeks of drought, the rain has come again. Burning blue skies have given way to softer greys and sometimes the bubbling clouds of incoming showers, but the sun shines through enough to catch the heather and brighten the new greens of grass refreshed by rain.

One recent evening, we followed unfamiliar footpaths, southwards across Cranesmoor to find the resting places of Bronze Age chieftans among the soft, low hills. Through tall, rough and flowerless bushes of gorse and out onto a track that bordered marshy Strodgemoor, we walked in the footsteps of the smugglers who once used these quiet pathways to bring contraband up from the coast.

On the footpath verges, bright Tormentil flowered in the undergrowth.

Across heather and marsh, we saw the raised mound of the pine covered Butt. Butt is a local name for a Barrow, or burial mound.

Gentle, rounded hillocks undulated to the left of our path, growing purple ling and gorse, with sometimes a young Scots Pine emerging from a wind-blown seed.

Below is the green, damp Strodgemoor, where rain drains from the hills. There may be an underlying layer of clay beneath this area, which encourages water to stay and peat bog to form.

I heard footsteps behind me. Two round and shining New Forest mares walked with determination along our path.

We stopped to let them pass.

In amongst the heather, low bushes of deep yellow Dwarf Gorse were in flower.

Bell heather grew in clumps along the edges of the path. Its flowers are larger and a deeper pink than those of the shrubby ling. In the soft, warm evening air, the sound of a thousand bees droned across the hills.

The pathway lead to a crossroads of sandy tracks, so we followed the route that lead towards the pine covered barrow.

In the distance, a Forestry plantation of conifers broke the skyline with a darker green......

...and then we came across the two ponies who had passed us on the track. They had known just where to find pools of water in the marshy grass.

Up on the hill beside us, the rounded top assumed a distinctive shape beneath its covering of heather. This was the tumulus we had found on the map. A Bowl Barrow, with its rounded top shaped like an upturned bowl, here was the final resting place of the nobility of a local Bronze Age community, buried here maybe 3,500 years ago. From their fortified settlement on a nearby high hill, the Bronze Age people could have looked down across the moorland valley to these graves. Around the barrow, we found a shallow ditch. This can be seen, faintly, in the photograph. In the soil of the ancient ditch, heather plants grew stunted and short.

From the top of the Barrow, we watched the ponies setting out for better grazing across the marshy land. They picked their way safely, across sedge and bog, towards the woodland edge.

We walked on, to the pine covered barrow, which appeared to have been used as a rifle range in the recent past. Maybe a remnant of the days in World War II , when troops used the New Forest as a place to train for the fighting they would face after the D Day Landings in Normandy.

Between the woody plants of flowering heather, mosses and lichens flourished. Here is Cladonia impexa, soft and pale green , which thrives on the acid soils of sandy heathland. There were few birds on the heath that evening. A pair of Stonechat chit-chitted at us from some gorse. Later, across the heather, a woodlark flew up, alarmed. I just caught sight of the raised crest on its head as it perched on a dead gorse branch and then flew away.


Bovey Belle said...

What a lovely lovely walk. I felt like I was with you as usual! I never knew that the Hampshire term for burial mound was butt. I grew up in Butts Road, but I think that was supposed to have come from the Rifle Butts they had in the rough valley land there in Victorian (or earlier?) times. I must try and date it more securely.

Morning's Minion said...

Thank you for sharing your gorse and heather.
These plants seem to be part of the outdoor background in so many novels of England and Scotland, that I suppose I have a romantic rather than realistic idea of them.
Heather must be as ubiquitous as sagebrush in the American west.
We once had a horse who liked to walk with me. If I walked in the area where the horses were kept she would come up behind me very quietly, nudge me several times and then follow along.