Monday June 17 2019




Village Nature Diary with Mary Green

Ancient meadows & green lanes

Posted on March 15 2010 at 7:09:04 0 comments

Green lane, Illey Way

Mary Green enjoys a spring-time wander through the leafy lanes of the Illey Way.

I feel winter is never going to end this year. However, the chaffinches and greenfinches all magically started singing for St Valentine, and the solitary barnacle goose appeared again on the canal. If anyone knows where it comes from, please let me know!

Experts say that spring flowers will be a month late, but predict a really good showing when they do come. The daffodils weren’t ready for St David’s Day. As I write in mid-March, there is no sign of blackthorn or even cherry-plum blossom.

My walk this month is a little bit further afield, and is a pleasure especially in the spring and summer. The Illey Way goes from Waseley Hills Country Park to Woodgate Valley Country Park, created out of a network of old field and woodland paths and lanes. Some of it follows the Monarch’s Way, a much longer and more recently created long distance path.

You can get a leaflet of the Illey Way from the information centre and cafe at Waseley, but this is best used alongside the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map for Wolverhampton & Dudley. It always makes me smile that most of the walk is in the Borough of Dudley, and near the M5, as it is very quiet and off-the-beaten-track, with rolling countryside, ancient meadows and woodland.

I will describe part of the walk in detail, from Waseley to Illey, and say a little about the last bit to Woodgate. You could do Waseley to Illey and back, especially if you use some of the other footpaths that criss-cross these fields for variety.

To do the whole walk you would probably need two cars, one at each end. The walk was originally well way-marked but the detail has been lost in places, and because there are so many other paths and tracks you need to keep an eye on the map the first time.

Leaving Waseley Country Park, cross the motorway bridge, turn right, then almost immediately turn into a field on the left, way-marked for the Illey and Monarch’s Ways. Follow the path across the fields (pasture then arable) crossing several stiles and passing Long Saw Croft wood to your right. I have often heard and seen skylarks over these fields.

The path then enters Penny Fields wood and emerges to follow a long strip of wood on your left. Look up the fields to your right and you will see a lovely long hedge, which marks the disused railway that you will meet later.

This is the old Halesowen to Longbridge railway, which closed when the M5 opened. The trees along it and in the woods are beautiful in spring, including blossoming cherry, apple and hawthorn, and the young green leaves of willow, oak, ash and beech. Much of the land here was part of the estate of Halesowen Abbey, and some of the stiles have boulders at the base that marked the boundaries of this land.

You enter the woods proper again at Twiland Wood, an ancient woodland which was originally coppiced and hosts a lovely range of wildflowers. Wood anemones and wood sorrel carpet it with white in April, followed by bluebells, wild garlic and yellow archangel.
The wood anemone, or windflower, is an early spring flower, and a sign of ancient woodland or undisturbed hedgerows. Its seed is rarely fertile so it spreads slowly by its roots, probably taking a hundred years to move six feet. It is a lovely, fragile-looking white flower, with a sharp musky smell. It likes sunlight, so grows in woodland glades and flowers before the tree cover has got too thick.
Wood sorrel is another delicate white flower, with a very distinctive trefoil leaf. It is often used as “shamrock” for St Patrick’s Day. It has an old name of Alleluia, probably because it flowers between Easter and Whitsun, and the threefold leaf is associated with the Trinity.
The beautiful vivid green leaves are edible (nowadays in trendy restaurants) but only in moderation, as they have a lot of oxalic acid and can cause sickness. They taste similar to the other kind of sorrel, which is a completely different plant from the dock family, and which is much safer to eat. Last spring I saw a cousin of the wood sorrel, a tall pale yellow flower called Bermuda buttercup, which only flowers in the UK on the Isles of Scilly.

Unfortunately the woods are no longer managed, and some of the trees are not in good condition, and are interspersed with non-native conifers planted for wood at some point, so the wildlife is probably not quite as good as it once was. But it is still lovely, and there is birdsong in spring and often the sound of woodpeckers.

You cross a deep valley called Dowry Dell, and can see the blue brick pillars of the old railway viaduct which crossed it. It must have been high and quite spectacular, especially among the trees and flowers. There are some interesting sculptures along the walk, and one of them is here. 

Emerging from the wood you cross arable fields. Here you have to be careful to turn right at a fence, rather than going straight on by the Monarch’s way, which you diverge from. You cross to the north end of Twiland wood, to a little wooden footbridge across the Illey Brook, a delightful wooded spot. Over the bridge, you climb a steep bank and cross fields, following a line of big trees to your right which were once part of a hedge.

These fields are Illey Pastures, ancient meadowland. They are a designated SSI (site of special scientific interest), are never ploughed and have no herbicides or artificial fertilisers. In winter they look nothing, and are rather wet and muddy from grazing cattle. In early spring you notice that there is a wide range of leaves among the grass. In late spring the flowers start, and through summer they are amazing.

As you walk up the bank from the brook, you will see dyer’s greenweed. This is a small shrub of the broom family, with long twigs and small dark green leaves. In the summer it has little yellow flowers. As its name suggests it was used as a dye, and is generally found near where wool was treated. It was used to dye wool yellow, or mixed with woad, which is blue, to make the traditional green used so much by country people.

In late spring and early summer you will also see moon daisies, the little yellow tormentil, bright blue bugle, clover, bedstraw and buttercups flowering. As the meadows flatten out the orchids start. They are mostly common spotted orchids, a beautiful pale purple, so are at their best in late May and June. There is a big stretch of them, and even in the autumn you can see their seed-heads.

In summer, you can also see yellow rattle, a great marker of old meadows.This plant has narrow, toothed leaves and pale yellow flowers growing out a fat pod-like calyx, and is semi-parasitic. The inflated calices also last well into the autumn. Because of its parasitic nature, it needs the established meadow-plants to be there undisturbed. Later in summer come the blue scabious and purple knapweed, lasting into the autumn. Another interesting and slightly unusual plant that grows profusely here is lesser spearwort. At first it looks like a small buttercup, but has completely different leaves. They are long, strappy and a bit fleshy.

It creeps rather than standing up like a buttercup, and grows in late spring and early summer near the path in this field where the ground is quite wet. I have seen some growing locally in Alvechurch at the edge of a pond, but I think it was introduced.
After the field, you descend to cross a stream by a little plank bridge – again there is a lovely grassy bank with meadow flowers. You reach the end or a green lane, which you join and follow. This leads you past Illey House Farm and up to meet the road at the hamlet of Illey. There are lovely views to the left over towards Clent.

The lane is interesting, very old like many green lanes round here, with a good mixture of native shrubs in the hedge and wild-flowers at the sides. In autumn it has excellent blackberries, sloes and hawthorn berries. There are still quite a lot of elm trees, some quite large, and wet patches with golden saxifrage and watercress.

Last year I found some monkshood here – a plant also called aconite. It is a beautiful tall plant with blue “hooded” flowers, often grown in cottage gardens, and is extremely poisonous so best left alone! The fields alongside are full of buttercups in late spring and summer.

At Illey is the Black Horse pub, another good place to start the walk or to end with a drink or food. The Illey Way continues across the road (Illey Lane) into another green lane which leads to fields, skirts a wood, and reaches more green lanes. The fields here, Illey Meadows, have an ancient pattern of cultivation called ridge and furrow. It was used for strip-farming, and the fact that you can still see it means the land has not been deep-ploughed for centuries. This too is an SSI, but does not seem to have been as well looked after, as the meadow flowers are not as good as in the Pastures.

This section is very pleasant to walk, especially the green lanes full of cow-parsley and bluebells in spring, and leads to a lane that crosses the motorway and reaches Woodgate Valley. It gave me some tantalising glimpses of meadows full of ragged robin and moon daisies, which were unfortunately not on a footpath. 

To avoid walking the same route back from Illey (though this is pleasant) you can follow footpaths off to the east towards Frankley, making use of part of Oxwood Lane, or to the west to Romsley. In both cases you can cut back on footpaths to the early part of the Illey Way.

Many of the fields and woods are perfect places for a picnic at the right time of year. The Waseley country park is a pleasant place itself with good walks and exhilarating views. 

On the first Sunday in April I am leading one of the Alvechurch Village Society walks, looking at edible wildlife. I hope some of it has grown by then!

My poem this month is one that has gone down well during the Withybed Poets recent readings with the Alvechurch Community Choir:

Reaching the heights by Mary Green

I’m a little girl
In a blue organdie dress
A posy of forget-me-nots
At the Coronation party
(My first glimpse of television)
And they take us in a coach
To the big cinema, the big screen
Where two men “conquer Everest”

In the year “men walked on the moon”
I fall in love with mountains
Terrified and enthralled by the first sight of Glencoe
Massacred in the black mist.
High on Ben Nevis, on Snowdon,
On Scafell Pike, my boots treading,
My eyes on the path
Dreaming of steak sandwiches
Doing the Pennine way, doing
The Lyke Wake walk,
Crossing the Alps,
Doing, doing

I am happy working – playing -
Around the bottom of the ladder
But the blue sky tempts and I climb
Insatiable curiosity
Seeing further
Giddy and laughing.
There isn’t a glass ceiling, you know,
But the view holds you and
You stop to look around
Such patterns to see from here
You stop to help other people up
You stop
You have to come down
Touch the ground

In the little green tent
In a glen with mountains
Crowded around, the sea
Clear on the stones, the rain
Stubbornly soaking
I read the book of the year
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
He has a long journey
At the end of which he knows
You do not need to reach the top
Of the mountain.

The pool below Glomach Falls
Is black as Guinness
You have to look into the depths
You can
Or you can walk on
Recognise the heights better now
Learn to walk along the rope bridge
Hold out your arms
No place to fall

Now in the purple meadows
I watch how we can destroy but never conquer
How we can tread it down or help it grow.
We must stop and look at the view
Must sit and feel the rain
Must climb, and work, and love
Walk the old rope bridge of life
But do not need to get to the top
Of the mountain

Everest still sits there
She smiles and shrugs her snows

The Village has also been sent a nature poem by Jean Jones of Barnt Green:

Summer Guests

A flash of black and white against the sky
And back into my world the martins fly.
Back to their homes of mud so neat and small
Stuck tight beneath the eaves against my wall.

It lifts my heart to see these birds appear
When they return I know that summer’s near.
From warmer climes they fly for miles and miles
O’er seas and mountains, facing many trials.

On summer mornings when in bed I rest
I hear the constant chatter from their nest.
A lovely sound which makes me want to smile
So I stay quiet and listen for a while.

To watch them fly is an amazing sight
Sleek bodies formed to give that perfect flight.
They sweep and wheel to catch their airborne food
Which feeds their ever-hungry nest-bound brood.

Too soon it seems we’re lighting autumn fires
And martins start to gather on the wires
To Africa they’re bound, to southern skies
Where promise of good food and sunshine lies.

How lovely it would be to do the same
Escape from winter’s snow and sleet and rain,
But we must stay, we have no wings to fly
To countries where the sun is hot and high.

I know they’ll come again when April’s here
Returning to their nests year after year
They find their homes by nature’s wondrous ways
And brighten up the lazy summer days.

I think that out of all the birds I see
The martin means the most of all to me
Perhaps because it chose to live so near
And be our guests for six months of the year.


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