The Earth tilts by 23.5 degrees in relation to its plane of orbit. What that means I have no idea but I do know that if it didn’t tilt we would be without seasons. Seasons bring change to nature and provide so much to look forward to. Whether it be the first snowdrops of late Winter or the bronze colour leaves falling from our tress in Autumn it is all thanks to that 23.5 degree tilt.
March 21st is a date I look forward to. It marks the first day of Spring, my favourite season. The Sun passes north through the Earth’s equator and daylight hours triumph over dark hours up until the Summer Solstice. My heart sunk though as I watched the weather forecast last night. I wanted to know if the weather would be on my side to escape for a few minutes with my camera today. The forecaster proudly announced that yesterday was the Spring Equinox. I had missed it by a day as this year Spring Equinox was the 20th. Who cares I still got out today for a few minutes with my camera. Lets hope its a good Spring and roll on the Summer Solstice on the 21st June. Or is the 20th this year!
My eldest daughter recently asked if I could help her out on her new allotment. I gladly said yes but then she dropped a bombshell. She asked if I could help her plant a mixture of apple, plum and pear trees. I have had an allotment myself for many years, in fact many decades, and I have to admit that I have never grown fruit trees. This was all new to me. It was going to be a new adventure and I hope one that will bear fruit. Apologies for the pun but I couldn’t resist it.
I thought it would be a straight forward job, just dig a hole and plant a tree. That was going to be the easy part. I hadn’t reckoned on the various choices of tree that were available. Initially bamboozled by terms for their sizes such as M26, M9, MM11 and M27 I was then stumped by the choice of do I buy self pollinators or trees that require pollinators. After half an hour at the garden centre I was beginning to wish I had said I would just stick to lettuces and carrots. Anyway they have now all been planted so lets see what happens in the coming months and years.
One of the joys of late winter is the glorious sight of the dangling yellow catkins of the Hazel Tree. These striking flowers send the cheerful message that Winter will soon be over. The catkins are the male flowers and very easily grab your attention. Last year I chatted to a forestry worker who told me to take a closer look. He said if I looked close enough I would hopefully see the equally impressive female flower. On my travels this week I did and I was lucky enough to find the small scarlet coloured flowers that are no more than 2 mm in size.
The pollen from the catkins is not sticky. This prevents the few insects that are around in Winter from collecting it. The trees rely purely on wind pollination. The end result of all this are Hazel Nuts in early Autumn. The squirrels will almost certainly beat me to the crop later on in the year but hopefully a few will be missed that I can be pick for myself.
With the Christmas and New Year festivities over diversions are needed to escape the dark dreary nights of January. For me, this has been found by singing to apple tress! This is wassailing or in Sussex known as apple howling. Initially I found it a good excuse to have a pint but the more wassails I have attended the more I have found these ancient rituals interesting as well as a great way to connect with nature whilst in the depths of winter.
Organised wassailing events seem to be getting increasingly popular. More often than not they involve the local Morris Men. Wassails traditionally take place around the twelfth night, either the 5th or 6th January or using the old pre-Gregorian calendar 17th January. The ceremony centres around the oldest tree in the orchard. One thing for certain is that there will be a great deal of noise. Sticks, drums, pots and pans are used to awaken the trees and chase bad spirits from the orchard. Some people even bring whistles and in years gone by shot guns were used. I am not sure this will ever comply with today’s health and safety laws. Toast is then soaked in cider and hung from trees before a bowl of cider from the previous year’s crop poured over the roots of the tree. This is all to encourage a good crop for this autumn.
Over the years I have visited Wassails in Tarring, Slindon and this weekend I went to Steyning. The ceremonies have all been different and have varied in one way or another. You are guaranteed to put on a few extra layers of clothing because one thing for certain is that it will be a cold evening. I took this rather badly shot video of the Mythago Morris Men performing at Steyning. Apologises in advance if it does not give them the credit they deserve. Mythago Morris are not your typical image of Morris Men but they are very entertaining and excellent performers.
Walks have been few and far between over the last few months but in the middle of October I met up with a couple of old school friends for a walk to explore part of Chichester Harbour. Armed with an Ordnance Survey Explorer OL8 map we set off early one Saturday morning from Chichester Railway Station.
Chichester To Itchenor
Road walking is never enjoyable and in order to reduce it whilst in the town we headed in the direction of the Chichester Canal Basin. Here we begun to follow the towpath along the canal in a southerly direction. The canal formed a section of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal which was opened in 1822 and provided a link between Portsmouth and London. Today the Chichester Canal has been restored and is a haven for wildlife. On a few lucky occasions I have seen Kingfishers along the bank but unfortunately this walk was not one of them. The canal conveniently took us underneath the very busy A27. About 500 yards past the A27 we turned off the towpath and headed through a residential area to the A286 which takes people to and from the Witterings and Chichester and gets extremely busy during the weekends in the summer months.
Unfortunately a little more roadwork as we headed south for half a mile until a footpath took us towards Apuldram. We kept heading in a westerly direction and after a few more minutes we got our first glimpse of the harbour. The vast natural harbour is home to large numbers of birds especially waders as well as various mammals such as seals, water voles and bats. Once at the edge of the waters edge we now turned north and followed the harbour to the outskirts of the village of Fishbourne. Fishbourne is home to the remains of Fishbourne Roman Palace. The Roman building was built in 75AD and is the largest residential building discovered from Roman times. The footpath now follows the course of the harbour on the western side. Eventually the footpath turned sharp right away from the harbour and we started walking towards Bosham. Bosham is a picturesque coastal village which is a centre for sailing. King Harold sailed from Bosham in 1064 to Normandy to negotiate with William. It is also believed that Bosham was the scene where King Canute ordered back the waves. From Bosham we carried on heading south until we reached the Itchenor ferry pick up spot.
Unless we were prepared to swim our only option to get onto the Itchenor side of the harbour was to catch the ferry. We took the dry option.. It was now low tide so a little walk and a few minutes wait to be picked up. Out of nowhere between anchored and moored yachts the ferry appeared. After trying to work out where the ferry will moor the ferry lowered a ramp and we jumped onboard. £2.50 well spent and soon we were across the water to Itchenor. We quickly found the local pub “The Ship” and popped in for coffees and teas. Although only a small village being a sailing community there was plenty of activity.
Itchenor To West Wittering
After a well earned rest we joined the long distance path New Lipchis Way which run alongside the harbour front and walked in the direction of West Wittering. The New Lipchis Way is a path between Liphook and Chichester Harbour totalling 39 miles. There are splendid views of Thorney Island and East Head from the path. East Head is owned by the National Trust and is a Sight of Special Scientific Interest. The sand and shingle spit provides protection to the harbour from erosion and flooding.
Time was against us as well as tired legs and when we were level with East Head we took a footpath and turned inland to West Wittering. West Wittering is believed to be the last pagan outpost in England. In AD683 Wilfrid the exiled Bishop of York arrived and this coincided with a long draught ending. This helped him to win over the local population and convert the area to Christianity. It would have been quite handy if Wilfrid had appeared at my allotment this summer. The relentless evenings spent watering the plot would have been resolved. We stopped at the Old House At Home for some lunch in the beer garden. Sitting a little longer in the afternoon sun was quite a temptation but we had to get on. Now fully refreshed we set off for the journey back.
West Wittering To Chichester
We left West Wittering walking eastwards along Elms Lane and then taking a footpath on the left hand side up to the B2179 road. This is a busy road and not very wide so we to keep an eye out to stay safe as there was no footpath in places. After about 300 yards a footpath takes you into a holiday park and then onto Redlands Farm. We carried on heading in a north westerly direction and soon joined the New Lipchis Way again which took us to Birdham Pool and Chichester Marina. At the marina we met up with the Chichester Canal again as it meets the sea. From the marina we headed north by taking the footpath across the farmland to Dell Quay. We were not aware at the time as the footpath is not showing on the Ordnance Survey map but we could have walked through Salterns Copse and along the shoreline path up to Dell Quay. Maybe that’s an option for another day. At Dell Quay we couldn’t resist another stop and so we paid a visit to the Crown And Anchor. This pub has superb views across the harbour and a large outdoor terrace that we sat in and enjoyed the autumn evening. The fight against time had been lost, the sun was setting and dusk was on its way. We made our way back to the A286 and the inevitable road walking. Crossing the dual carriageway A27 has been made easy with the footbridge at the Stockbridge roundabout and the railway station was not far into the town.
It was an enjoyable walk of just over 20 miles on flat terrain with the weather on our side. As well as plentiful wildlife and varied geology I hadn’t realised the history in those 20 miles. From the largest Roman palace, the last Pagan stronghold, King Canute unable to control the elements, King Harold’s trip to the continent and possible burial at Bosham Church up to the modern times and the Rolling Stones drugs bust at Redlands in the sixties. If time doesn’t allow a full day the walk can easily be shortened at Itchenor. Go east on the New Lipchis Way to Birdham rather than west to East Head. Maybe for another time a walk on the Chidham peninsular to the west of Bosham could be an idea.
As Summer finally gives way to the relentless pressure of Autumn it has been easy to make comparisons with the memorable summer of 1976. This year’s summer equalled the record breaking summer temperature of 1976. Time does play tricks with the mind but 1976 seemed more carefree and idyllic. Although we had to contend with communal standpipes, the appointment of a Minister for Draught, empty reservoirs and a plague of ladybirds life seemed to be so much more carefree and relaxed. Maybe then the majority of us were oblivious to the problems of global warming and the harmful effect of the suns rays on our skin and so summers now appear more serious and less fun.
The sunny days this summer has though certainly helped to provide plenty of sightings of butterflies and they appeared abundant in the meadows and woodlands. The following photos were all taken in West Sussex over the summer months.
This year the first butterflies appeared in numbers during the warm spell in early April a few weeks after the late snow in March. There were plenty of Peacocks, Brimstones and Red Admirals in flight. In the hedgerow and meadows in late Spring and early Summer saw plenty of Gatekeepers, Small Heaths and Meadow Browns cohabiting together. In the woods in early summer White Admirals and Silver Washed Fritillaries could be seen in sunny glades and rides. I noticed though that the Honeysuckle where the Silver Washed Fritillaries lay their eggs was already dieing back. This could possibly have an effect on next years population. We will have to wait and see. As the summer progressed Speckled Woods appeared in large numbers in the woods. On the chalk grasslands of the South Downs it was good to see plenty of Common Blue amongst other species.
One butterfly that did escape me this summer was the elusive Purple Emperor. This magnificent butterfly can be found in the trees tops of woodland. Hopefully next year I will have better success in tracking them down. Lets hope the Winter isn’t too harsh for the butterflies and other wildlife and we have as good a summer in 2019 as we did this year.
As Spring moves far too quickly into Summer I thought I had better find time to write about Spring flowers before Autumn and Winter are upon us once more and they have become a distant memory.
The first signs that Winter is ending and that Spring will soon emerge are Snowdrops flowering during the middle of January, although in certain parts of the country there were sightings of Snowdrops before Christmas this year. The Latin name is Galanthus nivalus which translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’. They are not a native species but now thrive in Britain. Look out for them in woodland and on river banks where the damp conditions favour them. Their white flowers have six petals arranged in two circles on a single stem. If we are fortunate enough to have mild weather in the early couple of months of the year pollinators will collect nectar and pollen from the flowers. Because they cannot rely on pollinators Snowdrops spread mainly by bulb division.
A walk along the river bank, pond or marshland during late March will see the first flowers of the Marsh Marigold begin to appear. These bright yellow flowers have five petals on stems with contrasting shiny green roundish to heart-shaped leaves. This is one of Britain’s oldest native plants and was must probably much more widespread before the drainage of land for agriculture use begun. The Marsh Marigold’s common name is Kingcup and the Latin name Caltha translates into goblet. The photo on the left was taken from the tow path along the bank of the Chichester Canal near to the village of Hunston.
A welcome sight in Spring are the flowers of the primrose and the native plants have a pale cream flower. It is not uncommon for primroses to form hybrids with their relatives the Oxslip and the Cowslip. Along with snowdrops they are one of the first plants to flower at the beginning of the year. The name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning first rose. Like many of the Spring flowering plants they prefer damp places such as woodland, hedgebanks and roadside verges. Nectar is located right at the base of the flower tube which means that only long tongued insects such as Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies can reach it.
The Cowslip (pictured to the left) is a close relative of the primrose and flowers a little later in Spring during April and May. The Cowslip has been in serious decline due to loss of habitat and meadows coloured with its yellow flowers are now a rarity.
By the beginning of April the verges of the country lanes start to come alive with wild flowers. The photo on the right shows Cuckoo Flower and Lesser Celandine growing together. Cuckoo Flower also known as Lady’s Smock have lilac flowers and are found on wet meadows. They flower from April to late May. The plant gets its name as it generally tends to come into bloom when the first sounds of the cuckoo are heard. Lesser Celandine is also found in damp areas along the banks of rivers, woodland and wet meadows. The reflective yellow flowers have eight petals and is a member of the buttercup family. They begin to flower in early Spring when few insects are about and so spread mainly by root tubers which break away from the parent plant rather than seed.
A Spring flowering plant that has become increasingly popular especially amongst culinary enthusiasts is Wild Garlic, also known as Ramsons. This member of the Allium family, Allium ursinum, forms white flowers consisting of six petals which form into clusters. The leaves which grow from the base of the stem give a garlic odour. There are various recipes using Wild Garlic which can be found with a quick search online. If you are picking the leaves to eat do not confuse them with the similar Lily Of The Valley which is very poisonous.
The deciduous woodlands in Spring are home to many wild Spring flowers before the light is shaded by the emerging tree leaves. One of the first to flower are the wood anemones. These form a carpet of low laying delicate white flowers. They spread rapidly by underground rhizomes just below the surface. Soon after that the small flowers of Dog Violets and the upright Early Purple Orchids with their spotted leaves come into flower. These flowers then appear to pave the way for the woods to be blanketed in swathes of blue with the emergence of the iconic Spring flower Bluebells. They flower between April and May before the leaves on the trees have fully emerged. This year they flowered a little later than normal probably due to the cold spell we experienced at the beginning of March. The photo of the Bluebells at the top of the page was taken in Angmering Park which is just east of Arundel. The photo below was taken whilst walking on Leigh Hill, Surrey.
Originally published on 4th March 2018 in www.urbanescpaist.wordpress.com
Down here on the south coast it looked as though we were going to escape snow this winter but the Siberian winds and Storm Emma put pay to that. It was nowhere near the levels of snow seen in some other parts of the country which were issued with red weather warnings but we got some snow! It was enough that I couldn’t resist getting out my camera and taking some photos. The photo above was taken at the enchanting Swanbourne Lake in Arundel Park.
This winter I aimed to dispel my belief that the period of time between December and the end of February was dark and bleak and which I am pleased to say I did. Nature offers plenty of colour in winter but as I have found more effort is needed to discover it than during other seasons.
I normally associate fungi with Autumn but whilst walking through Ebernoe Common on a damp day at the beginning of February the spectacular looking fungi Scarlet Elf Cup was seen growing in the woods. This was the first time I had seen this colourful fungi and there was a group of five or six partially hidden under decaying leaves and moss. I was taken aback by their amazing colour which makes them stand out against the dull background at this time of the ye. The fungi can be found on decaying sticks and branches in damp areas of deciduous woodland. They have a particular liking for hazel, elm and willow. The fungi can be found from Winter to early Spring and as they age their colour changes from a deep red to a lighter orange.
I had assumed Winter was a dormant season with nature taking a few months off to rest before Spring. I was proved wrong again whilst out walking in early January I noticed that Hazel catkins had already developed on the trees. These catkins commonly known as lambs tails are the flowers of the Hazel tree. Hazel is monoecious and so both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. The male flower shown in the photograph on the right forms first and after it has released its pollen the female flower forms. The female flowers look completely different to the males, they are very small and bud like with red styles. The female flowers are so easy to miss as we all look at the obvious catkins. The female flower forms after the male flowers have released their pollen to avoid cross pollination as they need to be pollinated by other trees.
As January headed towards February I noticed snowdrops had begun to flower. These are probably one of the finest sights in late Winter and a reminder that Spring is on its way. They add a valuable optimism to the late Winter setting. I took the photo below at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.
Snowdrops are found in many woodlands, gardens and parks but records only go back to the 18th century so it is not clear whether they are native to Great Britain. As snowdrops flower so early in the year there are not many pollinating insects available to help with cultivation so they mainly spread by bulb division. Alongside river banks this is helped by movement of the soil from flooded rivers moving bulbs whilst in woodland numbers the division occurs when trees being uprooted and soil movement by animals.
I noticed this Winter that sunrises and sunsets appear much more vivid than in Summer. The colours are stronger and here on the South Coast with the sun is lower we are lucky to witness both sunsets and sunrises out at sea. The Winter also provides us with the added luxury that we do not have to get up really early in the morning or stay up late to see them which is a bonus for anyone who likes their sleep. Unfortunately I was without a camera for most of the sun rises and sets I saw but hopefully I will be able to catch more next year.
As we approach Spring I am already looking forward to next winter to see what else can be discovered and a photo of a female Hazel flower is a must.
Originally published on 31st December 2017 in www.urbanescapist.wordpress.com
I normally set out on a walk with an intention to look at different aspects of nature depending on the season but my walk last Thursday was to be different and it was to visit the Canadian Mark ll Churchill tank left on Kithurst Hill after the 2nd World War. This part of the South Downs from the Southdowns Way between Chantry Hill and Rackham Hill and then south to Wepham Down and Angmering Park has become a favourite place to walk for me over the last few years. There are various routes I normally take to reach my destination but today because my 5 year grandson was coming with me and together with my two youngest daughters who are in the middle of a fitness regime I chose the shortest from Kithurst Hill car park. Using a 5 year old as a cover to hide my excesses and over indulgence during the festive period is a little lame but I think I got away with it. Anyway he was pleased to find some snow that had settled on the top of the downs from the wintry showers we have had over the last couple of days. The car park can be reached by taking the road off from the B2139 linking Amberley and Storrington. The route to the tank can be found quite easily from the car park by taking the south easterly path over the field which leads to a patch of trees and a crossing of paths. Turn right and follow the path a few yards in a south westerly direction and then as the trees finish the tank appears on your right. Every time I visit this spot I am taken aback by the silence and calmness of the surroundings which 75 years ago would have been a contrast to today when the area was used for military training by the Canadian army.
The tank left on the downs was part of the 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion who were preparing for the raid on Dieppe on the 19th August 1942 and was to prove unfortunately very costly to the Canadian forces. The tank had broken down due to mechanical problems and possibly due to the forthcoming Dieppe Raid and the replacement by the Mark III it was deemed not worth repairing. Instead it was handed over to the 2nd Canadian Army Division who used it for target practice . The amount of bullet holes in the side of the tank is evidence of this. When the war finished due to lack of accessibility to the spot where the tank was left the clearance teams rolled it into a nearby bomb crater. In 1993 the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers dug the tank back up. The turret and various other parts were removed and taken to the Tank Museum in Dorset where they were used to repair other exhibits and the remainder of the tank was left where it remains to this day.
The tank is just one reminder of the presence of the Canadian army in the area during the second world war. Other reminders are the Canadian memorial on Worthing seafront near to the Grand Avenue junction and in Durrington many of the roads where the Canadian camp was situated are named after Canadian towns and cities. On the downs themselves there is also a barn called Canada on the road coming from North Stoke near Camp Hill where troops were training. Too much of a coincidence not to be connected I guess.
Originally published on 16th December 2017 in www.urbanescapist.wordpress.com
Winter has always been my least favourite of the four seasons and the season I have appreciated least of all. To me it has always appeared comfortless, bleak, unwelcoming and I pass the days waiting for Spring to arrive. This pessimistic view of mine means the virtual loss of three months from my calendar as I wait for the days to pass. This Winter I have decided to not let this happen and intend to make every attempt to appreciate the season. There must be some hidden beauty that I am missing and so instead of hiding away at home on these cold days I will be heading into the countryside and hopefully discover all that I have neglected in previous years.
The mild and dry November ended abruptly here on the south coast with December descending upon us with a marked contrast in temperature and bringing with it rain. Throughout the country there has seen plenty of snow this week although down here it has a habit of missing us and so far we have not had the pleasure of a white ground covering of snow.
Late last Sunday afternoon I managed to find a couple of spare hours and drove over to Arundel to walk around Arundel Park. This week as we approach the Winter equinox it is just about as early as it gets for the sun to set so I did not have too much time on my hands. On my last visit the trees were displaying some magnificent colours but the frosts over the last couple of weeks have taken the last remaining leaves from the trees leaving a bare framework of branches. One particular Oak tree looked magnificent against the blue skyline. The strong winds from the previous week had done a splendid job pruning the tree of its dead wood and the fallen branches were laying on the ground beneath the tree. On a number of these branches lichen could be seen growing on the dead wood.
The lichen impressed me with its delicate and complex structure. My knowledge and recognition of the various forms of lichen compares to the same extremely low level I have of fungi. I took the above photo and hoped I would have better success in tracing it’s name than I did in the Autumn months with the various fungi I photographed. Luckily for me as it was fairly common and growing on an Oak tree I found it fairly quickly on the Internet and identified it as Oak Moss Lichen (Evernia prunastri). I hope I am correct. Lichens are strange organisms being an association between a fungus and an alga. Both parties cooperate together for survival and growth. So this is a true hidden beauty of winter, hidden away from us during the rest of the year by the leaves growing on the trees and revealing itself only once those leaves have fallen.
As I walked back to the entrance by the Arundel Castle Cricket Ground the loss of the deciduous leaves and ground covering had revealed plenty of holly with its striking red berries. Folklore suggests that if there are plenty of berries then we will be in for a cold winter. If that is correct then this winter will be especially harsh as the bushes were laden.
As I neared the car there was a kestrel perched on a telegraph pole surveying the area beneath it. Winter is well and truly alive and I look forward to spending the next few months discovering more of what nature has to offer in this season. I am now beginning to realise Winter does offer beauty and finding it will be an interesting challenge.