Always Take A Spare Camera Battery..

And of course I haven’t.

Because, after all, we aren’t going very far.



Where we are going though is a departure from the norm. I rarely venture this way and I don’t know why because I always find the native woodland which borders the garden fascinating. And unbelievably restful. It’s down to time I guess. There’s always something pressing to do elsewhere.



At some point we will need to do some work down here. This patch of land has been left to its own devices for every year that we’ve owned it and no doubt many more before that as well. The woodland floor is littered with dead branches and not a few fallen trees. Other victims of past storms now lean precariously on their neighbours having found no clear bit of space in which to descend. It’s hard work getting around. Low growing branches, impenetrable thickets of holly and creeping mats of ivy conspire to trip up the unwary.


Orchis mascula


Orchis mascula

The early purple orchid.



I could have viewed the principal object of today’s quest by means of an easy stroll down the drive but decide to take a circuitous route, off piste, to try and find a better camera angle. The ground is soft and yielding from the build up of leafmould over a foot deep in places. It’s lovely stuff. But unless I’m on a mission to collect some of it a foray into this magical place happens but once a year.



We are not alone..


It takes some minutes to find a way through to where I want to be. All this effort had better be worth it. Twigs and brambles snag at my dungarees and I have to stop frequently to unhook. I stumble over tree roots obscured by the leaf litter and into rabbit burrows.. or could this one be a fox? Difficult to judge the scale I know, but it seems large enough. And note the distressed feather lying on the ground, was the body of a victim dragged this way?

I find what I think is the perfect spot and extend the legs of the tripod, snap the camera into position on the mounting shoe, turn it on and focus for the shot. Immediately that telltale whirring.. and the no-nonsense click of a definitive decision having been taken on my behalf. I don’t need to look at the display. “Battery exhausted.” Only “No Card Present” would have been worse and of course I know this because I’ve been there too. The tarmac drive is just a few feet behind me but there’s a four foot sheer drop to reach it. I could probably make it. But now is not the best of times to be carted off in an ambulance. Nothing for it but to retrace my steps, return to the house for the spare battery and start the journey all over again.



Hyacinthoides non-scripta, English bluebells

One of the markers of ancient native woodland. Worth the extra (quarter) mile.



They are early. In previous years it’s been approaching mid May.



Further down the hill towards the river the bluebells are less advanced but it would be hard to find a more tranquil spot. Be it ever so briefly, the world and all its troubles seems a very long way away.



Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell


Long before our time here someone decided, in his or her wisdom, to plant more bluebells. The Spanish bluebell has a similar name: Hyacinthoides hispanica. They are maybe easy to confuse on a quick peruse of a catalogue. But in appearance they are very different.



The English bluebell, picked from the woodland, is on the right. They are smaller plants, a deeper blue and have flowers mostly on one side of the stem, distinctly drooping, or nodding, at the top.

The Spanish bluebell is on the left. You can see immediately that it’s a much stockier plant. It is a paler blue, usually, but could be pink or white. The bell shaped flowers have spread out tips arranged all around the upright stems. They are attractive in their own right and have been planted in gardens for years. The trouble is they readily hybridise with the native bluebells, producing plants which take on the characteristics of both, as seen on the centre stem above. These hybrids are now spreading rapidly across the garden. If I want to retain the purity of the English strain I have no option but to remove all the rest. And that is easier said than done. Hyacinthoides hispanica has large white bulbs which haul themselves deep down into the soil making them very hard to dig up. I’ve been pulling the foliage on some bulbs for years and still they manage to survive.

Another mission? Yes indeed. But ancient English woodland is becoming increasingly rare. It makes even the very small fragment that still exists here well worth protecting.