Archive for July, 2007

Wildflower walk round Ashridge and Ivinghoe Beacon

Monday, July 9th, 2007


On Sunday, I went for a walk round the Ashridge area with my friend Elaine, with the chief intention of looking for wildflowers, especially orchids. Elaine and I met on a walking holiday about 13 or 14 years ago, and usually meet up a couple of times a year to go birdwatching in Norfolk or Suffolk. We’d been talking of meeting up for a walk in the Chilterns for some time. As well as walking and birdwatching, we are also boith interested in wildflowers and butterflies.

On the way to Ashridge, I stopped at Whipsnade Heath (less than a mile from home) to photo some tall yellow flowers my Mother had pointed out to me the other day. I’d assumed from the car that they were Great Mullein, but when I got close to them I could see they were a different but related species – having looked at the photos on my PC and checked my books and on the internet, they were definitely Dark Mullein, the first I’ve seen.

After a cup of coffee at the National Trust tea room by the Bridgewater Monument in Ashridge, we started our walk just before 11am. I intended doing my usual 14-mile walk round Ashridge, but planned to cut it short according to how long we spent looking at wildflowers and butterflies. In the event, we only walked about half the route, about 7 miles, because we had such a great time looking for flowers and butterflies around Ivinghoe Beacon!

We started with a nice walk from the Monument to Ivinghoe Beacon. Instead of following the pain path along the curving wood-clad escarpment of the Chilterns, we took my preferred straighter route that goes downhill, across a few fields and then back up the escarpment to rejoin the main path for the last mile or so to the Beacon. Saw a Green-veined White butterfly on this section, but was disappointed not to see any Ringlets.

When we got to Ivinghoe Beacon, I think Elaine was somewhat stunned at how many orchids there were – she is used to having to really serach them out in her native Suffolk, whereas here there were very many plainly visible from the footpaths. Pyramidal Orchids abounded, but sadly the few Fragrant Orchids (which Elaine particularly wanted to see) were past their best. Yellow Rattle, Greater Knapweed, Spiny Rest-harrow, Agrimony and Lady’s Bedstraw were abundant. Elaine, who’s been interested in wildflowers and butterflies far longer than me, pointed out one or two plants I’d not seen before – Silverweed, Eyebright and Common Bedstraw.

Elaine was also surprised at how many Marbled White butterflies there were. We got a good view of a Small Skipper, and fleeting glances of a latge orange butterfly that was probably Dark Green Fritillary, as the notice board at the Monument said they were here.

At the top of the Beacon, I gave Elaine a brief lecture on what was to be seen in the extensive allround views, then we did a circuit over Galley Hill and back to the two small hillocks betwen the Beacon and the road. We continued our search for flowers and Elaine spotted a marvellous group of Common Spotted Orchids in a deep groove in the hillside that was obviously part of the iron-age hill fort that was once here. We followed the groove someway downhill, seeing more Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids, a few Clustered Bellflowers, and Squinancywort, a very tiny flower that was a first for both of us.

We had our picnic lunches here about 1.45pm, then followed the footpaths over Steps Hill and then Pitstone Hill – there were still plenty of flowers, but nothing we’d not already seen today. The large flower-filled meadow betweeen the two hills had a wonderful smell. We followed the remains of Grim’s Ditch into the woods of Aldbury Nowers, then spent a short time in the Duchy’s Piece nature reserve – it’s a very good spot for butterflies, but we didn’t see anything other han a Ringlet, the only one of the day. I also saw some Common Fumitory here, another flower first for me, and we also heard and then saw a Buzzard.

We walked back across the Golf Course, where we saw Grass Vetchling, then took the main path steeply uphill from Aldbury back to the Monument, where we treated ourselves to a well-deserved icecream.

Wildflowers at Totternhoe

Saturday, July 7th, 2007


Having enjoyed looking at the wildflowers at Totternhoe Knolls during my walk on Thursday, I decided to go back and spend more time there today. Looking on the internet, I found there were supposed to be several species of flowers that I’d missed, and that there was another Nature Reserve about half a mile away in an old chalk quarry. Altogether I spent almost 4 hours going round the two reserves. Didn’t find some of the orchids that are supposed to be there, but found lots of Common Twayblade, an orchid I’d not seen before. Stinking Iris was another new find for me. I thought I’d found something exotic – turned out to be Honeysuckle!

Managed to get some better photos of some other flowers that I’ll eventually put on my web site. I’ve also now managed to identify some of the new flowers I saw on my walk two days ago, including White Bryony, Brideswort and Purple Toadflax.

Hughenden Manor

Saturday, July 7th, 2007


This afternoon I went to Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe, a National Trust property that was the home of Benjamin Disraeli. I went with my parents, and my niece Emily who is staying with us for a week or so.

The house was basically Georgian, with a few Victorian modifications. It’s in a nice setting on a hill between steep Chiltern valleys, reminded me of several places I visited on my recent Chiltern Way walk. A larger house than Grey’s Court which we visited last week, there were 5-6 rooms open downstairs and a further 4 on the first floor. Lots of memorabilia about Disraeli, including several gifts from Queen Victoria – I hadn’t realised she had liked him so much. It was all very interesting, and I’d like to now get a biography of Disraeli and find out more about him.

Totternhoe Walk – Wildflowers galore!

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Thursday 5/07/07

I had a really good walk today, one of my local walks from home. I went to Church End, the old part of Kensworth, and then followed the path round the back of Kensworth Quarry, an enormous Chalk Quarry. I then went across Dunstable Downs and followed green lanes to Sewell and then Totternhoe. I followed lanes back to the foot of the Downs, and then a path to Bison Hill, Whipsnade, before returning through the Tree Cathedral at Whipsnade back to Kensworth.

Normally I’d have walked a bit further, including Holywell in my return route, but I again spent a vast amount of time looking at and photographing wildflowers. I took over 150 photos of wildflowers! There were both Common Spotted Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids along the path by the quarry. There were several other wildflowers here, including the first Bladder Campion I’ve seen and some Square-stalked Wilowherb. I got so engrossed looking for flowers I missed the turn-off to the Downs and was quite bewildered when I found myself at the drive to the quarry by mistake! There was a good display of lovely blue Meadow Cranesbill on top of Dunstable Downs. Along the Green Lane to Totternhoe I saw all three types of Bindweed (Hedge, Field and Large), so I can improve the photos I’ve got of these on my web site sometime.

When I got to Totternhoe, I spent some time exploring the Totternhoe Knolls Nature Reserve, a steep chalk slope below what has been the site of both an iron-age hill fort and a Norman castle. Brilliant area for wildflowers – Fragrant Orchids (as well as the two I’d seen earlier), Sainfoin, Spiny Rest-harrow, various Trefoils, Clustered Bellflower (which I saw for the first time last week), Self-heal and many more. I’ve just looked it up on the web, and there are supposed to be several rarer types of orchid there, so I’ll go back soon and take another look.

I must have seen five or six new wildflowers today – apart from the Bladder Campion I also recognised Carline Thistle, but the others I have yet to identify. I’ll go through my reference books and check a few useful web sites – I quite enjoy the detective work!

I got back home just in time to watch Countdown, which I generally watch when I can. I think it’s a brilliant quiz show, and I love trying to beat the contestants at the words and numbers games. I think I beat them maybe 50% of the time (but rarely beat the brillaint ones who win 8 games in a row!). Of course, I wouldn’t do as well if I was under the pressure of being in the studio in front of the cameras and an audience – my brain would turn to jelly.

Welcome to the “Pete’s Walks” blog!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Welcome to my blog! I shall be using this as a sort of informal diary, occasionally posting about what I’ve been getting up to – for example, what walks I’ve done and what changes I’ve made to the “Pete’s Walks” web site.   For a start, here is what I got up to last week:

Friday 29/06/07

Took my parents to Grey’s Court, a National Trust property near Henley-on-Thames (I passed it on Day 17 of my Chiltern Way walk). Bit disappointed in that it was rather small, with only 5-6 ground-floor rooms open to the public. Apparently it will be closed next year for refurbishment, then the next year the first-floor rooms will be opened as well. Only took us about 20 minutes to go round! But there were nice gardens to go round as well, including a small maze, and amongst the outbuildings there was a horse-wheel and a donkey-wheel. The latter was particularly interesting, as it dated back to the sixteenth century – it drew water from a well that was 200 feet deep and dated from the twelfth century. The best thing at Grey’s Court, though, was a modern painting of the owners (Lord and Lady Brunner) by Bill Mundy – so incredibly detailed it looked more like a photo than a painting. His web site has some examples of his work –

Thursday 28/06/07

I tried to do one of my local walks, about 14 miles round the Ashridge area, but cut it short at about 10-11 miles, because I spent over an hour so looking at wildflowers at Ivinghoe Beacon and one or two other places en route. Three types of orchid at the Beacon – Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal. Lots of Spiny Rest-harrow. Saw some wildflowers that were new to me – Wild Carrot, Clustered Bellflower and Grass Vetchling. The latter is a delicate little red flower on the end of what looks like a stalk of grass. I’ve added photos of the new flowers to my web site.

Tuesday 26/06/07

I did my favourite walk from home today – through Holywell, Studham, Jockey End, Great Gaddesden, Nettleden, Little Gaddesden, Hudnall, Studham again, Whipsnade and back to Kensworth. I always enjoy it, but today it was particularly good because of various wildlife sightings. The highlight was undoubtedly discovering my first ever Bee Orchid on Studham Common! Later on I saw some Common Spotted Orchids, and there were a few other flowers that I saw (or identified) for the first time – such as Meadow Vetchling and Hedge Woundwort. I’ve now added photos of all the new flowers to the web site. Near Nettleden, I almost trod on a Tawny Owl! It was a young one, almost fully fledged – it looked like it had all its feathers and could flap its wings but couldn’t fly. Presumably it was on the ground as the result of a large part of a nearby Ash tree having been blown down. Hopefully it’s parents are around to feed it and it will survive. A mile or two further on, I had a very good view of a fox, just feet away from me in a meadow of very long grass. I also saw Fallow Deer twice, so it was a really great walk as far as wildlife went.