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Village Nature Diary with Mary Green

Hills & valleys

Posted on June 19 2010 at 4:05:38 0 comments

Waseley Hills in summer


Mary Green strides out in three of our beautiful country parks.

The year continues with its unusual weather. Within a fortnight in May I noticed that the midday temperature went from 6° to 26°. The interesting effect of the cold winter and cold spells during spring has been to restore flowering times to those I remember from my childhood.
In the last week in May (I remember because it is my birthday) there were always hawthorn, lilac and moon daisies. In the last twenty or thirty years the may and lilac have usually finished flowering by then. This year, though, they were back in full flower, heavily scented in that lovely sunny warm weather we had in late May and early June.

All native plants and trees seem to have blossomed especially well this year, appreciating the “proper” cold winter and late spring, and fruit is setting. The water birds seem to be later with their young, though we now have several good broods of ducklings, and I was delighted to see a pair of swans with seven cygnets. I don’t know if they are the same pair who were here in the winter. There don’t seem to be any surviving moorhen chicks, though.

This month I will take you on three walks around our local country parks. At first these may not seem like the best wild places, but actually they have some splendid stretches of countryside, and if you get away from the immediate neighbourhood of the visitor centres and avoid bank holidays, they can be very peaceful.

I am looking at the area to the west and southwest of Birmingham, the Lickey and Waseley Hills. You may want to keep this article for next year, as these are excellent springtime walks, especially in May. However, the Lickeys do have a treat in store in high summer too.

I will start with the Waseley Hills. I have already mentioned this as a base for the Illey Way northwards. It also hosts the North Worcestershire path and Monarch’s Way, other public footpaths and bridleways, as well as the country park paths.

The main car park is at the north entrance but you can also walk from the south entrance near Rubery. The park is on the Wolverhampton & Dudley OS Explorer map, but it is worth picking up the free guide to the Waseley Hills at the information centre, as this shows their marked trails.

The tops of these hills have wonderful distant views over to the Cotswolds, Malverns, Abberley and Woodbury hills, and Clee Hill, as well as the neighbouring Clent hills, Lickeys and Frankley Beeches, and of course Birmingham.

The focus of my recent walk was a little wooded valley called Sedgbourne Coppice. I started at the main visitor centre at the north side of the park and walked along the “rabbit trail” towards the south-west, which you will see marked by little rabbits on posts (start with no 1). This trail does a complete circuit of the park, and is a lovely walk in its own right. I saw a rabbit very soon after starting on it!

It skirts Windmill Hill and goes down into Sedgbourne Coppice. This is the most superb bluebell wood in May, with some wood anemones and the occasional patch of white bluebells, as always seems to happen in old woods. It is edged by bogs with marsh marigolds, and at the bottom has a lovely bit of marsh with bog plants. It has a lot of beech, oak and sycamore and has been well maintained.

At the bottom of the wood I left the rabbit trail and took a “permissive path” down to the public bridleway, turning right to go back up to Chapman’s Hill farm. This bridleway is a lovely old sunken lane with a mixture of native trees and bushes, showing it to be old, and a good variety of flowers at the side including yellow archangel when I was there.

At the farm you turn right up a quiet road and then right again on the North Worcestershire Way back to the visitor centre. The walk takes about an hour. It is very well marked and has good gates with no stiles, so is very suitable for anyone who wants easy walking.

If you want a longer walk, you can start from the south car park and walk up the North Worcestershire way until you meet the rabbit trail, then follow that round, either all the way, or cutting back after Sedgbourne Coppice. You pass a wood called “The Narrows” which has lots of native cherry trees with beautiful white blossom in spring. There are also old hedges, which have been properly “laid” in the past.

For a very short walk, you can do their “skylark trail” round Windmill Hill. The slopes of the fields here have buttercups quite early, both meadow and creeping buttercups. The latter include some with more than five petals, which I wrote about previously as a sign of old, undisturbed pastureland. Later in the summer there are harebells, bell-flowers, wild roses and foxgloves.

Earlier in May I walked with Alvechurch Village Society in the Lickey Hills, staring at the main visitor centre. I have a soft spot for the Lickeys as this is where my parents did their courting in the 1930s! It is a long walk but you could easily do parts of it.

At the top, the main part of the hills is relatively recently planted with trees, including a lot of conifer, much of it non-native. This is an unusual area geologically, having a more acid soil than the rest of our patch, so it has different plants.

The main one is the bilberry. This covers the Lickeys under the coniferous woodland and on the open heathland at the top, part of which is called Bilberry Hill. In May it has pretty little pink flowers, but in July and August it has delicious berries.

They are our native blueberry, sweet enough to eat raw and also making delicious jam. You may know them as whinberries or whortleberries if you come from different parts of the country. Go in the next few weeks and taste some. This heathland also has some of the few stretches of heather in our area.

We went down one of the trails to the south towards Pinfield Wood, adjoining Barnt Green, so we could see the bluebells – there is a “bluebell trail” marked. Pinfield is a much more ancient woodland than the rest of the Lickeys. The trees are predominantly beech, so lovely when I went in May.

There are a few oaks but hardly any ash. The bluebells are stunning and the whole place smells of them in spring. There is also holly, which was in flower in May. There were a few flowers of archangel and anemones among the bluebells but not many.

The wood didn’t look very well cared for, but I understand some parts of it are properly coppiced. We heard woodpeckers drumming, and willow warblers and chiffchaffs singing in May. You can walk into the bottom of Pinfield Wood directly from Barnt Green, from Cherry Hill Road. There is a footpath opposite the back of the station.

On this longer walk, we walked back up through the woods parallel to Twatling Road, which we crossed by the little church, then through some more woods on the other side to the memorial on Monument Lane. We walked up through yet more woods alongside the lane to Beacon Hill, the high point. There is another big car park near here, on Monument Lane opposite the top of Beacon Lane. The view is superb across Birmingham and to the Malverns.

We then walked down to the bottom of the golf course on the good old North Worcestershire Way again, and turned right along the bottom of the course in nice trees. There were apple trees and some poplars as well as more beech and oak and just one or two ash in this stretch. We walked to the Rose & Crown, where we crossed the B4096 and walked up the North Worcestershire Way through woods back to the visitor centre.

All along the edge of the golf course and woods were some trees that are unusual round here. They have long drooping spikes of white blossoms in May, and are called bird cherry. They flower at the same time as common cherry, and are common in the north of England. I guess they were planted here, but they grow well on this more acid bit of soil. (There are one or two planted near the Hopwood roundabout too.)

They have black, bitter cherries, unlike the edible ones on the common English wild cherry, which are forming well this year. Grab some of those in July if you can, before the birds do.

This walk was quite difficult going in places, with parts of the path very muddy, but there are easy sections. It took us more than two hours.
My third walk, to Beaconwood and the Winsel, can be started from the car park on Monument Lane, but I normally start from the little dead end at the end of the Old Birmingham Road near Lydiate Ash (grid reference 975759) where you can park. There are some good trees in this little patch, including a lovely cherry and a non-native oak with beautiful leaves.

Facing back down the road, you will see a footpath sign off to your left which takes you up to the woods. Almost immediately there is a beech hedge with a little ornate iron gate, leading into a wood called The Winsel. This belongs to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and does not have public access (so join the Trust!).

It is a beautiful old wood, on a slope, well cared for and full of beautiful native trees, especially beech and cherry, and bluebells.

For the public footpath, carry on, pass Winsel Cottage, and go on up the path. Just in the wood it forks. Take the right hand path, which is drier, not the boggy left one along the stream bottom, which it meets again by a stone memorial bench. The wood was full of bluebells in May. It also has very good views across to the left to the Winsel trees and bluebells.

Near the top of the steady rise is a pond. Then you come to Beacon Farm. Here I turned right down Beacon Lane for a bit, to the next field path on the right, along the side of a hedge back down to Lydiate Ash. It is a good path and a good old hedge with lots of different species of tree. The views from this part were stunning again.

Near the bottom you go through a pretty but rather messy little wood with a lot of holly trees. This looks as if it was probably once looked after, but isn’t now. You come out by Swan Street Coaches. If you decided to do this walk the other way round, saving Beaconwood till last, the start here is badly marked. You have to go up the little side road by the coach firm then you can see the path. This walk takes just under an hour, and is easy walking with no stiles and good gates.

You may have worked out from the descriptions above that parts of these three walks can easily be linked together, or as one long walk if you can have transport both ends. Walking to the Lickeys along the North Worcestershire Way from near Cofton or Hopwood is also a treat, and you could carry on along it all the way to the Waseley Hills. 

My poem is about a flower that you should see a lot this month, and is based on my experiences talking about wildflowers at care homes for elderly people.

Honeysuckle

My basket of flowers smells of sweet meadows
Little red riding hood visiting granny
I show them herbs and they sniff them, flowers
And they remember when they picked them.
Nellie sits quietly. They say she rarely speaks now.
They tell me she will go to sleep
But she doesn’t. She holds the late summer flowers
To her face, and her bright blue eyes hold mine.
Handing her the honeysuckle, I start to sing
You are my honey honeysuckle, I am the bee
Two of the women join in, and we give her the verse.
They talk to me about picking blackberries,
Walking through bluebell woods. They smell garlic
And laugh, angelica and remember trifles.
Rose hips are memories of vitamin syrup.
The places they have lived are on their lips
Yorkshire, Scotland, they want to bring them here.
All this time Nellie sits, not passing on her flowers.
The host asks her if she enjoyed the morning.
Nellie says loudly yes, yes, yes.

 


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