Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Local Walk

for local people... (joke credit: The League of Gentlemen)

So over on Ravelry Lynn promised she'd post a local walk if I did. Mine starts in the village, with a photo looking back at the Old Bakehouse, the cream building on the right. The bakery closed decades ago, long before we moved here in the late 1980s; the house and outbuildings housed a variety of small businesses until last year, when the outbuildings were demolished to build new homes. I think they've just sold the last one. The wall on the left is built of flint set in lime mortar, one of the expensive traditional building materials in this area (the technical term for a local building style or material is 'vernacular', as used of language: in effect, the building materials are the words spoken by an area. I like that). The bricks are repairs.
Walk south, down the longest road in the village. This is just an 'average' village, not particularly pretty or hideous. Blogging reminds me of the contrast with North America: we'd forgotten how much the same all the houses in a suburb are. All built at the same time, in settlements with room to expand, there has as yet been no need for the adding-on of rooms, the infilling of gardens and farmyards with yet more houses that you see here.
Click for bigger. Look down the road to the right; that pale cream gable end is one of the older houses in the village, and there's another across the street that you can't see. From that point to where we stand the houses are relatively new, built on what had been arable fields, pasture, and gardens as people began to move into the village from the late 1960s on. The terrace of one-up, one-down houses across the road from us isn't shown on a map of 1828, but it and the house to the left are shown in 1948. This may have been housing for men working on the new farms created by Enclosure in the late 1820s. Pause to admire the appletree covered with mistletoe a little further down the road. There's a surprising amount of mistletoe in this area, often missed because it's growing high in poplars rather than low on fruit trees.
Just a little further and we turn left/east, onto a wide green lane.
Seen after the leaves have fallen, the hedge records its, er, mismanagement :-/ I have painful memories of our local conservation group's attempts to manage this green lane for wildlife as well as people. At this point the hedges are mainly elm. The famed Dutch Elm Disease is a fungus that rarely kills hedgerow elms; the roots usually survive to send up new shoots. If the regrowth never grows large enough to develop the characteristics that attract the beetles that carry the fungal spores, the elms usually thrive and can take over a hedge, eliminating other species. That's what has happened in this stretch, which would originally have been planted hawthorn.
There's a slightly blurry elm leaf (it was blowing a cold westerly gale this morning!) showing the characteristic asymmetry at the base. The wider landscape looks like this:
again, click for bigger. The houses of the village are visible to the left, beyond a field sown with oilseed rape (canola to North Americans). The trees in the centre edge a ditch/brook that starts (at left) where a spring once rose from the chalk under our feet. Aerial photos show the cropmarks of what was probably an Iron Age village under the winter wheat to the right of the trees; they may have relied on the spring for water. Like many wells in this area, the spring is now generally dry: water abstraction for agriculture has lowered the water table. Not a spectacular landscape, but you can see why someone who loves the Prairies might feel at home under the sky.

Carry on walking. Where there are no spectaculars to marvel at, I look for small wonders. Walking along the edge of a ploughed field, I found this flint chip:
Oxidation/weathering would give it a white coating; the lack of it and smooth glossy surface means this is relatively recently exposed. I don't know if you can see the slight curved rounded area on the edge closest to my finger, and the way that wrinkles in the flint radiate from it as ripples from a stone thrown in a lake, but as a trainee fieldwalker I was told that's a good sign that the flint was deliberately struck (as opposed to being hit at random by a ploughshare, or other rock during ploughing). So that may be a chip struck by a flintworker here, sometime in the last 4, 6, 8 or more thousand years. The next field to the south is unploughed, still the stubble of last year's crop. In previous years it might have been scheduled for set-aside, but in the current market it's more likely to be a spring-sown crop.
Back to the track, where I am saddened by the state of the hedge. Cut so thin that I can see through it (and if I, an incompetent primate, can do so, rest assured predators such as magpies will have little trouble finding the nests of small birds) and sadly lacking berries due to annual trimming in the autumn before the birds need them.
Look at something else. Everywhere there are signs of rabbit: the grass is nibbled short, there are paths in the grasses leading to their burrows in the hedge.
A little further and we come to the point where we leave the track, through a kissing gate and onto a footpath across an arable field.
The clay is slippery and wet, but recent rains have washed the mud away from interesting things. Small wonders.
Not my boot - that's for scale! The thin white tube to the right of my foot is a fragment of the stem of a clay pipe, a common find in the fields: the pipes were fragile and broke easily. Not necessarily when people were working the fields: middens or refuse piles of household rubbish were used to manure the fields. You wouldn't have to look hard to spot fragments of pottery - blue-and-white Victorian, red medieval and even grey common Roman lying in the mud. Straight in front of my foot is half a walnut. Seen any walnut trees yet? No, because if there'd been one on our route, I'd have shown it to you. Rooks raid walnut trees and carry the nuts high in the sky before dropping them to shatter (with luck) on the ground and reveal the nutmeat. Broken walnuts are regular finds in these fields in late autumn.
Over the stile into the community wood planted about ten years ago, and down the short steep slope of what used to be a quarry. From the edge of the wood the path crosses a short strip of someone's crop almost completed destroyed by rabbits, then follows the edge of the quarry slope.
Until we see a sea of nettles on low ground. Nettles are an indicator of phosphate enrichment: we are at the base of a large, shallow hollow, and rainwater has washed fertile soil and modern fertiliser down to this point.
Between the nettles and the willows and other trees lies one of the very, very few patches of open water in this landscape.
The bottom of the pool is covered with the same fine, nutrient-rich silt that created the nettle bed. The water flows into it from a pipe driven into a chalk spring:

Local history has it that there are other pipes driven into the chalk in the pond itself; 15 years ago, when the pond had been cleared and dredged, I think I saw some areas of the surface trembling gently on a windless summer day, so the stories may well be true. The springs were enhanced 60 years ago, when this became a watercress farm. The cress survives, but I'm not going to eat it - there's too many snails here now (snails are involved in the transmission of Liver Fluke to humans).
A little further downstream is a lovely view of the stream as it leaves the springs for the arable fields.
On the edge of the wooded area someone has been inspired to create... something. A sculpture?
From here it's a short walk on a footpath (originally the cart track to the quarry, which produced chalk and 'clunch', a soft limestone found in layers in the chalk that was used for building) to the next village.
And from there it's a short walk back to the road on which I'll walk home:


Lynn said...

Fascinating. You're reading the landscape, especially the human history of it. My hike tomorrow won't be quite so full of human influence - at least, not such obvious influence. Thank you!

Marcy said...

Thank you for the lovely walk. I like how your focus changes from near to far and back again.

SueJ said...

Nice! maybe I will do something similar someday soon (ish!)

Joanne said...

Thanks! I loved the way you described both nature and the influence of people...and as someone who lives in "the new world", I only see those clay pipes in museums, so thanks for pointing that bit out!

cyndy said...

I've enjoyed the walk! Thank you for a lovely post, Sarah :-)

What an interesting area to walk around in, so rich with history.

Terrific find too- that flint chip is a small treasure.

La Cabeza Grande said...

A fascinating, terrific walk with wonderful photographs to chronicle the journey.

You have quite a bit of the anthropologist in you.