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BylineMaryGreen

Village Nature Diary with Mary Green

Rocks & trees: Abberley and Woodbury hills

Posted on March 20 2012 at 3:45:17 0 comments

Clee hill from Woodbury

Mary Green heads for the hills to find abundant plant life.

Alternating mild and cold spells over the last couple of months have led to an uneven pattern of flowers and leaves emerging: some early and some late.

Cherry plum came out on February 23 on a warm day, about normal (over the last ten years, the earliest has been February 3 and the latest March 28). Blackthorn started coming out in early March. However, ground-growing plants, including some bulbs like wild garlic, were quite late appearing.

There weren’t many daffodils out for St David’s Day, but they came soon after. Hawthorn didn’t come into leaf generally till well into March, when the weather warmed up and primroses flowered.

By the end of this month I hope you will be able to see bluebells, wild cherry blossom, wood anemones, oaks bursting into leaf, and all the other beauties of spring. This article introduces you to a lesser-known place where you might see them, but of course don’t forget all the other bluebell woods round here.

Rowney Green is especially blessed with woods, Peck Wood being the most famous, but the wood by Lower Rowney Green is also lovely and has a footpath through it. I think it’s the best time to visit woods, before the canopy closes in and they become dark and flowerless.

I hope some of you will have watched the recent television programmes about the importance of pollen-rich flowering plants to the wellbeing of the planet. The two walks described here include a spring-flowering woodland and a summer-flowering meadowland.

If I mention the Abberley Hills or the Woodbury Hills, you may not know where I’m talking about. But I can almost guarantee you’ve seen them. If you cross any of the high ground south of Alvechurch – for example over towards Bromsgrove past Tardebigge and Finstall – you’ll see in the distance some steep hills on the skyline.

If you follow them to the left you will eventually come to the Malverns, part of the same ridge. They’re a real landmark, yet, unlike the Malverns, very little known. I went walking there last spring and summer, and found a beautiful hilly area, seemingly miles from anywhere but less than an hour’s drive away.

One of the attractions of the area is the long limestone ridge which stretches down the west side of Worcestershire between Bridgnorth and Malvern. This is the location of two long distance footpaths, the Worcestershire Way and the Geopark Way. You can buy booklets of both walks, which run together through most of Abberley and Woodbury.

The Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark is a special area of geological interest, noticeable for its steep ridges and many quarries. The Geopark leaflet says “the rocks tell amazing stories of continental collision, of tropical seas, hot deserts, equatorial swamps and coastal lagoons, and of vast ice sheets and polar deserts.” You can see the remains of these in the land formations, quarries and building stones of the area.

I have done two walks, parts of the long distance ones, which are easily accessible from here, each being a long half-day or comfortable day-including-picnic walk. They start at Great Witley on the A443 west of Droitwich, where you can park in the Hundred House pub car park. (Grid reference SO 752663). Use the OS Explorer Worcester and Droitwich map.

For the Abberley Hills, walk up the footpath behind the pub which goes in a northeasterly direction along an old hedge line. It rises through fields to meet the wood edge. In the wood, follow the footpath up to the ridge and turn right. Follow the ridge, which is very steep to the north side, in a north-easterly direction up to its furthest tip at Shavers End quarry. There are wonderful views here to the north.

Descend steeply to the minor road. Turn right briefly along the road, then soon take a footpath back up on the right. Follow this, the Worcestershire Way, up past the quarry, across a small field with a view of the Malverns, and then back up into the woods. You will rejoin the ridge path, and can come back down the same way.

When I walked in April, the field on the way up was edged with bluebells, cow parsley and heartsease. There was a lovely old coppiced ash tree, with wide-spreading base and lots of little trunks, a very old oak, and hawthorn blossom. In the woods were more bluebells, and lots of yellow archangel, bugle, wood avens, wild garlic, herb Robert, primroses, wild strawberries, and the beautiful delicate white flowers of wood sorrel and wood anemones. All of these show it is an old woodland.

There are not many oaks, but several huge ancient yew trees and sweet chestnut, sycamore, ash, spindle and field maple. On the way back up from the quarry there is a lovely plantation of hornbeam.

It looks as if it is an old wood with added more recent plantations, and was probably much used for timber until recent years. Because of its variety, the wood has good bird life.

Shavers End quarry exposes the rock, and you can see layers of blue-grey limestone and softer brown shale. All around on the lower ground were fields of oilseed rape, bright yellow in the sun, the day I visited.

I walked the Woodbury side in summer. Take the footpath opposite the Hundred House for this one. Very soon, branch right on to a path due west, which takes you to the minor road which goes south up towards Woodbury Hill. In the field we saw lots of fumitory, white campion and mallow – old arable plants.

Where the road meets the wood, take a footpath to the right. This takes you up through the woods: there are some notice boards with history from the civil war and information about an ancient Iron Age earthwork.

At the top, take a path which goes off left to the top of Woodbury Hill. This was a fort used in medieval period by Owen Glendower as his base to attack the English, reminding us of how the history of these parts is linked with Wales. You can still see the pattern of some of the earthworks.

On the way up to the woods, the trees are deciduous on the right, but coniferous on the left, and views are rather limited in summer.  However, there are some clearings to the right on the way up. The woods are not very old, but quite closely planted, and the flowers below them are therefore not as good as on the Abberley side.

From the top of Woodbury Hill, follow a zigzag path back west downhill out of the woods. You can do this on either a track or an older footpath. Both lead on to a track that goes west towards Birch Berrow.

The woods here are older with some huge sweet chestnuts. There is some of the little pink flower called claytonia here – also known as miners’ lettuce and edible as a salad.

Stunning views open up from here to the Malverns and beyond to the Welsh hills. The path diverts round Birch Berrow in a rather complicated fashion. You then join the Worcestershire Way which you follow back north – be careful to get on to it going north not south, as it is a little confusing!

It takes you down by some houses on to a road – Camp Lane. Walk north up the road for a short space and then the path goes off right again up into woods. It is better marked now. There is a gradual climb through woods. Near the top you come out into a field and then go almost immediately back into wood. There is a lovely view from this field back to Woodbury Hill.

The woods along the top were being grazed by longhorn cattle when we went, a common way now of controlling old woodland and pasture. I don’t know if these were some of Adrian Bytom’s cattle from Alvechurch, but I’ve certainly met them out walking in other places!

The path follows the ridge north. Creepers from wild clematis make it look a bit like rainforest. There are glimpses of view to the left and then it opens out with rough pasture on the left. This bit is called Walsgrove Hill, and is fascinating; worth the walk!

The rough clearings to the left have mulleins and some meadow flowers at the top. Then suddenly there is a proper old meadow sloping down to the left. It is absolutely covered with flowers: yellow rock rose, mullein, St John’s wort, musk mallow, agrimony, toadflax, clover, feverfew, thyme, salad burnet, hoary plantain, white bryony, weld, and burnet roses.

The dried out remains of orchids showed that it would also be lovely in spring when they are in flower. When I visited it was buzzing with bees, hoverflies and butterflies, as these are all pollen-rich flowers.

There are great views from here over rolling hills to both the Clee Hills and Wales. Continue down a steep slope to Camp Lane again – this open stretch has good old pasture with flowers. There are views of an imposing clock tower by Abberley Hall, which is now a private school.

Camp Lane meets the busy B4203, where you turn right back towards Great Witley. This road has great verges full of flowers: moon daisies, birds foot trefoil, mallow and knapweed. It made me remember how impoverished a lot of our verges are, because they are mowed too often and too short.

Just before the village you can branch off right on to a footpath, taking you back to where you started and avoiding the main road. At the end of either walk, the pub is a welcome sight.

If you are hungry for bluebells and woodland, I am leading one of the Alvechurch Village Society walks on May 13, to Beaconwood, which I wrote about in 2010. Meanwhile, their April 1 walk from Weatheroak should take in some spring flowers and leaves.

There is an extra walk to look forward to on June 3, a Jubilee walk looking at the wildlife and history of Alvechurch.

This month’s poem is one I wrote after a visit to see two old 1960s bands at Artrix last year.

Old men singing

It’s only rock and roll, they say and sing,
The old men on the stage sound it out.
But it’s also back in the village dance
Stiff-petticoated and back-combed, waiting
For the brylcreemed boys to catch your eye
And it’s the record player on the beach
Rickety sounds and sand in your bikini
And then it becomes the university gig
All in black with eyeliner and ironed hair.
Now here we are, grey haired audience
In a surprising amount of leather
A little unsteady on the stairs
But singing back and smiling to each other.
They sing even better than their young and hairy days
Their beat confident, their voices full,
Less anxious to impress, eyes wrinkled,
One lifting his right arm in a triumphant wave
With the help of his left arm, laughing.
Such a song of all our years, all our loves
Hammered together in fine metal chords
And heartstrings, and memory, and futures
Where we keep on rocking till the last sweet breath.

 

 


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