2018 / 80
13:00 – 16:00
Bright and clear afternoon 6°C. Light Northerly breeze
November continues to be as changeable as ever. Temperatures since the last frosty morning visit have risen to 13°C with winds and rain from the south and another blast of grey from the east to just about everything in between. This week looks set to be no different, with today forecast as the coldest and driest day for another week.
I arrived (via the Chilworth Arms) with the dog just after lunch, with time and intention to do a thorough circuit and spend a bit of quality time in the Wood
There’s a Goldcrest singing in Woodside, and a buzz of Blue, Coal and Great Tits. At least three Robins singing, and plenty of Blackbirds in the various gardens. A helicopter bursts over. Red. In its peaceful wake, a Buzzard cries.
There is less wind but no more birds than I anticipated over the farmland, and it feels surprisingly sheltered on the bridleway walking northwards. A group of Redwing dive into the holly bush, and move further in as we pass rather than exiting over the fields. I can here them rustling around inside.
A dark, slate grey sky dominates the north and west, a backdrop against which the low sun illuminates the buildings scattered among rows of glowing autumn trees. The light glints on a party of Black-headed Gulls grazing among the black cattle, and on the iridescent plumage of the corvids scattered over the distant fields. There are two birds in the sky, circling above the wood, and for a moment I assume they are Buzzards. The higher one is, but the second – and with it a third – are clearly Ravens, though the sunlight on their spread wings gives them a silver and brownish appearance. Two magnificent Ravens, and over the next few minutes they circle slowly and drift closer until they are directly overhead, gently ‘talking’ to each other. The chosen vocabulary today is one of porcine snorts and grunts, loud contact calls as they drift apart and off towards the pylons. By the time I arrive at the Roughs, there is one perched up on a pylon to the west, shouting angrily at a couple of crows giving it an unnecessary hard time. The second bird is nowhere to be seen: I can only assume this is one of the pair and not a third.
In the meanwhile, the Buzzard has come down too, on the recently cut hedge that divides the cattle pastures and runs parallel to the power lines. The local crows aren’t too happy about this either – watching this action helps me pick up a group of dozen or so Starlings that I probably overlook on most other occasions. There’s a fuss behind me now, and I expect to see a Raven up, but instead a second Buzzard has arrived.
Otherwise in the bushes around the tree clearance, I can see and hear more Redwings, Blackbirds, Robins and the infrequent calls of Chaffinch, Nuthatch and more Goldcrests.
On the way back up, I pass a Song Thrush at the fieldgate; and there is a Pied Wagtail sitting on the cattle trough. This time the Redwings do leave as we approach their favourite bush – 22 of them shoot off into the garden on the left, whistling and chattering.
A check of the time as I get to the footpath, and it’s been an hour since we arrived. Slow time, wandering across the fields. From here, the light is even more impressive and the oaks especial look beautiful against the grey sky. But it’s only grey now directly to the north – all around otherwise it is bright and blue. The path is muddy again, and slippery under the damp leaves. It is particularly wet turning into the wood where – somehow! – the horseriders pick their way along between the young firs. I can hear Coal Tits, a Nuthatch, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and ‘something’ is different.
FC have cut a new swathe, a deep bay behind the briars back in towards the stream that defines the bottom of Q4. A part of the wood I have never really explored. It penetrates 20 -30m and creates an openness that must benefit flowing plants and hopefully more pollinating insects. It is very wet here now though, and the tractor ruts are deep-filled with brown water – walking up towards the cleared area is becoming characteristically difficult. From here to the seat there are signs that horses have found the descent slippery. the north side of this track too has been cut back, even to the extent of layering some of the young birch and hazel. They have been busy.
The west and south quarters of the cleared area are in shadow already. A Jay calls, and the trio of Magpies crashing around in the middle brings up all six ‘local’ corvids for this afternoon’s list. There are less thrushes active this time of day – I can only really see 3 or 4 Mistle Thrushes, and one group of Greenfinches bouncing about of between 15 and 20 birds. A tit flock passes over in the Chilworth corner, comprising LTT, Blue Tits and a few Godlcrests – as well as one fabulous Treecreeper. Great to watch every time, and this one seems to like the underside of the silver birch its climbing, meaning it spends most of its scuttle upside down.
Scanning for Stonechat – one day. I am ever hopeful – I feel at peace, and enjoy a sens eof stewardship and belonging. The spirituality of this Wood is enhancing and affirming in a way like no other place I know. To just walk, and be led by your feet. In a place away from signage and virtual information. Read instead the voices and language of nature, and enter a world that is not only real, but commonplace and without pretence or grandeur. There is an inscape of vignettes at every turn, and the knowledge is observational.
My own “nature writing” draws from the same leaf mulch as Roger Deakin, Robert Macfarlane John Sempel-Lewis et al, and they have all inspired me in similar ways over that last 18 months or so. I am delighted to walk among them and experience such well-being.
It is a delight to be here today. The only concern I have regarding the most recent clearance work comes as I descend the Crossing and become aware that one can now, from here, see quite some distance into Upper Velmore. Previously, this has been one of the more secluded paths within the Wood, but already equestrians now pass through. MY fear is that the Hobbies will be a little more exposed now, and perhaps put off next season? That remains to be seen of course, and six months of grass and understorey regrowth may fill in some of the vulnerable spaces I see to the moment…?
There is still time to enjoy the light on the middle of the wood, and I return to the viewpoint just a few minutes after 3pm. Mid-afternoon. Dog has for some time now been trying to interest me in a particularly large stick he has carried for a while, and I am inclined to give in. We tug, growl at each other; throw, return. Pull. He runs ahead to the seat and looks back at me. I nod. he knows and lies down to chew the stick at his leisure.
One of the Ravens drifts back over, but apart from a coupel of Stock Doves, there is little movement other than that of the light. The sunfall recedes quickly into the canopy in a reverse of morning.
Where the tracks join, there is another tit flock. Fussing and noisy. Among them, two more Treecreepers. The most secret of avian denizens perhaps. A Firecrest calls persistently, and all is – as they say – right with the world for a moment.
Back at Marshalls, I am rather taken by the open vista at the bottom. Opposite the new swathe, I overlooked on arrival that a large clump of mixed scrub has been removed “behind me”, opposite the Roman Road line where the ash trees stand. It is fascinating to observe even simple and familiar views from the opposite direction. How will this affect things? Grass, I think will benefit here most and hopefully some foundational plant species. The resilience and regenerative power of the natural world is waiting, and I anticipate with a pastoral and quite excitement that lifts my spirit into the misty, fading sunlight of late afternoon