Monday, 28 March 2011

A Misty Afternoon on St Catherine`s Hill in Christchurch

On Saturday, mist crept in from the coast and up along the valley of the River Avon. We walked for an hour or so around St Catherine`s Hill, just north of Christchurch and west of the river valley. This was a favourite dog walk when the boys were young. There are roots to clamber over, pine cones to collect, slopes to slide down and the old sand quarry to explore.

St Catherine`s Hill was once submerged beneath the sea, and consists of layers of sand and gravel. The acidic soil once grew acres of heather but in the mid twentieth century, the hill was planted with Scots Pine and Corsican Pine, as well as the silver birches that grow so well on heathland. There is currently a programme of tree felling, to use the timber from mature conifers and to clear the land so that sandy heathland habitat can return, encouraging rare species such as Dartford Warblers, Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes. Heathland is a rare and important habitat, but people living nearby are not happy to see well loved woodland disappear.

The view from the southern trig point, across the Avon Valley and down across flat land towards the sea. On a clear day, the hills of the Isle of Wight show clearly from this spot.
All along the hill slopes, the stumps of familiar trees left a stark landscape behind.

A faint haze of spring green topped the trees down in the valley, beside the small holdings. A ribbon of river twisted its way through grass watermeadows, between the belts of trees.

Across the heathland of Town Common, the faint shape of the Priory Church tower rises through mist over Christchurch.

We took a narrow path at the edge of the hill, where tree roots jutted over the edge and a steep slope ran down beside us, into the valley.

On the hill top, stands of pines dropped small brown cones in bramble clearings.

Piles of pine trunks, from forestry clearance, waited in the valley bottom amongst the heather.

Old Corsican Pines make fine natural sculptures........

Bare, felled slopes where heather will one day grow......

....and pines with shiny, knotted roots beside the path.

Sand was once quarried at the top of the hill and a small lake remains. Sands of strange yellows and reds are exposed among the trees.

In areas of cleared heathland , heather and gorse have grown undisturbed for several years. Unlike New Forest heath, which is grazed by ponies and cattle, this heather is able to grow uninterrupted, interspersed with dwarf gorse and lichen. These are the places where Sand Lizards can sometimes be seen on hot summer days, basking in the sun.

We crunched our way back across the pine wood floor, finding cones from Corsican Pines that had been feasted upon by squirrels.....

...and an ironwork trace of long-ago human industry, when the sand was extracted and men trudged up the hill to days of hard manual labour in the quarry.

This hill is a special, peaceful place amidst the traffic and bustle of the built-up coast. The cool mist of Saturday kept other walkers away so we met few people as we climbed down the steep homeward path through quiet, pine scented woods, towards the edge of town.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Forest Smallholding

This week has been the best time of spring, so far. Warm, sunny days when buds are opening and the grass is growing, almost as you watch. Beautiful days spent outside, catching up with jobs in the fields and in the garden. Washing dries on the line and smells of fresh air. Seeds are waiting to be planted. Dawn and dusk are filled with the song of woodland birds.

One afternoon this week, I visited an old friend who lives towards the north of the New Forest. She has a smallholding, tucked away along a quiet lane. First, we walked across the fields to visit her gentle, bay New Forest pony (above). He loves people and cantered across the grass to see us.

We returned to the yard and visited the free range chickens, who live happily alongside a fine, bronze turkey. The turkey was in fine fettle and displayed to us in all his springtime glory! He once had a wife, but she died ( of natural causes - these two were hatched here and are/were pets). He now has a close relationship, apparently, with the little black Polish Pom Pom hen following him in the third picture!

The Polish Pom Pom strides out.......

Most of the hens are Rhode Island Reds. 90% of them are former battery hens who are now making up for lost time. They have a wonderful field, well enclosed, where they can scratch and play throughout the daylight hours.

Hens are difficult to photograph in a time delayed camera . Every time I "caught" them digging a scrape, or pecking for grain, they turned their backs on me.........

One contented hen, off for a walk.

This scene reminded me of the old fashioned farmyard story books that I loved as a child.

One of the goats in her paddock. Her friend had sneaked out through a gap in the fence and was nibbling hawthorn shoots in the garden hedge.

Driving home, I met a herd of commoners` cattle, making their way down to the heathland to graze.

I stopped the car and waited for them to squeeze past in the narrow lane. Some of them were very pregnant and very wide!

Driving westwards........

....I passed a family out riding, with horses and dogs, at Appleslade.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

"Spring" - a poem by Christina Rossetti

A poem that echoes this beautiful , ambivalent spring. Here, life is bursting from the earth again and the birds are nesting in trees and hedges. On our television screens, is the violence and tyranny of mankind under the skies of Libya and the horror of loss and destruction that nature has brought to Japan.


Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;
Curled headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.

There is no time like Spring,
When life`s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track-
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack,-
Before the daisy grows a common flower,
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.

There is no time like Spring,
Like Spring that passes by:
There is no life like Spring-life born to die,-
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bow,
Strong on the wing;
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.

by Christina Rossetti

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Stranger in a Forest Lane

As I walked up a Forest lane this week, between cottages, gardens and paddock hedges, I was surprised to find this lovely stranger among the native trees. A mature Mimosa Tree, the Australian Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata, was growing at the end of someone`s garden and the bright, fluffy yellow blossoms overhung the lane.

Up behind some cottages, I followed a track and looked over a field gate. Great, mature oak trees spread their branches against a blue evening sky. The oaks grew alongside holly trees, so may have been part of an old hedgerow, long overgrown.

Hazel catkins hung from the hedge beside the gate.

I walked further up the lane. Over a fence, another row of oak trees stood above the line of a managed hedge. Grass is greening in the pastures now. At home, we have noticed that the ponies are losing interest in their evening hay.

The track up the hill, in evening shadow.

Bright moss beneath the trees.

More oaks, festooned with ivy, provide a habitat for numerous species of birds and insects. In full summer leaf, these gnarled old trees will give grazing ponies a welcome shelter from the sun.