John Harris’s brilliant website is extremely
helping in identifying fungi
15th May 2018 / 2.20pm – 4.50pm
Weather Conditions: Hot summer’s day with clear blue skies and burning sun. Delightfully cool under the shade of the trees in full leaf / 21 C / 69.5 F
An explosion of blossom along the Way. The unseasonally cold weather of April and the beginning of May had held back the flowering of most plants but several days of summer-like heat encouraged the trees to throw out quite spectacular displays of blossom.
The apples, wayfarings, field maples and hawthorns were heavy with flowers, and the grass verges were filled with the still flowering cowslips and violets of spring which merged with the early purple orchids, twayblades and summer drifts of red Campion, deep blue birds eye speedwell and clouds of white cow parsley whose sweet perfume almost drowned out the rank scent of the hawthorn blossom.
Peacock, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Brimstone butterflies were joined by an unexpected visitor from a nearby pond in the shape of an immature male Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly with its stunning combination of brilliant metallic blue body and copper coloured wings, and later by a huge queen Hornet busily zooming around the undergrowth searching for a suitable nest site.
It was quite shocking to see the carefully constructed compost site formed by a large square of logs had been set alight since our last visit reducing all the compost to ash and the logs to charred remains. The vast majority of visitors respect the hard work of the volunteers but it only needs one hooligan to destroy weeks and weeks of effort. However, the resilience of Sustrans and its volunteers was restated by the new name signs on many of the trees (the common and Latin names) which is a welcome addition to the woodland stretches and particularly helpful in winter.
Another shock was the gruesome sight of a badger carcass draped over a tree. Possibly the remains of an old badger thrown up into the tree for foxes, raptors and carrion crows to feed on before the insects can also begin to feast. The tree trunk just below the carcass was bare of the moss which coated all the surrounding trees and which might be from foxes scratching the moss with their front paws as they supported themselves while tearing at the meat.
The stream was reduced to a mere trickle falling over the stones, the woods were very quiet apart from that lovely summer sound of droning hover flies and birdsong from Chiff Chaffs, Blackbirds and Whitethroats and as a final reward on the last few hundred yards down to the road we suddenly caught sight of a Red Kite wheeling and circling overhead. Such excitement – our first sighting around Colliers Way of this spectacular bird! A fitting end to a wonderfully sunny afternoon.
6th May 2018
John Hansford managed to capture two brilliant photographs (one shown here) of Lesser Whitethroats – they are so difficult to see as they skulk half hidden, let alone photograph. He was also lucky enough to spot a stoat (surely the most appealing of our small mammals) bounding along the path in front of him as well as a Holly Blue butterfly, Common Whitethroats and Garden Warblers – a great day!
Common Whitethroat – John Hansford
Male Orange Tip Butterfly – John Hansford
Weather Conditions: Strong blustery cold wind, intermittent sunshine on an otherwise cloudy afternoon / 12 C / 53 F
It was complete serendipity to meet Lydia Blake and Andrew Marchant who were assessing the next section of the path to be monitored just as we arrived at the entrance to the cycle path. Lydia is the Greener Greenways Project officer for Sustrans and her remit covers a huge area of the South of England. She brings a massive amount of experience, expertise and knowledge of ecology and environmental concerns to her job (her MA is in Environmental Management) together with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm and Andrew Marchant is the indefatigable co-manager of the Great Elm Embankment and one of the founder members and a leading light in the Frome’s Missing Links programme.
It was so interesting to catch up with them both and hear about Lydia’s plans for a whole series of surveys on the Greener Greenways path. The very successful reptile survey which was carried out last year is to be followed this year by a Moth survey, a Bat walk, and both a Hedgehog and a Dormouse survey. Surprisingly Lydia said that there are very few hedgehog surveys and although there is widespread belief that their numbers are falling drastically, there is no baseline in this area from which to judge.
We were intrigued to learn that for the dormouse survey, an ink pad and a sheet of paper is laid down so that when the dormice scamper across both, they leave a good line of tracks. The drawback to this system is that vegetable ink has to be used for the safety of the dormice but if the papers are not collected quickly, slugs come along and eat all the track prints!
By far the most exciting prospect perhaps is the planned series of trips with local schoolchildren (and their parents and teachers) to the path. They will be bussed out to the site and spend a couple of hours exploring the environment. We were all shocked by a recent revelation that many children are so removed from nature and the countryside that they can no longer recognise even the most common plants and butterflies and Sustrans Greener Greenways project is one of the few organisations to immediately address the problem and come up with a solution. Lydia mentioned that Alistair Millington (Sustrans Land Manager for the South of England) who had been working with them had spotted what he suspected might be a species of brome rape which caused great excitement due to its exceptional rarity, although they will not know for sure until it flowers. He had also thought that there was a good possibility of Dormice and Hedgehogs in numbers along this section of Colliers Way.
Fewer birds than the same day last year but not surprising perhaps given the unseasonably cold winds and overall wet spring, no sign of Skylarks, Garden Warblers or Blackcaps but we did see other migrants like Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Chiff Chaffs and heard the beautiful notes of a Song Thrush.
Many of the plants are late flowering – it is particularly noticeable with the apple trees which are still in tight bud even though the wild cherries are in full flower and the cherry plum flowers are already over. Sad to see the end of the violet season which has given us so much pleasure but lovely to see so many deep yellow cowslips lining the path and the birds eye speedwell and red campion heralding summer.
A really hopeful note of warmer weather coming some time is our first sight of a Speckled Wood butterfly another summer delight, both male and female Orange Tip butterflies (and lots and lots of garlic mustard plants for them to lay their eggs and a good few beautiful Brimstone, my favourite butterfly, although not as many as one would expect at this time of the year as a result of the cold dull weather.
18th April 2018 – 2pm – 4pm
Weather Conditions: Very hot sun, strong warm breeze, cloudless blue skies / 22 C / 71.6 F
Extraordinary change in the weather from the heavy clouds, cold air, incessant rain and strong winds of the past month which delayed the spring flowering and led to water logged fields and acres of impassable mud for farm vehicles to the explosion of heat from the sudden soaring temperatures of today. The sun was as hot and burning as August as it seems this year the seasons have contracted – winter bypassing spring to move straight into summer.
Signalling the recent cold spell, compared to this day last year, many plants have yet to bloom and very few butterflies have appeared. Although it was lovely to see so many Brimstones and several Peacocks, they are very late and there were no Speckled Woods, Holly Blues, Tortoiseshells or Orange Tips. The apple tree leaves are only just opening when last year the flowers were in full glorious bloom, all the trees were in full leaf whereas today they are just beginning to open and the fields last year were covered in a haze of green shoots but today the fields are still brown and bare, just rows of wet clods of drying mud.
However, the blossom on the cherry trees lining the hedgerows has opened if not fully, the primroses are thick with flowers, the cowslips are opening, the delicate white and the large dark purple dog violets are showing a bumper year so thickly are their plants colonising the embankment. Large mounds of meadow ant nests are scattered amongst the thick grass, great fat bumble bees are lumbering up and down the slope among the violets, honey bees are on the nectar hunt and on the bare well trodden earth around the picnic bench the mining bees are emerging in numbers for the first time this year.
The Chiffchaffs, Common Whitethroats and Willow Warblers have arrived to join the Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinchs, Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks in the hedgerows and the strong smell of woodsmoke drifting across the path from spring clearing of dead plants shows very clearly that winter is finally last over.
Standing below the cherry trees and watching the mating dance of four male Brimstone butterflies with a single pale female was delightful. “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze” was a rather more accurate description of these butterflies than of the poet’s daffodils as they chased and tried to attract the female but then dropped off one by one when unsuccessful, eventually leaving just one solitary male. When he also lost interest and also flew away, he was immediately pursued by the female, fluttering her wings. He engaged for a few moments but then abandoned the courtship altogether, deciding food was more important, and the female was left alone.
3rd April 2018 – 2.20pm – 4.05pm
Weather Conditions: 12 C / 53 F / Brisk, blustery southerly breeze, sunny intervals.
Despite the blustery wind tossing the bare branches and newly emerging leaves, the sun was warm and the air mild and the first scents and sounds of spring filled the air. The plants, bees and birds seemed to be shaking off the winter chills so the white Dog Violets sparse only ten days ago were now plentifully scattered all along the verges, the primroses are flowering in profusion on the banks and at last the pollen has begun to appear on some of the pussy willows. The extraordinary number of Bumble Bees, two Honey Bees and the two Peacock Butterflies were such a welcome sight – confirmation at last that spring really is here and summer does exist.
Lots of bird song, including the first Chiffchaff of the year and the first Swallow which although it doesn’t make a summer it’s another herald of spring. We also heard a Skylark, another first for us this year, although Andrew heard a couple of Skylarks as long ago as the end of January.
Abandoned brake van
The path was very busy including a group of half a dozen horse riders, probably from a riding school, the little girls perched high on their fat grass bellied little white ponies, evoking fond memories of Thelwell’s famous cartoons, many cyclists and runners and lots of walkers who were eager to swap sightings. Catherine and Geoff from Peasedown St John heard their first Chiffchaff two weeks ago and saw a pair of Nuthatches and a Brimstone butterfly on the same day; more recently, as they walk the path each day, they’ve been watching a pair of Great Tits creating a nest at the top of a hollow pipe.
We chatted to a man walking his dog who recently came upon two Roe Deer as he rounded the corner, actually on the path which was unusual; immediately on sighting him, they leapt the fence and bounded away across the fields in the direction of Babington Woods. Another couple we often see were really excited about seeing what they were sure was a Hawfinch over a week ago – if it was, it’s the second such sighting this year so far.
The warm sun and mild air cheered everyone we met as much as us. Let’s hope for all our sakes, people, birds, butterflies and animals alike, that the last of the cold wintry weather is behind us.
23rd March 2018 – 2pm – 4.15pm
Weather Conditions: 11 C / 51 F / Cloudy, hazy sun, mild, cool breeze.
It was quiet along the path, particularly in the shelter of the trees. Very few signs of nest building among the small number of birds we saw, very little bird song and still no sight or sound of a Chiffchaff. Although lots of the early spring plants were in flower, their display seemed tentative and rather sparse compared to earlier years and it certainly felt more like late Winter than early Spring. This thought was reinforced by the bank of snow still lining the north side of the field boundary hedge above Newbury Firs – the old country saw that seeing lingering snow was a sign of more to come seemed, in view of the long term weather forecast, a very strong possibility.
However, the bells of Mells Church were ringing out across the fields, the clumps of spotted leaves of the early purple orchid were well grown and it was good to see the golden saxifrage’s tiny delicate flowers in full bloom, forming a sprinkling of yellow over the carpet of green under the tall trunks of the ash grove.
The ecology group of volunteers were busily engaged in their last cut of the year due to the onset of the nesting season. They are hoping that by cutting and clearing away the thick undergrowth and brambles and pruning the trees, it will allow more sunlight onto the banks to encourage more wild flowers and extend the dog violet season. If successful, the plan is to lure other species of fritillaries to join the Silver Washed Fritillaries which currently bring so much delight to warm summer days.
Andrew Marchant, who is managing the Great Elm embankment area, also mentioned that the watercourse formed from the seepage and field run off at the top of the hill had deposited tufa (or calcium carbonate) on the bed of the stream down most of its length. We have seen wonderfully shaped flowstone formed from a similar deposit in one of the tributaries to the River Frome some 3 or 4 miles away.
Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Blackbird, Robin, Jackdaw, Rook, Crow, Wood Pigeon, Pheasant.
Shepherd’s Cress, Golden Saxifrage, Cowslip, Primrose, Grape Hyacinth, Wood Anemone, Dog Violet, Dandelion, Lesser Celandine,
13th March 2018 – 2.30pm – 4.20pm
Weather Conditions: 12-13 C / 53-55 F /Clear and sunny, floating clouds, fresh stiff breeze.
Although the stiff breeze still had the chilly edge of winter, in sheltered spots the sun had a welcome spring-like warmth, a sign that this long, sapping winter is drawing towards its close. The clumps of purple dog violets along the south facing embankment looked a little bedraggled and the white violets, restricted this year it seems to one area, are only just beginning to open and very much fewer in number. The primroses are also looking battered from being buried under the recent blankets of snow, drifts of which are still visible under some of the hedges. Only the occasional blackthorn spray is flowering and the pussy willows are showing white but looked small and cramped rather than the explosion of fluff and yellow pollen we expected given the very early spring growth before the snow. Like us, they needed to be flooded with days of warm sunshine to give of their best.
We squelched through thick layers of sodden moss, avoiding the deep puddles as we searched for awakening life but, apart from a bee emerging from the shelter of the tufts of long grass, we were unsuccessful. Even the bee’s tentative foraging was brief and he soon returned to the warmth of his hole in the ground.
The stream was deep and calm, with barely a ripple disturbing its surface, the fields were filled with noisy Rooks and Jackdaws feeding on the grass, joined by the occasional strutting Pheasant squawkingly announcing its importance while a pair of Buzzards circle lazily overhead, searching for action.
We sat and rested on the oak bench facing the fields between Cranmore and Mells Church towers which was sheltered from the wind. Lifting our faces to soak up the warmth of the sun, our minds gradually quietened and stilled and all life’s difficulties slowly ebbed away.
4th March 2018 – 2.35m – 3.55pm
Weather Conditions: 8.5 C / 47 F / Bright intervals, patchy cloud, blue sky deteriorating to icy sleet.
A sudden rise in temperature signals a quick thaw together with heavy rain from late afternoon yesterday and overnight and the world is transformed! The impassable roads are open, the gutters are full, streaming and clearing dirty, slushy heaps of fast melting snow. All the ditches alongside the path are half full of gleaming black water from which the thick emerald green moss and blades of harts tongue ferns stand newly washed and glowing. The sound of rushing snow melt fills the otherwise quiet scene as the run off from the fields flood down the embankments and joins the tumbling waters of the stream.
What had been a path through the woods has now become a new stream, carefully following the twists and turns of the track around trees and shrubs and forming boggy patches in the sodden ground. No sign of roosting raptors, merely the remains of an old kill, the pheasant feathers bedraggled and torn, and three Buzzards rising slowly, glorious and sublime, from a low hedgerow at the edge of the wood, gliding across the field, displaying their beautiful wing markings – huge, powerful and impressive.
The distressing sight of the mangled trees and shrubs bordering the path show the depressing signs that the contract hedge cutters have been busy, dragging their machine’s robotic flail through old birds’ nests and newly sprouting leaf buds alike, leaving the raw remains of broken snapped branches exposed to the elements and the cycle path thickly strewn with small sharp cuttings and twigs, catastrophic to bicycle tyres and dogs’ paws.
As we turned for home the dirty sooty looking clouds released their load and we hurried through the sudden squall of yet more icy sleety rain listening to the jackdaws and rooks call as they fly overhead, followed by the croak of the raven.
A few fresh and perfect Primrose flowers rising pristine above the soggy ground, a few battered looking Dog’s Mercury and the occasional splash of vivid Scarlet Elf Cup were welcome signs of nature’s resilience to last week’s unseasonal return to winter.
Lots of parents and hoards of children, shrieking, dancing and gambolling along the path, cycling, pushing scooters, each other – jubilantly celebrating their release from nearly a week of sub-zero temperatures and frozen snow. Many walkers, a couple of runners and cyclists.
28th February – 3rd March 2018
Sub-zero temperatures followed by snow making roads impassable and villages and the cycle path cut off. Testing times for the wildlife along the Way.
20th February 2018 3pm – 4.30pmClustered Brittlestems (Psathyrella multipedata) – Many thanks to John Harris for identifying this fungi for us. Visit his brilliant website for further information – mushroom diary
Weather Conditions: / 9-8 / 48-46 F / Sunny, fair weather clouds.
The path was bathed in warm sunlight and protected from the wind so it felt quite spring like walking along the dappled path and standing watching the hordes of Tits, Robins, Wrens and Bullfinches trilling and chattering as they streamed through the trees, back and forth across the path with their non-stop twittering.
The stream, full, gin clear and surprising deep in places, confirming that we have had a period of high rainfall as well as cold days. As we walked deeper into the wood, we were surrounded by birds in full voice, echoing between the trees, heralding the spring, accompanied by the gurgling and bubbling of the stream. From the beautiful rich melodic songs of the Blackbird and the Song Thrush to the squawking Pheasants and penetrating clacks and wheezing and calls of the Rooks and Jackdaws, that wonderful winter sound. Lovely to see the first of the spring flowers, Primroses, Lesser Celandine, Dog’s Mercury and even Dandelion and White Deadnettle beginning to open and to watch a Buzzard swoop down and join its mate roosting dozily on a low branch, before it rose majestically into the sky and continued its hunt. Unlikely sighting of a Heron hunting the stream, rising slowly with leisurely flaps of his huge wings as we arrived and being joined by a small flock of Field Fares who had been searching the field for food.
A few cyclists, one runner, no other walkers – quiet, peaceful and serene!
15th February 2018 – 1pm – 2.40pmWaterlogged Fields
Weather Conditions: 7-6.5 C / 44-43 F / Intermittent sun and scudding clouds darkening as we walked; bitter wind.
Cold and sunny with a strong south westerly wind driving the rain clouds closer until we caught the edge of a hail storm, the icy drops cutting our faces and making our ears hurt. How heartening then to see first a single flower on a Violet plant, its purple bud just on the point of opening, a brilliant yellow bud of a Celandine, one spray of pristine white flowers on the Blackthorn, lots of Dog’s Mercury green-yellow flower heads filling their stems and a blood red female flower on the Hazel about to burst – despite the weather, Spring cannot be far away.
We were met by three ravens playing in the wind as we arrived on the path, calling out as they flew over, flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks hunted across the sodden fields and a single Song Thrush welcomed the brief spell of sunshine by singing lustily from a stand of trees. A party of at least a dozen Chaffinches flashed past, Bullfinches busied themselves amongst the emerging leaf buds and Great Tits and Blue Tits were constantly flitting from branch to branch among Blackbirds and Robins. As the weather worsened, first one, then two, then three flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares streamed across the path above us and disappeared into the fields beyond, chuckling as they went.
It is Half Term so there were small boys on bikes and small girls on scooters with parents and grandparents, lots of walkers with dogs, runners and cyclists all attempting to catch a spell of dry weather after yesterday’s torrential rainfall.
We chatted with an older couple from Coleford who were surprised not to hear any Great SpottedWoodpeckers as they had been hearing them drumming away every morning for nearly a month close to their house. We had certainly heard both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers along the path in the first week of February last year.
We met another couple from Peasedown St John who had an app on their smart phone and so were able to distinguish a Mistle Thrush farther along the path and who also saw lots of Long Tailed Tits near the puzzle bench. They showed us pictures on their phone of the small lake towards the Kilmersden end of the path and recommended the village pub there, the Joliffe Arms, as a good stopover for lunch. This is the pub with the brass plaque in the shape of a shield attached to the wall displaying the phrase “IN 1832 ON THIS SPOT NOTHING HAPPENED”
As we trudged back along the path, cold to the marrow from the driving, freezing, cutting wind, we watched the huge black menacing rain cloud being blown across the sky, revealing the sun at last. Just before we reached the end of the walk, as the sky became a deep Reckitt blue and the whole scene was bathed in bright winter sunshine, we began to feel some sympathy with the writers of the 1832 brass plaque.
7th February 2018 – 10.45am – 12.15pm
Weather Conditions: 1.5 – 4.5 C / 34.7 – 40.1 F / Full sun, biting wind, crisp with clear blue skies and thick hoar frost.
Brilliantly clear, cold and crisp – a perfect winter’s morning walk. The icy wind cut our faces ensuring a brisk pace in an attempt to keep warm.
A couple of men from Sustrans were hard at work shovelling and clearing the edges of the cycle path. Over the past weeks they have been steadily working their way from Great Elm; it’s a back-breaking job which according to the men will only last a couple of years before the earth and grass begins to edge farther and farther onto the path, eating up the space left for cyclists and walkers. Their work covers large areas of the South West but they have a particular liking for this stretch of Colliers Way as everyone they meet is so friendly, including the local farmer from Mells Down who had offered to help by clearing the edges with his JCB. All of us who use the path are very grateful for their hard work keeping the path cared for, none more so than the Robins, Dunnocks and Finches hopping around, pecking at the newly turned earth, searching for juicy morsels on such a freezing cold day.
As we arrived, a huge cloud of several hundred Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws rose from an area of standing corn where they had been feeding, soared and swirled en masse, flocking across the fields towards the mature trees strung along the hedgerows where they spiraled around before settling to roost and preen.
The birds were very busy today hunting and foraging amongst the branches. Parties of finches including several pairs of Bullfinches, Chaffinches, a Goldfinch flashing his beautiful scarlet faces and yellow wings, lots of Blue Tits (several pairs) and pairs of Great Tits, and a few Wrens. Every few yards it seems a tree supports a Robin, shouting lustily at each passer-by, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons were busy among the trees and we could hear the Pheasants squawking whilst strutting the adjoining fields, hopefully avoiding the frozen puddles. The same clumps of primroses which have been flowering since Boxing Day are still in full flower as is the occasional Dandelion.
The bank above the shallow watercourse is pitted all along its length with rabbit holes which are hidden most of the year by thick plants and undergrowth but are exposed during winter. The farmer’s field beyond the hedge at the top of the bank is where we see dozens of rabbits feeding in spring and summer although they are nowhere to be seen at this time of the year.
The hedgerows which line the path and embankment the length of Colliers Way with their mixture of deciduous trees and shrubs are a haven for wildlife and luckily appear to support a good number of hedgehogs from what we have been told. This is very heartening as a report published today shows a pretty catastrophic decline in hedgehog numbers in rural areas, a plunge of 97% since the 1950s and plummeting by more than half since the year 2000. It is astonishing how far they roam according to the same report – a single hedgehog travels as much as 1-2km a night in search of food and usually ranges over an area of 10 hectares (24.7 acres). The 23 mile long hedgerows, banks and scrub of Colliers Way must offer rich pickings for hungry hedgehogs!
1st February 2018 – Imbolc
31st January 2018Blue Moon?
28th Jauary 2018 – 2.15pm – 4pm
Weather Conditions: 11.5 C / 52.7 F / Grey overcast skies, strong wind, fine drizzle, lightening to occasional bursts of weak winter sun.
A large flock of wood pigeons appeared high over the path, tossed like autumn leaves across the sky by the strong south westerly wind and we were glad to reach the protection of the trees, away from the wind which, despite the mild temperature was pretty chilly. We heard two Jays arguing vociferously and noisily as we passed, perhaps over prey, whilst numerous Robins shouted their defence of their territory, Chaffinches pinked, a Nuthatches sharply called, a Blackbird sent out his alarm call, alerting all to our presence, while Buzzards mewed constantly overhead announcing it was mid-winter in the woods lest we had forgotten.
On the ground in amongst the trees on both sides of the path there were many clumps of clover and lords and ladies, (arums) poking through between repeated groups of scattered feathers, mostly wood pigeon, showing where birds of prey had enjoyed their feasts and one clump of hen pheasant feathers on the bank below the badger setts, possibly a fox’s leavings after he had eaten his fill. Many, many more new plants, nettles, herb robert, ground ivy appearing on the edges of the path and new leaves bursting out all along the trailing honeysuckle.
It was extremely disturbing to see a large thick branch, some 7 to 8 feet long, thrust into one of the Badger setts and boot prints and skid marks descending the bank. Even though there have been calls by the police in some parts of the country to repeal it, the Protection of Badgers Act is still in force (notwithstanding the licensed Badger culls presently operating) and it is still illegal to kill or injure them.
Many of the animal scats of fox and badger contained tiny bones and some squirrel, bank vole and rabbit droppings were pale from ingested wood bark, the exposed yellow heartwood on logs and tree trunks clearly showing signs of their hungry winter gnawing and depredations. More and more scarlet elf cap fungus seemed to have appeared almost everywhere this week, looking like splashes of new blood, vivid amongst the dun coloured gloom of the rotting leaves and moss covered fallen branches.
As we walked farther down the hill we came to the meadows bordering the cycle path where the rooks, jackdaws and crows noisily caw and chatter as they swoop from one field to the next, up to the line of trees and back, constantly on the move. Magpies and Blackbirds swoop across the path and two Song Thrushes, the first at one end of the walk clearing his throat and singing rather diffidently after the silent months of winter, the second at the other end of the path in good voice and performing lustily. The sky began to clear revealing pale blue skies, peachy clouds and rays of sunshine shedding a golden light on the bare branches of the trees – a beautiful winter’s afternoon.
A good number of walkers, a few cyclists and runners.
22nd January 2018 – 1pm – 2.30pm
Weather conditions : 7-8 C / 46-48 F / Very breezy and dry with occasional bursts of sunshine.
Fresh and clear with sunny periods and rain clouds building on the horizon, it was good to get out after days cooped indoors by incessant rain. The ground was sodden, with standing water in most fields and the stream was full and fast flowing.
There seemed a good number of birds about, uncountable numbers of Robins being very talkative from their field posts and perches along the Way, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, a Crow, Raven and Buzzard and a great flock of Jackdaws, Rooks and Wood Pigeons flying overhead. The primroses were still blooming, half a dozen plants of white dead nettles in bloom, one hogweed and a single dandelion were the only flowers, although the hazel catkins were now more than three inches long, showing yellow but with no sign of pollen. Extraordinarily, the Botanical Society’s New Year’s Day Plant Hunt survey found 532 plants in flower (75% of which were late flowerings) although about 80 less than the bonanza of last year, still a huge amount.
Lots of windfalls under the crab apple tree, a good feast for animals, birds and insects now that food is growing scarce. Interestingly a wood will often have just a single crab apple tree as they are solitary when growing in the wild. Next to the crab apple an ivy smothered elder tree and fallen branches close by were strewn with jelly ear fungus.
Jelly Ear Fungus
We luckily chanced upon Andrew, a keen ornithologist from Frome who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industrial heritage of the area. He had walked the path from Frome to Radstock and was on his way back after enjoying a good morning’s sightings, having seen all the finches including Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Bullfinches, flocks of Greenfinches and a rare sighting of a Hawfinch. Great to hear of flocks of Greenfinches given the Greenfinch is one of 28 species showing significant population declines of more than 50% over long-term periods of 31–48 years according to the recent BTO survey outlined above.
Andrew thought that the increased number of finches was as most of the Redwings and Fieldfares have moved on due to the scarcity of berries, this has allowed the finches to move in and hoover up what remained. We all noticed the early fruiting last summer and that many of the berries, in particular the haws, had shrivelled and dried before the Redwings and Fieldfares arrived, providing poor autumn and winter pickings.
He had also seen a pair of Skylarks singing high overhead, unusually for this time of the year, but the incident which struck him most was the sight of two Magpies trying to rob a Sparrowhawk of a Blackbird it had caught and was in the process of eating. The Blackbird was alive and trying to escape as the Sparrowhawk held it, still pecking at it, while fending off the attacking Magpies; when he walked on they were still squabbling and fighting it out and the poor Blackbird was still alive. He thought the Sparrowhawk must be one of the resident pair nesting in the woods near the bridge and was most likely the same one who left the woodpigeon feathers in the tree which we had seen last week.
A most enjoyable afternoon’s walk, the blustery wind banishing our megrims and the cold quickening our step to brisk! Busy with lots of cyclists and walkers and one runner.
14th January 2018 / 2.20pm – 4.03pm
Weather Conditions: 4.5 C / 40 F / Cloudy, cold – quiet and still
A misty, gloomy afternoon, damp and chill and as we walked up the section of the cycle path between the high hedges and the embankment, we were inundated by thick clouds of midges, far more than we have ever seen before.
We explored the small wood between the deep, fast flowing stream and the rough pasture which was dotted with trees full of bullfinches, blue tits, wood pigeons, fieldfares and a song thrush. Half hidden by the ivy cloaked trees in the wood, we watched a party of blackbirds feeding on the field floor, sorting through the leaf cover, impatiently tossing the dead brown leaves over their shoulders in their constant search for grubs and insects. One tree, slightly apart, looked as if it might be a favourite Barn owl roost as the ground beneath was carpeted with splashed white droppings and white feathers.
The trailing ivy, low branches and shrubby undergrowth form natural shelters or lairs, offering snug protection against the gales and icy nights of midwinter. Alongside one such den, on sturdy horizontal branches just above head height, were dozens of what looked like grey woodpigeon breast feathers caught amongst the moss and ivy leaves, possibly the remains of a Sparrow-hawk’s feast – a welcome hoard for long tailed tits searching for nest material to add to the spiders webs and moss which they use to create their expandable nests. Close by, half hidden by the leaf litter was the first scarlet elf cup of the season, a brilliant splash of bright colour amongst the dark green and brown ivy and dead leaves.
We walked up the wide grass tractor path leading from one five-barred gated field across the stone bridge through the wood to another. Next to deep snuffle holes beside the fence into the wood were clumps of the distinctive grey and black tipped hairs of a badger. As this is a considerable distance from the main collection of setts high up on the top of the embankment we wonder if there are yet more setts here, hidden in the depth of these thick woods.
No sign of the large flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks of just a week ago – a mere handful of Rooks and Crows, a few noisy Pheasants and Robins and just a single Goldcrest. Lots of walkers, family parties, groups of parents and children enjoying the fresh air, couples with dogs, some cyclists, a few runners.
The sky eventually lightened on the horizon, enough to see the flame-coloured sun sinking in a blaze of fiery orange. Noticeably colder – time to head home for tea.
7th January 2018 1.20pm – 3.10pm
Weather Conditions: / 4 – 3.5 C/ 39 – 38 F / Bright, sunny, clear blue skies, very cold north-easterly wind
We walked up from Buckland Bridge on a gloriously sunny afternoon, cold and bracing but exhilarating to feel the sun on our faces after so make weeks of dull, leaden skies. Everywhere looked brand new – bright green fields, sunlit branches and splashes of colour from the shiny deep red bark of the wild cherry trees and the St John/s Wort leaves.
The volunteers from Frome’s Missing Links have been working hard and the freshly cleared cycle path looked strikingly clean, all the fallen leaves and encroaching earth and moss removed making walking but most of all cycling so much safer and easier. They have also completed a good deal of work on the embankments, clearing undergrowth, removing trees and stacking the clippings in piles as winter shelter for the wildlife living along the banks. The unblocking and freeing of the gin clear water in and around the streams enable the field runoff to tumble and rush downhill, the sound of its splashing torrent competing with the train like sound of the wind whooshing through the bare trees.
Lots of birds, including parties of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Bullfinches and Chaffinches with Robins and Dunnocks dart in amongst the branches and flit from tree to tree; the ubiquitous flocks of wood pigeons are constantly on the move, particularly when the two buzzards are circling above them and a raven appears, imperiously kraa kraa-ing.
In a pasture beside the track just below Newbury Firs a huge uncountable number of rooks and jackdaws were feeding on the grass. In an almost casual leisurely fashion the birds rose together, a mere few feet from the ground and almost immediately resettled in what appeared to be a never ending rolling wave. There was also a constant traffic of birds leaving the field, flying over the path and fields up towards the line of beeches on the horizon, some settling, some turning and flying back to land again in the field, the air alive with that most atmospheric sound, the constant ‘tchack, tchack and kaah kaah of jackdaws and rooks as they flock in winter.
We came across tufts of fox hair on the edge of the path, possibly torn off by a parasite infected fox, rubbing itself against the bark of a tree. A little farther on a brown-purple jelly ear fungus which usually grows on dead elder lying in the middle of the path – presumably disturbed by the path clearing.
Very busy with lots of walkers, a number of cyclists and the occasional runner out enjoying the sunshine, well-wrapped up against the cold wintry air and strong wind which even drove the sheep to huddle together around a large oak in the middle of the field.
31st December 2017 – 1pm – 2.15pm
Yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 80th Birthday with family and friends and today we completed our “Year of Magical Walking” and our weekly recording of the flora and fauna we have seen along the Cycle Path since the 1st of January 2017.
There have been so many wonderful sights over the year but some of the most memorable was our excitement back in January at several sightings of a brown hare and later the same month when we watched a flock of 200-300 lapwings wheeling and feeding in a ploughed field alongside the path.
Our delight at the sheer profusion of clumps and clumps of sweet violets both purple and white along the steep south facing embankments and under the trees in March which also saw coltsfoot, primroses, crocus, blue speedwell and beautiful white blackthorn blossom, yellow pussy willows, and the blush tinged flowers of the English elms all in full bloom. It was also in March when we saw the first butterflies of the year, a Comma and a week later the Brimstone and in April the wild cherry and apple trees came into full blossom, such a wonderful sight, lit by the strong sun against deep azure skies.
By May, the fields alongside the path were carpeted hedge to hedge with golden buttercups and islands of white moon daisies and the verges edged with clouds and froths of cow parsley. It was also in May when we first heard the Nightingales, hidden in the dense undergrowth, singing seemingly forever in the warmth of late afternoon sun. Is there anything sweeter or more magical that the song of the Nightingale?
Come June the carpets of birds-foot-trefoil were quivering, so thick were they with so many bees. There were masses of butterflies, bees and burnet moths swarming and feeding over blossoming trees, shrubs and flower filled banks and on the long skeins of white bryony and dog roses climbing, entwining and cascading over trees and shrubs. And a quite extraordinary number of small heath butterflies everywhere, swarming and feeding around the meadowsweet and the privet hedges above us so we were walking through clouds of butterflies!
During the perfect warm tranquil and peaceful summer days of July the butterfly profusion continued, dancing and fluttering everywhere we looked, quite magical, which made the unseasonably wet August with its dearth of butterflies hard to take.
The turning leaves were particularly striking during September and the August rain seemed to have encouraged second flowering of very many plants. October brought the fungus, including the stately funnel fungus all along the badger sett bank, the tiny fairy inkcaps and the bright yellow waxcaps.
November saw the exciting return of the Redwings and Fieldfares and the tiny, scampering short tailed vole and we enjoyed the cold, frosty, bright and sunny mornings before the wet and dreary December was thankfully enlivened by watching the large flocks of Redwings, very many Buzzards, Ravens and even a Kestrel and a solitary Sparrowhawk and of course the finches and tits, busily dashing about from tree to tree and among the branches.
It has been a wonderful year logging our record which we are sad to see end but we have the coming year to look forward to. We will still probably post our observations but only log unusual or new sightings.
31st December 2017 – 1pm – 2.15pm / 9.5 – 10 C / 49 – 50 F / Strong cold wind, overcast skies, spitting with rain which later turned heavier and icy.
Waterlogged fields, standing puddles and streams in full spate after 15 hours of overnight torrential rain. Bare branches being tossed about in the strong wind. Male ferns and Hart’s Tongue ferns’ dark green prominent amongst the dead grass. A mixture of emerald and golden green moss carpeting the boggy area around the old station.
24th December 2017 – 1.25pm – 2.55pm / 9.5-11.5 C / 49-51 F / Milky, overcast sky, smudged grey clouds, strong blustery wind; intermittent drizzle – clouds growing heavier as we walked.
Chistmas Eve We stand on either side of one of the commemorative stones and raise a toast to the day with a tot of sloe gin from our hip flask.
The afternoon was grey and dead looking with very little sign of life but the wind fresh and envigorating. Few birds apart from at least a dozen bullfinches feeding amongst the branches and two large flocks of 100+ fieldfares flying over.
We were surprised to see three or four primrose plants in yellow bud and a couple in full flower – a clear sign of the mild weather of the past week. Rootlings and diggings, scrapings and scruffle marks all along the grass verge and many small nesting holes among the roots below the hedgerows.
Lots of walkers, cyclists and a few runners.
Long Eared Owl – John Hansford
21st December 2017
– Winter Equinox –
Fieldfare – Winter – John Hansford
12th December 2017 – 11.05am – 12.35pm / 1 – 4 degrees Celsius / 34 – 39 degrees Fahrenheit / A bitterly cold morning but sunny; spreading contrails forming hazy cloud, thick hoar frost, still, no wind.
After the coldest night of the year (minus 4 degrees C here but minus 14 C farther north) the air was bitter but the sun was bright, lighting up tiny ice crystals in the tarmac which glistened and flashed like diamonds as we walked towards them; our boots crunching and crackling through solid icy puddles and scrunching over frost covered grass and leaves – it’s winter. It was so cold there were no signs of the usual foraging signals, diggings or scrapings in the grass alongside the path, the ground just too frozen, as hard as concrete despite the warmth of the sun.
We saw quite a lot of birds, but mostly in ones or twos, apart from a small flock of Redwings flying over and an extraordinary number of wood pigeons and rooks feeding on the stubble of a maize or millet crop which had been left, part cut, part still standing in seed on the side of a field. There were hundreds and hundreds of birds, feeding, rising, wheeling, sillouetted against the low sun, and settling again on the stubble, with more and more arriving as we watched, forming an almost unbroken sea of grey and black birds.
We don’t usually notice the distant Mendip Hills but the snow which fell two days ago was still lying in thick layers across the hills and drew the eye. It was interesting to contrast the snow covered hills with the fields surrounding Cranmore Tower, still high but low enough for the snow not to have settled but cold enough to coat the fields with thick white hoar frost.
About a dozen walkers, some with dogs (the golden and black Labradors racing around and play fighting) three runners but only one cyclist – probably the frosty path too treacherous for bicycles.
6th December 2017 – 1.15pm – 2.40pm / 9-12 C / 48-53 F / Overcast, cloudy, gloomy. Rain, strong cold wind.
Typical English winter’s afternoon, dismal and bleak with lowering charcoal grey clouds and spitting rain which, as the afternoon wore on, became a persistent and steady smirr (a singularly apt Scottish word for soft rain blowing in from the west straight off the Atlantic Ocean) driven by the strong winds, cloaking and obscuring the distant hedges and trees in a thick white mist. The brown teasel heads stand proud amidst the shrivelled plants and the hedges and trees are cloaked in elaborately tangled lengths of the fluffy seed heads of old man’s beard.
Not many signs of life. A couple of cyclists, a couple of walkers, the siren sounding long and loud from the stone quarry across the valley near Chantry and the sound of the guns from the local game shoot splutter in the nearby fields. Flocks of long-tailed tits and finches busy themselves amongst the bare branches of trees stark black and skeletal against the wintry sky, a couple of buzzards wheel and drift on the wind and pheasants scurry along the field edge away from the guns.
Lots of scrapings and diggings along the grass verge and innumerable animal pathways showing up clearly now that winter has come, their tunnels and worn tracks leading through the rough overgrown grass and up the embankment until lost from sight as they disappear into the thick undergrowth beneath the hedgerows.
As we walked back we could see the lights coming on in the un-curtained windows of the isolated farmhouses half hidden across the fields, welcoming dots of yellow glowing in the deepening gloom. Despite the inclement weather, it was still good to be outside and exhilarating to walk, feeling the cold wind and rain on our faces, away from the fug of the over-heated rooms of home.
29th November 2017 – 11.15am – 12.40pm / 4-6.5 C / 39-43.7 F / Cold, full sun, northerly wind, frosty ground, a film of ice on the puddles
Glorious cold and frosty morning, brilliant sunshine, crisp air, our footsteps crunch, crunch, crunching through the thick hoar frost clinging to the grass and painting the plants and fallen leaves snowy white. Sailing clouds sent flying across the bright azure blue sky by strong winds, the soughing so strong and loud through the leafless trees it sounded more like a muffled train engine than gusting wind and rivaled the farmer’s tractor engine in a distant field and the rumbling, clattering and clanking of his farm machinery.
Vigorous, deep diggings in the grass verges all along the side of the track showed clear signs of desperate searches for food after a freezing night. Lots of small tits and finches flashing about, a mewing buzzard circling overhead, the wonderful winter sight and harsh Kaah sound of flocks of rooks along with the chyak chyak jackdaws wheeling above the fields, the unexpectantly close cracking kra kra of the Jay and suddenly, out of nowhere, a flock of Fieldfares flying over at speed.
But by far the greatest joys of winter, along with the bare trees and rare days of strong sunshine, are the unexpected flashes of colour; the groups of beautiful goldfinches, strikingly marked – bright crimson, white and black faces with flashes of yellow on the wings, so many, flitting about the branches; more and more bullfinches in the trees, a couple of males, flying fast, their rose-red breasts glowing in the sunshine, vying with the clashing deep pink and bright orange berries of the spindle tree are pleasures surely to rival the best days of summer.
Lots and lots of cyclists, some in groups, many runners, one other walker.
23rd November 2017 – 10.15am – 11.53am / 8 – 10 C / 48-55 F / Strong cold, blustery wind, full sun.
As we began our walk, stepping out briskly with the clear, cold air on our faces, we heard a full peal of bells from Mells church ringing out, carried across the fields on the rough winds. There wasn’t very much to see as even the birds were keeping close to the undergrowth, well protected from the stiff breeze. A large flock of rooks rose up in the air cawing loudly, disturbed from their feeding amongst the fields of kale.
A few trees, an oak, several willows and a small leaved lime were the only ones with their dry and shrivelled leaves still clinging to their branches, save a domed hawthorn glowing gold against a blue sky under an arching rainbow, the rest of the trees bare and grey. The lack of leaves revealed the shining slate grey branches and trunks of the blackthorns with their sharp lethal looking thorns, the purple black sloes but a distant memory.
We met a delightful couple from Shepton Mallet with their small Airedale. They told us they walked the path most days, delighting in the wildlife. They had once seen a fox and frequently see roe deer actually on the path, and a badger close to the large sett near Kilmersden. They often lifted voles and slow worms off the path and back into the long grass to protect them, but when one day in early summer when there were lots of cyclists they moved a shrew, they were amused to glance back to find that it had returned exactly to the middle of the path where they had found it. They had also seen a stoat and weasels several times near the rusting old railway brake van and wondered if the weasels had a lair there.
One group of walkers with a guide and a good number of others, singlies or pairs, most with dogs, two horse riders, several cyclists and two runners.
16th November 2017 – 9.30am – 11.40am / 9-13 C / 48-55 F / Chilly. Thin hazy cloud, clearing to blue skies and full sun.
A cold wind and, once the cloud dispersed, warm bright sunshine – like ice cream with hot sauce – delicious! Splashes of cheerful colour from the golden leaves still clinging on to some of the trees, the beech hedge alight with fiery bronze, the strings of scarlet black bryony and the deeper red of the rose hips and hawthorn berries light up a scene which is almost entirely dull buff and brown.
We meet a men from Buckland Dinham who has been walking this stretch of countryside long before the cycle path was created. He said that the deer used the old railway line as a track-way and, following their path as he did, felt like entering a tunnel formed by the trees with the branches meeting overhead. He saw more birds in those days as it was much quieter and less frequented but far, far fewer flowers and butterflies. Most of the cowslips and the beds of purple and white violets only appeared after the clearing for the cycle path allowed more sunlight to reach the woodland floor. He talked about the great pleasure the area has given him over nearly fifty years, culminating in the precious sightight last year of a Grey Shrike catching bees and impaling them on a thorn, the first time he had ever seen that particular bird!
Stone with embedded enamel signs of Old English Apple Varieties by Bristol artists Liz Turrell and Imi Maufe marking the Linear Orchard of apple trees paying homage to Joseph Beuys’ 700 oaks.
As the morning moved on, the bright, warm sunshine attracted more and more runners, cyclists and walkers, many with dogs. A group of 6-8 or so quite elderly women, a walking party from the nearby village of Mells, came striding briskly along, the tap tapping of their Nordic poles announcing their presence long before their arrival and long after they had passed.
The warm sunshine seemed also to attract the hunters (or maybe attracted their prey to emerge from their nests and begin foraging). We watched two buzzards soaring high, high up in the sky whilst another circled gracefully, slowly, low down over the woods, mewing constantly. Then the Ravens appeared, three of them, soaring and floating, with only the occasional insouciant flap to keep them in flight, drifting effortlessly, playing on the wind, barking and croaking, communicating to each other about who knows what.
8th November 2017 – 1.20 pm – 3.30pm / 9 C / 48 F/ Bright and sunny; crisp air, blue skies, cold NNW wind.
Beautiful day, full warm sun, air fresh and crisp. We almost immediately met up with a keen birder whom we often see. He had been on the path since 9 o’clock and had enjoyed a very good morning’s sightings, seeing Kestrels, Redwings, Fieldfares, most of the tits and finches and even a skylark! He had also seen a Little Owl when out on Monday.
We all watched a young buzzard flying over, its markings striking in the bright sunlight, and talked about last year’s judicial decision that refusal by Natural England to allow shooting buzzards to protect game bird was illegal. The cycle path is surrounded by farm land partly managed for game shoots and soon after he arrived that morning he had seen the gamekeeper and his team of beaters driving the pheasants towards the guns on their pegs by the hedge. As the shooting season started on the 1st November we will be able to judge by the end of the season whether there are still any raptors left in the area; we love our pot pheasant but love to watch the buzzards more.
We said goodbye as he went off for lunch and walked on watching the occasional flocks of finches and groups of tits dashing around the trees and hedges, noting the almost complete dearth of flowers and absence of fungus. We watched a pair of Jackdaws flying over, one carrying what looked like nesting material in its beak and then suddenly caught sight of a grey field vole (short tailed vole) skittering and scampering at top speed from the edge of the grass verge where we had disturbed him through a gap in the tufts of long grass. We waited and waited and then spotted him again, scurrying along the side of the old rusty iron rail at the top of the embankment before he disappeared into the clumps of tangled grass and plants. He looked very fit and healthy with glossy coat and clear eyes and probably welcomed foraging in the hot sun after the cold and frosty night.
As we walked home along the path, the sun began to sink and lose its warmth, the sky was turning to a soft pale blue and milky white from the diffused clouds when a flock of 40 odd redwings flew across, silhouetted black against the pale wintry sky probably driven away from the pheasant shoot several fields away, the sound of their shotguns having peppered most of otherwise quiet afternoon walk. Amusing to think that less than a week ago we were desperate for a glimpse of the winter migrants and now they are everywhere!
2nd November 2017 – 2.15 pm – 4.10pm / 12-13 C / 53-55 F / Heavy grey cloud, intermittent sunny spells.
For weeks we have been searching the skies and trees and thickets hoping to see either Fieldfares or Redwings all to no avail until this afternoon and there they were – both species have at last arrived along the cycle path! The latest BirdTrack newsletter notes “Reports of Fieldfare have been lagging behind the historical average so far this autumn, but have started to arrive in numbers in the last week” although John Hansford tweeted as long ago as the 20th October that 5 Redwings had flown past his house and another 40 on the 28th! Whatever, it is just lovely that they are here to brighten up our autumn and winter walks and help compensate for lack of flowers and butterflies.
We crunch through dry leaves underfoot in every shade of copper and gold, enjoying the lively scarlet splashes of rose hips and the pink/purple guelder rose leaves whilst clouds of midges float around our heads and the scent of wood smoke hangs in the air. A tractor in the adjoining field rattles and rumbles along, pulling a line of small rollers, their linking chains clanking and chinking but not loud enough to drown out a pair of argumentative ravens on the edge of the wood or the mewing of two buzzards overhead being barked at by crows rising from the trees. The unseasonably warm weather has transformed the bare earth of the spider web field of only a week ago into a carpet of new green winter wheat.
As we returned back along the track the low pale autumn sun water-colour washed the sky with soft milky light, sillouetting flocks of gulls, jackdaws and rooks circling and gliding, following the plough in another field and the group of gulls forming a V as they headed south.
The late afternoon mists were beginning to form and hang low along the hedgerows and distant woods while the low sun lit the nearby bare trees with copper coloured light and turned the small puffs of cloud peachy-pink amongst the dark grey rain clouds almost cloaking the sky.
Half a dozen or so walkers and a handful of cyclists passed along the path.
25th October 2017 – 2.15 pm – 4.20pm / 19 C / 66 F / Beautifully warm, sunny, fine weather reportedly blown in from the Azores. Light breeze – mackerel sky.
It was an extraordinarily warm afternoon for late October. We noticed slightly increasing numbers of birds but they are still not plentiful and no sign of winter migrants, although redwings have been spotted close by. More plants still flowering on this more open, less shaded, stretch of the path and lots of fungus.
The afternoon sun in autumn seems to create a phenomenon which we have only noticed a couple of times before on grassland – uncountable numbers of tiny spiders webs stretching transversely from clod to clod of earth across the entire ploughed and harrowed field. Highlighted by the angle of the sunlight, the gossamer threads looked like a shifting, glittering cat’s cradle, a pathway of brightness across the dun coloured field – quite magical.
The unseasonably warm weather encouraged people to stop and chat – a couple of young women, one with a five week old baby tucked up snugly in a sling across her chest, Natasha Littlewood with friend and dogs (which sniff out the hedgehogs) who had a wonderful photograph of a roe deer spotted from the path which regretfully I was unable to transfer successfully to this page. The cycle path was busy with walkers, children on half term, cyclists of all shapes and ages, and we were struck by what a social space it is when listening to one walker telling us of a group of older people she knew who ring each other and meet up by the Mells Road station and walk together along the path.
22nd October 2017 – 1 pm – 3.10pm / 12c / 53f / Cloudy, strong cold wind, bursts of sunshine.
A blustery, invigorating walk along the path bordered by trees whose wind tossed branches were being thrashed by strong winds, the remains of the previous day’s storm blowing itself out. Occasional bursts of bright sunshine light up the turning leaves of gold, copper, bright Spring-like green and magenta against racing clouds of an ominous dirty grey, filled with rain, chasing rags and wisps of white silver-light edged puffs across deep blue skies. It felt good to be alive.
The water course, the bone dry bed of which we had walked down only ten days or so ago, was now flowing full and fast for the first time since the Spring, tumbling over small waterfalls, pushing past wodges of sodden leaves and fallen sticks, racing downhill. The sound of the water together with the wonderful chattering of jackdaws, cawing of rooks and crows and ravens and the trails and clumps of fungus signalled autumn was well and truly here.
We were surprised to see such an extraordinary number of vibrantly coloured Red Admiral butterflies and wondered if these were newly arrived migrants rather than a late brood.
We chatted to one couple who alerted us to the funnel fungus on the banks below the badger setts. They were saddened that the bee orchid (one of the tallest, many flowered they had ever seen) had been slashed down by the machine which keeps the sides of the cycle path clear and we talked about the Medlar which we had noticed had suffered a similar fate. A few cyclists but lots of walkers and runners.
Fairy Ink Caps
10th October 2017 – 10.30am-12.35pm / 16-17c / 60-62f / Cloudy, overcast, chilly bursts of sunshine, fine rain showers.
Leaves turning, billows of white smoke from a large bonfire rising above fields barren of any signs of life, drifting and lost in the upper branches of the trees, a blustery wind soughing through the oaks and hawthorns, hazel, ash and maples, showering us with a confetti of golden leaves swirling around our heads and laying a copper carpet at our feet.
A considerable number of snuffle holes along the path side verges below the banks of badger setts, several grey squirrels scampering about up and down the trees, and flocks of tits flitting through the trees tweeting vociferously. Clumps and scatterings of fungus lie amongst the leaf litter, a single butterfly and a large hornet spotted as we walk along. The hornet is probably a queen given its size, possibly drinking the nectar of the ivy flowers which we understand hornets like as well as feeding on caterpillars. Mature ivy, prolific along the Way, must be one of the few wild plants to flower in the autumn, a boon for bees and butterflies and many other insects.
We saw a dead pheasant’s head on the path with no sign of its body or any feathers close by. Some people say this is a sign of foxes, others owls or birds of prey, yet others mink but who can tell. A dead squirrel thrown into the ditch at the side of the path – no sign that any attempt had been made to eat it.
Two horse riders. clip clopping, ambling along, a sprinkling of cyclists, several walkers with dogs. We chatted to a man in his 70s who had cycled over from Peasedown St John via Radstock – a return journey of some 14-15 miles. He urged us to take our bicycles to the park and ride at Bath and take the cycle path along his favourite ride, from Bath to Bitton, and sometimes on to Bristol.
Common Lizards – John Hansford
8th October 2017 It has been a brilliantly clear sunny autumn day with temperatures between 13-15 C / 55-50 F and there’s new email from John Hansford with some really interesting sightings and a wonderful photograph of two lizards (we have never seen more than one at a time or managed to photograph one!) Exciting to see the flocks of sky larks and bullfinches and to see the meadow pipits arriving for over wintering – a real autumn scene. We have also been noticing the increasing numbers of ladybirds just recently. John says :
“I attach a photo of 2 of the 3 Common Lizards seen from the cycle path this afternoon. Butterflies – 1 Comma, 1 Peacock, 1 Large White, 2 Speckled Wood, 6 Red Admirals. Birds – Winter flocks of Sky Larks building up with a group of 18 seen flying over the path as well at least 12 Bullfinches. The first Meadow Pipits of the Autumn have arrived. It was also noticeable that there were many Ladybirds around today, more than I have seen for a long time.”
Common Darter Dragonfly
3rd October 2017 9.50am-12.05pm / 12-14 C / 53-57 F / Bright, sunny morning. Cold wind, blue skies, the sun hot in sheltered spots
Although the cold wind and crisp air signalled autumn, the sun was warm enough to make the walk along the path wonderfully invigorating. The cheerful song of the many robins marking their territory and shouting at all the other robins to “get off my land” accompanied us along the way reminding us of the season as did the kaah and jack jack of the crows, rooks and jackdaws and the rusty croak of the raven.
A surprising number of plants still in flower, which must be very welcome to the bees and several butterflies we spotted, although the butterflies looked rather forlorn, flying all alone, the comma settled on a buddleia leaf as if waiting for the flowers to appear, although more likely to be just soaking up the sun.
Lots of cyclists (including a party of 8-10), lots of runners, and lots of walkers, all enjoying the bright, crisp sunny morning.
26th September 2017 2.05pm – 4.10pm / 17-18 C/62-64 F /Hazy sun, very humid, the air still and quiet.
The aromatic scents rising from the sun-warmed damp plants, flowers and mosses and filling the air as we walk along are quite heady, a sweet flower perfume intermingled with the sharp scent of wood smoke and the deep intense scent of wet grass and herbs – quite wonderful. The last remaining summer flowers are still lingering on, some with a second flowering, but apart from two or three small whites and a small tortoiseshell, there were no butterflies. It’s difficult not to mourn the final passing of summer when the memory of hot sun, warm air filled with butterflies and banks and glades full of flowers is still so alive and vivid.
The field maple leaves are almost entirely yellow now, the hawthorn leaves splashing ruddy-red like the wild cherry and the hornbeam seed-heads, hanging like upside-down-pagodas, have turned dark gold.
We stood watching a flock of chaffinches and buntings flying between the trees and bushes, acting almost like flycatchers, darting and swooping out of the branches snatching the tiny insects swarming in the still air, while a buzzard circles overhead and a raven’s deep throaty croak echoes across the autumn fields.
Lots and lots of cyclists, mostly oldies, a couple of women with their dog, a keen ornithologist from Radstock taking photographs with a plate camera on a tripod and a young woman, baby in sling, were the only other walkers. She was searching and calling for Flossie her English pointer who had disappeared into the thick undergrowth and despite us all shouting and whistling Flossie seemed determined to hide! She was found eventually – a beautiful bitch, white and cream.
Commas on Buddleia
19th September 2017 10.40am-1.10pm / 12-15 c/53-50 f / Sunny, light breeze, cool in the shade.
These days leading up to the Autumn Equinox signal the change of seasons – the sun is still hot but the air cool, there are butterflies around but fewer and the banks of flowers, trees and hedgerows have a decided autumnal feel – seed heads, berries and nuts replacing flowers, leaves on the Wych Elm turning pink and yellow, the Wild Cherry splashing orange and deep crimson and the borders of rose bay willow herb turning scarlet red, while the drone of a farm machine cutting the field hedges, tidying up before winter, drifts across the path and the contrast between the brown earth of the newly ploughed fields and the green grass lines cutting through the golden stubble is most striking. Black bryony’s skeins of yellow, orange and red berries are draped across the hedgerow like garlands of early Christmas decorations and the hips and haws are flaunting their profusion, sure to attract the Fieldfares and Redwings, due to arrive any time soon.
A dense mass of flowering ivy had attracted lots of wasps, one of whom was caught in a spider’s web but eventually managed to extricate itself and fly away. A delicate white downy feather lay beside a path winding through a stretch of moss, grass and low growing plants, drops of dew still clinging and sparkling in the sunlight. Occasional scattered clumps of feathers showed that some predator had managed a good meal.
A steady stream of cyclists in mufti and a few bikras, lots of runners with dogs and several walkers, enjoying the last traces of summer.
Simplicity – Oak Bench by Yumiko Aoyagi
12th September 2017 – 11am – 12.45pm: / 15-16 C / 55-60 F: Cloudy, light shower, chilly north-westerly wind and bright, sunny intervals.
We had not expected to see many, if any, butterflies after the cold winds, heavy rain and thunder storms of recent days but were even more astonished to see the comma, small copper and silver washed fritillary. Although there were speckled woods and whites all along the path, the remainder of butterflies were feeding amongst the flowers in an open glade, almost entirely enclosed by tall trees and shrubs, where the brief spells of surprisingly hot sunlight warmed the clearing which was completely sheltered from the blustery winds.
The cycle path under the trees was strewn with hazel nuts, acorns and small twigs blown down by the wind, the acorn cups fresh and clean, the acorns white through green to brown and the hazel nuts milky cream in their sheathes of bright green. Among the acorns, an aborted brown knopper oak gall, a small hole showing where the hatched lava emerged. Interesting to think that an English Oak doesn’t produce acorns until it is 40 years old.
Many considerate cyclists and only one other walker – the young man exercising his silver grey Siberian husky. When I said it was the first time I had seen the dog running free without pulling him along on his skate board, he said it was much too hot in summer but also that he was training him at the moment to be off the lead – he needed to be extremely watchful now there were pheasants about. He is a magnificent looking dog with striking colouring, piercing blue eyes and immensely fit.
Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar – Rebecca Muirhead
9th September 2017 – 9.10 – 11.30am / 13-16c / 55-60f / Sunny, fresh, blustery.
Newly harrowed earth neighbouring golden stubbled fields, a church tower rising proud among green, heavily leafed trees and hedges, lines of stately poplars quiet in the warm sunshine despite the blustery winds and rain clouds building on the horizon threatening the clear blue sky, the air fresh carrying the merest hint of the chill months to come. A classic English autumn scene.
The plants are heavy and bowed with brown seed heads, the shrubs laden with fruits, scarlet and purple berries, skeins of green, red and yellow black bryony winding through the branches. Before us the cycle path, winding and stretching for mile after mile, disappearing into the distance. The perfect morning for an amble.
Some bees and a few butterflies are still busy although the blues and bees have thinned out drastically. A Surprising number of plants are still in bloom, including some second flowerings, with many shrubs and climbers showing flowers, buds and fruit on the same plant but the profusion and sheer abundance of the summer flowers all along this particular stretch of the cycle path is becoming a distant memory. Half a dozen swallows fly low over the newly harrowed fields where a flock of jackdaws, rooks and wood pigeons are feeding. Many more birds around, some we see more are hidden and we only catch their song. It was good to see the elephant hawk moth caterpillar for the second year running although we have yet to see the moth.
A huge number of runners and cyclists (including bikras and the increasingly rare bell-birds) during the first hour or so with the occasional walkers, some with children and pushchairs, all enjoying the welcome sunshine after days of sullen skies and rain storms.
2nd September 2017 – 9.30am – 11.45am: / 15-19c / 59-66f / Fine, hot sun, air fresh, cloudless blue skies. Later cumulus clouds floated in
A beautiful late summer/early autumn morning – the sun hot, the air still and fresh. A buzzard began bothering rooks in the poplar trees around the pond, setting off a huge cacophony of annoyance from the rooks – he gave up and flew on. We heard a good deal more bird song and for the first time for months saw lots of mostly juvenile pheasants.
All along the path the trees and shrubs are showing that this is a bumper year for fruit and seeds: fat ripe elder berries, sloes, haws, rose hips, blackberries, hazel nuts, seeds thick on the hornbeam and field maple, thistles and rose bay willow herb, the dogwood branches scattered with unopened flower buds and black berries. There were honey bees and bumble-bees, heads down, tails in the air, feeding on the flowers of the scotch thistle, scabious and white dead nettle and butterflies, mostly whites and speckled woods, still hunting amongst the trees and the diminishing number of flowers.
Lots of cyclists, bikras, mums, dads, children, youths, and runners singlies or in groups, many quite elderly, several walkers, some with dogs.
Garden Warbler – John Hansford
27th August 2017 An email from John Hansford who writes: “At least 2 broods of Garden Warblers were successfully fledged along the cycle path this Summer although they are never easy to see. Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler again held territories on Mells Down this Year.” This is really exciting news as although we have seen Garden Warblers earlier in the year we have never seen Reed Buntings or Sedge Warblers.
25th August 2017 – 3pm – 5.10pm / 23c / 73f / Fine, hot sun, cumulus clouds
A beautiful summer’s afternoon, the sun hot and worthy of late August. Fewer butterflies but there seemed to be slightly more birds than of late, flitting through the shrubbery.
It is the fag end of the flowering season although a surprising number of plants are still in flower and there are great tracts of flowers like the rose bay willow herb and the thistles gone to seed and every gust of wind brought a drift of thistledown through the air.
Initially lots of cyclists, a pretty constant stream, some bikras – heads down going hell for rubber, some mums and dads and children, some couples and several pre-teenage boys cycling unaccompanied. Later fewer cyclists and more walkers.
We chatted to the ornathologist John Hansford who had spotted several butterflies we had missed, including a Brown Argus which we had never seen. He had also seen three red kites flying across the path going south towards the wooded Cranmore Tower direction. Frustrating to think that while we are peering down and attempting to identify a flower no larger than the head of a pin, red kites, goshawks, hobbies etc could all be flying overhead totally unnoticed!
Red Kite – John Hansford
Now the fungus season is upon us, it might be worth mentioning again the Field Study Council’s charts which the environmentalist from the Somerset Environmental Records Centre in Taunton recommended to us and which we have found them so useful. Identification charts
19th August 2017 – 2.15pm – 4.05pm: 18c / 64f / Sunshine and cloud – very strong westerly wind
We chose the woodland walk up from Buckland Bridge, whose trees offer protection from the strong wind, so there were few flowers. Most notable were the vivid splashes of colour of the fox and cubs (orange hawkweed) golden corn marigold, red legs, pink mallow and the beautiful fall of the deep red and cream Himalayan honeysuckle, whilst lilac coloured teasels and white enchanters nightshade flowers lit up the dark undergrowth.
Long skeins of black bryony berries, like small fat glossy grapes lit from within, clung and entwined through the shrubs and the incredible wild clematis some of whose plants climbed to an extraordinary height, 30 feet or more, high up into the tree tops, scenting the air with their faint subtle smell of almonds.
Walking through the ash grove (that most beautiful of trees, tall and graceful, whose pinnate leaves give flickering sunlight rather than dense shade) we crunched across fallen twigs and hazel nuts brought down by the high winds mixed with the empty shells of last year’s harvest and looked up at the ash leaves, 50 feet or so above us, beautifully lit by the full sunlight against a clear blue sky, being tossed and thrashed by the wind.
When leaning on the five barred gate watching half a dozen or so swallows skimming inches from the grass meadow, feeding on insects and performing their usual extraordinary aerobatics, a small herd of 25-30 black and white heifers climbed up through a gap in the hedgerow to check us out. So curious they came within inches of our faces, pushing and shoving each other to get a closer look. Beautifully healthy looking beasts with good strong sturdy bodies, their glossy black coats looking as if they were freshly brushed. Very few butterflies – meadow browns and speckled woods – the stream bed completely dry despite weeks of rain. Lots of fungi, including shaggy ink cap and common earth ball.
Grain field being harvested
15th August 2017 : 1.45pm – 4.20pm / 20 c / 68 f / Fine, sunny, brisk south-westerly wind
Fewer flowers in bloom and far fewer butterflies. Lots of honey bees busily feeding. The farmer arrived with a cheery wave to continue harvesting the barley field which had been left, presumably due to rain, half cut.
It felt wonderful to stroll along in the hot sun after so many weeks of rain and cold with only the occasional bright spell. The banks of tall rose bay willow herb now mostly fluffy with seeds with just the tips still showing their bright magenta spikes of flowers and the huge, fat heads of the thistles, some like pin cushions about to flower, some already also sending their seeds onto the wind. Wandering along the path which winds through the low shrub and grassy area, scattered with bright pink centaury, purple self-heal, yellow hawkweed and bird’s food trefoil disturbing the dancing common blue butterflies flickering around beneath our feet, fluttering from flower to flower. And finally taking our rest, sitting on the oak puzzle bench watching the silver washed fritillaries, red admirals, peacocks and small white butterflies chasing each other through the branches laden with rosy red apples, alighting on the nearby buddleia to feed on the last remaining half a dozen or so flower heads. Such quietude.
Reasonably steady stream of cyclists – lots of single men and a few family groups. Good number of walkers, parents with children, couples and singles, some with dogs. Chatted to a regular cyclist who was walking today about the huge grass snake he saw last year (at least 3-4 ft long) by Conduit bridge and how few cyclists he thought there were today compared to yesterday. He also commented on the group of visitors from Babington House we could see reading the Sustrans guide – he said he always recognised them by their bicycles. Chatted to a keen bird watcher we often meet about the nightingales we heard in May/June along the Way.
10th August 2017 : 10.45 am – 1.15pm / 17 c / 62 f / Fine and sunny after a succession of lows and heavy rain.
Most of the rose hips still green, but some are already red, the haws bright red, elderberries black and ripening fast, sloes purple and fattening, apples larger and redder, the berries on the wayfaring tree both red and black, hazel nuts ripening. Lots of plants still flowering although very many fewer than a few weeks ago.
Lots of cyclists: groups of racing lycras mixed with single and couple potterers, a good many walkers including a man who had cycled from Frome to Château-Gontier in France (raising £1,500 in support of Frome’s Missing Links) and his wife. We chatted about the number and huge variety of plants, butterflies and birds to be seen along the Way and how very much we all hoped that one day sufficient funds can be raised to complete the missing link between Buckland Bridge and Frome.
Leaf Beetle (bloody-nosed beetle?)
31st July 2017 – 10.30pm – 12.10pm / 17 c / Cloudy, sunny intervals, chilly wind.
Cool with a very decided feeling of autumn arriving in July in the air and on the ground. The flowers are going over rapidly and the fruits are already ripening. The number of butterflies has dramatically reduced since last week but increased slightly as the sun came out. Large puddles on the edges of the fields, still wet in places underfoot from constant rain storms; rain soaked oak benches and apples trees so laden with red blushed fruit the branches were drooping under the weight; the dogwood berries green and fattening.
Almost every head of scabious and thistle has its fat red tailed and buff tailed bumble bee or honey bee buried nose down, bums in the air feeding voraciously.
A steady number of walkers and cyclists caching a brief spell of fine weather between the frequent rain storms of the past weeks.
24th July 2017 : 2.30pm – 5.50pm / 21-23 c / Cloudy and humid but with bursts of dazzling sunlight. Strong wind battering the treetops above the protection of the path. Some fields have already been ploughed.
We were surprised, as always, by the sheer number of different species of flowering plants, trees and shrubs along the short section of the path from Conduit bridge to the oak picnic bench. Not so surprisingly, they were swarming with butterflies and bees – particularly the stately woolly thistles, some as tall as 5 feet or more with over 20 blooms. Each flower head had a bee feasting on the pollen, burrowed so deep it was almost lost to sight amongst the petals. Not surprisingly, the thistles have outstripped the oak saplings. One sapling, a mere 2 feet high, was already supporting 15 or so marble galls.
We chatted with a couple from Peasedown who cycled this stretch of route 24 on a regular basis. Although the Strawberry Line was a particular favourite, they had over the years cycled most of the rail trails in the south west and we talked about the sheer number of butterflies and the newly opened Brean Down Way which they were keen to explore.
Schools have broken up for the summer holidays so there were several groups of children with mums and dads. A gaggle of girls racing along excitedly swaying on their flicker scooters and four boys around 8 to 10, bicycles abandoned on the path, chasing crickets and grasshoppers and searching for lizards in the long grass beside a stretch of rail high up on the bank. The boys told us they had captured several common lizards, including a baby, and one boy came up and showed us a bush cricket perched, apparently contentedly, on the back of his hand. Heart-warming to see their interest and animation and imagining that these may be the naturalists or biologists of the future.
We were extremely distressed to notice a rather mangy looking rabbit in the grass beside the path, obviously blind, although not weeping or suppurating around the eyes. It was seemingly unaware of our presence, just half-heartedly nibbling on the grass, so possibly deaf as well. Presumably suffering from myxomatosis – horrifying to think that it could take up to 14 days to die.
If it wasn’t for the hot sun and number of butterflies, it felt more like the end of August than the end of July, with conkers the size of golf balls, apples red-blushed and ripening, sloes fattening and purpling and blackberries ready to be picked. Everywhere looked a little dusty and frowsy, despite the recent rain.
Passing fresh deer prints and following a butterfly into the undergrowth, I just missed stepping on a slow worm which disappeared with a speed which led me to think that he had been grossly misnamed!
Lots and lots of cyclists. Three other walkers (apart from groups of children and parents) one with a dog.
17th July 2017 – 2.30pm – 3.50pm / 23-24 c / Hot, humid, still, with occasional light breeze. Hazy sun, some thin cloud.
We walked with butterflies – dozens and dozens – uncountable numbers of them, fluttering around our heads as we strolled along. The bramble flowers, buddleia, trees and wild flowers swarmed with hunting and feeding butterflies. Quiet. An almost complete dearth of birds.
A small oak sapling, about 6 feet high, with at least 24 marble galls. The stream completely bone dry, despite heavy rainfall less than a week ago. Overall it has been a very dry spring and summer so far this year.
A reasonable number of cyclists, two horse riders (woman and boy) the fine looking, beautifully groomed horse and pony’s hooves were having difficulty maintain traction on the steeply descending tarmac path and every so often were slipping. One other walker with dog.
Silver-washed Fritillary on buddleia
14th July 2017 : 2.45pm – 5.10pm / 19c / Warm and sunny, cloudy skies, gusty fresh wind.
The most striking sight was the sheer quantity and variety of butterflies. So many silver-washed fritillary, red admiral, peacock, gatekeeper, ringlet, small blue, comma, large and small white swarming and feeding on the clumps of buddleia and banks of flowers all along the Way making the walk in the warm sun and sharp scent of wood-smoke a delight. We also saw what might possibly have been a female silver-washed fritillary of the form valezina, which has the same pattern but is differently colour. As we have never seen one of these before and didn’t take a photograph, it was impossible to be sure.
Long skeins of cream star like flowers and green berries of the white bryony cling and climb up the hawthorn trees and form long tangles amongst the brambles. Ripe blackberries, green blackberries, red blackberries and blackberries in flower, apples ripening and showing red, hazel nuts well formed, lords and ladies orange red berried hints that even in midsummer autumn is not far away. The fields of barley which range in colour from green through straw and buff to dark sienna are whirled and tossed by the gusty wind. Barely any birdsong now that the breeding
Lots of cyclists, couples, singlies, all in summer casuals – no lycra – just all ages out enjoying a leisurely summer afternoon’s ride in the sunshine. No other walkers.
3rd July 2017: 2.45pm –5.20pm/ 20 c / Sunny, strong breeze, blue sky, some clouds.
A tractor is cutting silage (two buzzards circling overhead) in a field hidden by thick hedges, sending a wonderfully sharp scent of newly cut hay wafting across the fields and filling the air all along the Way; unbelievably quiet when the engine cuts out. Massed clouds of meadow browns swarming over the brambles and hedgerows, clouds of hoverflies in a sunny clearing.
St John’s wort berries turning apple red, elder berries just forming, fat green berries on the black bryony, green-yellow acorns swelling, green and orange berries on the lords and ladies. Dearth of bird song, very noticeably quieter than even a few weeks ago.
Two environmentalists from the Somerset Environmental Records Centre, Taunton, were surveying the plants and butterflies from the Conduit bridge to Buckland Bridge and one recommended the Field Studies Council publications** for ease of identification. Four walkers (a couple with baby, 1 with dog), steady stream of single cyclists, one pair.
Sitting on the oak puzzle bench under the apple trees soaking up the warm late afternoon sun, wonderfully tranquil and peaceful. It’s a perfect summer’s day, quiet with only the sound of occasional bird song, watching butterflies and moths flittering across the plants and up into the trees and all is well.
Marbled white butterfly feeding on scabious
26th June 2017: 9.55am – 11.30m / 20 c / Fine, clear blue sky, contrails spreading and covering wide areas of the sky, cumulus clouds building on the horizon. Hot, burning sun, fresh cool breeze.
Perfect, idyllic summer morning. Fresh, fine and sunny, flower filled banks, clouds of butterflies after the dearth of only a few days ago. Lots of birds dashing around the bushes and tree tops, frequent alarm calls so the increased number of birds could include this year’s fledglings.
Hawthorn berries, rosehips, apples and blackberries all fattening and showing red. The banks are filled with pale straw coloured grasses ripening in the full sun, mixed with white moon daisies, violet blue meadow cranesbill, mauve scabious, yellow agrimony, drifts of cloudy white hedge bedstraw, clumps of purple knapweed, all swarming with a great variety of summer butterflies.
A steady stream of cyclists – singlies, pairs, small groups; a couple of other walkers.
Moth feeding on bladder campion
– Summer Solstice –
21st June 2017: 0.55am – 12.30pm / 29-30c / Hot. Slight cool breeze, thin hazy cloud.
Extremely hot – burning sun. There were fewer butterflies overall as typically happens in the June dip, a noticeable exception was seeing so many marbled whites for the first time. The June dip always seems counter intuitive as the summer plants are flowering at their peak. We spotted a small colony of mining bees burrowing around in the sandy soil by the picnic bench and watched bees diving in and disappearing while others flew out of separate holes.
The archive article on the wildflowers on railway embankments in 1914 made interesting reading, particularly noticing how many of the species like poppies, rock rose, horse shoe vetch, fennel etc are absent from our very similar positioned south facing embankment.
A great relief that the embankments here are not subjected to falling cinders from locomotive fireboxes which was a common summer problem then when the cinders used to set fire to the dry grasses all along the embankments during hot the weather, causing widespread devastation and leaving the embankments burnt black and bare. [See Cuttings Footnote 7 at the bottom of the page]
Dozens of cyclists, pairs and singlies in their racing lycra as well as couples (several of the girls in summer frocks and straw hats perched on sit-up-and-beg bicycles). A couple (the man in a mobility scooter) and young son only other walkers.
18th June 2017: 2.20pm – 4.00pm / 27-28 c / Hot, humid, partial shifting clouds, occasional cool breeze
A prodigous number of small heath butterflies everywhere, particularly swarming and feeding around the privet and meadowsweet, often 5-8 butterflies on each clump.
A strong, sweet herby scent of sun warmed grasses and flowers drifts on the air from the meadows and banks, the heat also strengthening the scent of privet blossom, elder flowers and meadowsweet. The green berries on the black bryony are already beginning to fatten. Only two other walkers and two cyclists – extraordinarily quiet.
The sleeper picnic bench by the flight of memorial bricks is wonderfully positioned under the dappled shade of the ash and oak trees to catch every breeze wafting through the 15 feet or so gap in the hedge. A perfect place for summer picnics. The gap also opens up an idyllic view on the horizon of the old Rectory where Leonard Woolf stayed whilst visiting his friend the Rector of St Mary Magdalene Church, Great Elm.
A great deal of thought has been given to the positioning of all the single, puzzle and sleeper picnic benches along the Way. The oak puzzle bench under the apple trees near the entrance from Great Elm is positioned to catch the full sun in the spring and autumn, whilst others offer welcome shade on hot summer days.
Burnet moth feeding on scabious
13th June 2017: 2.15m – 4.50pm / 20-22c / Hot sun, very warm, blue Magritte skies with floating white clouds.
Beds of birds-foot-trefoil quivering, so thick are they with so many bees. Butterflies and bees swarming and feeding over blossoming trees, shrubs and flower filled banks. Lots of burnet moths, three together on the newly opened head of a knapweed flower. Long skeins of white bryony and dog roses climbing, entwining and cascading over trees and shrubs. The path busy with cyclists and runners; 3 other walkers.
7th June 2017 : 11.30am – 2.20pm / 15-16c / Fine, cool but sunny, gusting strong wind
Several fields beside the path thick with deep yellow buttercups and rusty red sorrel, waving grasses and swathes of moon daisies, mixed with deep blue meadow cranesbill and purple self-heal under sunny, cloudless blue skies – views which shout that summer has arrived! A female roe deer, having found a sheltered spot beside a hedge, is basking in the sunshine, her head popping up above the buttercups to check on us.
A steady stream of cyclists swish and whizz past, almost entirely singlies; 3 walkers. Strong, gusty winds but quiet between the hedgerows and very warm in the sun, fresh and cool in the wind. Wonderfully quiet. Increasing numbers of many varieties of fungi.
Meadow Brown feeding on Moon Daisies
1st June 2017 : 12.05pm – 4.20pm / 22c / Fine, breezy afternoon, mostly sunny, intermittent cloud.
We were so heartened to hear the nightingales again, still in the same area on either side of the path, filling the air with their song. As we stood listening, cyclists passed, the swish of their wheels making a soothing accompaniment to the birdsong and not at all disturbing we imagine to the birds. This stretch of the path is cocooned between dense trees and scrub so all sound is enhanced and echoes. The plants and shrubs are coming into summer flowering and innumerable numbers of bees of every size and colour are everywhere, wherever you look, swarming over hedges and banks and verges, burying their faces into the masses of newly opened flower heads.
One other solitary walker but lots and lots of cyclists. A large party of 15-20 cyclists (oldies with foldies), parents with young children (some cycling independently some being pulled or atttached to a parent’s bicycle) singles, couples, some stopping to picnic, all enjoying the peace and the welcome sunshine.
Nightingale [Kev Chapman]
23rd May 2017 : 2.15pm – 5.10pm / 22 c / High cloud, drizzle, strong breeze, clearing to cumulous clouds in blue skies and hot sun
The highlight of our day and year so far, was listening to the nightingales. We were walking back in the late afternoon, foot weary from having walked really too far, the sun hot on our backs and measuring the distance to the next picnic bench, when we heard first one and then two nightingales on either side of the path. The first was quieter and stopped soon after we arrived but the other, hidden in a dense thicket of bramble backing onto a deep hedge, surrounded by shrubs almost covering the path, singing his rich and varied song, non-stop, loudly and quite magically.
We walked stealthily up and down the path searching the undergrowth but we didn’t even catch a glimpse. It seemed impossible not to spot the bird when he must have been so close, but the thicket was wide and the undergrowth was so tangled we couldn’t see anything at all. We listened, quite enchanted, for more than ten minutes until a couple of walkers arrived with their dogs and as soon as the dogs barked, the nightingale stopped singing and we reluctantly moved on.
22nd May 2017 : 11.30am – 2.30pm / 19-22c / Sunny, breezy, high cloud clearing to full, hot sun.
Beautiful May day, hot sun, cool breeze, the air filled with birdsong and the scent of wild flowers. Slight flow and trickle of water in the stream after days of rain. Fields carpeted with golden buttercups and islands of white moon daisies, clouds of cow parsley edging the path. Hawthorn flowers almost all over, no apple blossom – the season so very fleeting.
We lost count of the number of cyclists there were so many – in ones, twos, groups, tandems, all ages (although mostly 20s-30s) and sexes (pretty evenly between men and women). Two walkers.
Early Purple Orchids
9th May 2017 : 1.55pm – 4.15pm / 12-13c / Full sun, light cool breeze – hot in sheltered spots
Still no rain, the stream completely dry apart from a few puddles. Apple trees still in blossom, still scenting the air. Noticeably greener and thicker leaves on trees and hedges, dappled shade making the paths look wonderfully summery.
Some dozen or so cyclists, including a couple riding a tandem with a baby trailer attached and a dog running alongside! A couple of walkers. Very, very quiet and tranquil.
Heritage apple tree blossom
2nd May 2017 : 10.30am – 12.10pm / 12-14 c /Mainly sunny to patchy cloud. Light breeze.
Hot in the sun – a perfect May morning.
Still very dry. The apple trees are thick with blossom and swarming with bees, the hot sun deepening the heavenly, heady scent, perfuming the air. Noticeably greener and thicker leaves on the trees and hedges.
Very busy with lots of cyclists, runners and a few walkers. A young graphic artist who worked from home said he thought Colliers Way was as good a stretch of countryside as anywhere. Although he enjoyed competitive distance running, he still tried to take a break from his computer to walk along the path, to enjoy some fresh air and exercise and clear his mind. Another walker who came every day said he particularly loved the long stretch of the embankment towards Radstock where there were so many rabbits and the smaller bank towards Geat Elm which in the summer is a mass of wild flowers, butterflies and bees. He had noticed an increasing number of deer.
25th April 2017: 1.50pm – 3.30pm / 8-9 c / Full sun, cold northerly wind, warm under the protection of the trees .
Very quiet, the bitterly cold, strong northerly wind deterring cyclists. Still very dry. The stream reduced to barely a trickle, completely dry by Newbury Firs. Most trees in leaf, field crops haze of green.
A few walkers, including an older couple from Midsummer Norton and a woman from Warminster walking with her rescue dog who chatted enthusiastically about the cuckoos she listened to regularly in the woods near Warminster.
All three said how much they envied Frome for having such a quiet haven for wildlife so close to the town as there was nothing similar anywhere near where they lived, nor close to Salisbury where a daughter lived. The couple said they had seen yellow hammers and tree creepers and met a local ornithologist earlier in their walk who had seen a Goshawk flying above the trees. They also talked about the number of badgers and foxes along the banks and one of the women remembered her father talking about the badgers along this stretch and all agreeding about how long the badgers had been there and how they were using the same setts.
18th April 2017 : 12.45pm – 3.50pm / 10-12 c / Full sun, blue skies, hot sheltered from the wind.
Particularly beautiful as most of the flowering trees are now in full blossom, basking in the hot sun and scenting the air – wild cherry, blackthorn and heritage apples trees all along the way. Very dry. Most trees in leaf, fields a haze of newly emerging green crops.
Lots of cyclists and walkers enjoying the hot sunshine. Mums, dads, children, as well as singles, pairs and groups. A husky – pulling the young man skateboarder – as eager and fast as ever.
We passed two young men who, having travelled from Bristol to Bath by train, were now walking from Bath to Frome along the Way. They talked about the increase in red kite sightings in the south west and hoped one day these would match the close quarters views of them seen whilst walking in Wales. An older couple (the man newly retired) from Paulton had joined the Way at Kilmersden and had seen several yellow hammers today and a magnificent roe deer stag by the pond the last time they walked the path.
We were lucky enough to meet Rob Beale by the puzzle bench. He had also seen yellow hammers, common white throats, lesser whitethroats, linnets and blackcaps although he thought it was quite a quiet day overall for bird sightings. He recommended a very useful and free Bird Sounds app which can be downloaded from Google: https://play.google.com/store /apps/details?id=com.luminousapps.ukbirdssounds&hl=en_G
We were then joined by an old ornithologist friend of his, Dan Lupton, and enjoyed a most interesting exchange of birds seen, where and when in the area of the Way. Whilst chatting and soaking up the sun a dunnock perched on the apple tree beside us, several swallows flew over and a skylark sang as it soared over the fields!
Dan will be leading a bird walk in Frome on May 6th in support of F.R.O.G.S. Check out their website for details: http://www.fromefrogs.org.uk
Buff tailed bumblebee
11th April 2017: 11.45am – 1.30pm /12-13 c / Sunny intervals, cloudy – cold, gusty breeze.
Stream sluggish at the bridge, a trickle by the steps, dry at the top. Hare field ploughed and harrowed.
Easter Holidays so lots and lots of cyclists, young men, pre-teens, older men, cycling alone or in pairs; dads and sons, mum and children with bicycles picnicking at the bench by the steps.
Young woman lunching at Mells Café having cycled from Bath, before cycling back along Colliers Way. She regularly cycled the Bath-Bristol path.
5th April 2017 : 11.05am – 12.45pm / 11-12 c /
Quiet and peaceful spring morning, the cool air full of birdsong and the scent of wood smoke. After a dry month of March, the stream is parched in parts, trickling in others, but the lack of rain means the soggy bottom bench is completely dry!
Easter Holidays. Lots of cyclists, walkers with dogs, couples, mums with push chairs and mums with children.Sat soaking up the sun on one of the oak puzzle benches, watching the butterflies, chatting to a young couple (originally from Devon) who have moved back to the West Country after some years working and living in London. Having just discovered Colliers Way they are enjoying exploring the path on foot while they look for suitable bicycles.
3rd April 2017 : 10.30am – 12.45pm / 12-13 c / Sunny. Strong, cold, southerly wind.
Banks and banks of blackthorn, wild cherry and pussy willow in full flower, a wonderful sight against the blue skies lit by the strong sun.
We had a long chat with two keen and knowledgeable ornithologists from Coleford (John Hansford and Rob Beale). They had seen linnets, marsh tits, blackcaps and kestrels, etc etc this morning and had in previous summers seen firecrests, yellow hammers, white throats (as many as 80 in the fields) hobbies (breeding nearby) wheatears, lapwings and spotted flycatchers, and many others, including nightingales.
They also mentioned that the broad thicket of mixed shrubs and deciduous trees fronted by an open grassy area between Mells Road and the bridge was, they believed, an extremely important habitat as it was acknowledged to be the best area in the whole of Somerset for warblers. In addition they said that in the summer they have seen lots of silver washed fritillaries in the area of Buckland bridge. There are certainly a huge number of violets all along the edge of the path for the lava to feed on. Another birdwatcher we met, from Frome, had also seen blackcaps and willow warblers for the first time this year.
First day of the school Easter holidays so very busy with walkers, runners, cyclists, children (cycling and walking both on their own, with groups of friends or with parents) dog walkers and bird watchers.
28th March 2017 : 2.25pm – 4.05pm / 10 c / Sunny, light cloud turning overcast signalling approaching weather front.
The wind is cold, very strong and blustery. The stream bed quite dry in the upper stretches, low near the steps.
We were very surprised to see three more species of fungus. The common morel (morchella esculenta), pale winter polypore (polypors brumalis) and a group of russet brown fungus in the grass beside the track. Possibly entoloma clypeatum or more likely UBF (unknown brown fungus!).
Lots of cyclists including a young man cycling one-handed, the other holding the leads of the two dogs running alongside; a few walkers. Although we have only once seen a horse and rider, we always see copious mounds of dung all along the path so we assume it is a regular route for horse riders. A very welcome sight for rose growers and silver washed fritillaries!
21st March 2017 : 10am – 12.10pm / / 6 c / Full sun, blue sky, bitterly cold. Sharp hail shower and strong south westerly wind.
Much colder. Lots of trees showing their leaves, particularly hazels and elder. The volunteer Ecology group of Frome’s Missing Links have been busy and have added wooden seats to the sleeper picnic bench by the flight of steps and on the path above Buckland bridge. They have also built steps and a sleeper bridge across the stream near the bridge. The stream is still dry in the upper stretches and low near the steps.
Colliers Way cycle path
15th March 2017 : 2.20pm – 4.10pm / 13-14 c / Full sun, light breeze
Tree and hedge-lined cycle path past ploughed fields, some stubble, some rough pasture. Glorious warm Spring day, sunny and fresh.
The sheer exhilaration of freewheeling along, wind in our hair, sun on our faces, the clear air echoing with almost continuous birdsong, glimpsing clumps and banks of purple and white violets and the cloudy mass of pale yellow pollen covering the pussy willows and hazel catkins. This is a delight for us to remember, treasure and savour during the rainy days promised by the weatherman in the week ahead.
Stop Press! Wonderful news – Dr Sarah Bradbury has announced in today’s Sustrans newsletter that, owing to an award from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Greener Greenways project, which has been running in some parts of the country for three years, will now be extended to take in more routes, including our own stretch of Colliers Way.
This news makes us more determined than ever to log the birds, plants, animals and insects which we see when walking along our stretch of the path. We are so curious to see what naturalises in undisturbed ground during decades and decades of neglect and what insects, birds and animals colonise the area. An exciting prospect ahead!
13th March 2017 : 1 pm – 2.50pm / 13 c / Full sun, blue skies, cold stiff south westerly breeze
The stream is calm – medium flow – absolutely gin clear.
Chatted to a keen birdwatcher who had heard a chiff chaff and a willow warbler (at least two weeks early) among the trees between soggy bottom bench and Brick Kiln Farm bridge.
He said that in previous years he had often seen firecrests in the same area and yellow hammers, corn buntings and linnets on the track near the old station. He usually walks through at around 8-8.30am at this time of the year or after 5pm in the afternoon. Lots of cyclists, some walkers.
Blackthorn (Sloe) blossom
9th March 2017 : 2.20pm – 4.10pm / 12 c / Hazy sun, cold wind, slightly overcast, fresh breeze.
Hundreds of rooks and jackdaws feeding in a field of stubble and across the ploughed fields; pheasants in the rough pasture
Clumps and clumps of sweet violets both purple and white along the steep south facing banks and under the trees; coltsfoot, primroses, crocus, blue speedwell and beautiful white blackthorn blossom, yellow pussy willows, and the blush tinged flowers of the English elms all in full bloom.
Busy with lots of walkers – LOTS and LOTS of cyclists!
7th March 2017 : 11.25am – 12.45pm / 7-8 c / Hazy, clearing to full sun, blue skies; Spring like.
The stream in full, good flow. Bands of long tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, coal tits chasing insects, robins, song thrush, three buzzards hunting above the stand of trees on the edge of the hare field, green woodpecker calling, jay, rooks, jackdaws, pheasants, great spotted woodpecker drumming, tawny owl hooting (11.45am) wood pigeons, wren.
Bold splashes of more and more scarlet elf cup fungus scattered under the trees; mauve wood blewits (lepista nuda), celandines, wild chives, rose briars in full leaf.
Lots of cyclists, walkers (some with dogs) and runners. Another frequent sighting of the running husky in a harness pulling a young man on a skate board, about 8-10 miles an hour, uphill!
Stop Press! Frome’s Missing Links (FML) has won just over £48,000 in funding to help it build phase 2 of a traffic-free route to connect the Colliers Way cycle path with the centre of Frome. Patients at Frome Medical Centre could soon find themselves prescribed cycling as a treatment.
Scarlet Elf Cap fungus
1st March 2017 : 2.10pm – 4.05pm / 7 c / Overcast, cold, intermittent drizzle.
Rough pasture, some winter wheat. Stream (winterbourne/field run off) very low.
Noisy flock of 30-40 twittering gold finches mixed with a handful of field fares and redwings disturbed by two buzzards hunting low above the trees. Party of 4-5 blue tits flying over. Heard a song thrush in full song, robins singing lustily, a jay and a tawny owl (3.30pm). Flocks of jackdaws, rooks, wood pigeons, crows and seagulls, most flying westwards.
Scarlet elf cup fungus (sarcoscypha austriaca) sprouting on dead wood; sycamore seedlings pushing through. Three roebuck in the winter wheat field by Newbury Firs. Fine, healthy specimens.
Lots of walkers (most with dogs) and a solitary cyclist.
Long tailed tit’s nest
28th February 2017 : 9.20am – 11.30am / 5 c / Full sun, cold wind, clouding over later.
Stream above the flight of steps deeper, fast flowing. Ovoid shaped long tailed tit’s nest high up amongst the old man’s beard (wild clematis) in the blackthorn hedge.
We came across a group of five people (men and women) digging at the entrance to a badger sett. They had lost their dog at 5pm the previous afternoon when she had disappeared into the sett and, although they heard her whining, she didn’t come out. They returned this morning with spades to try and dig her out but had so far been unsuccessful. One of the men said the sett appeared to be unused with no freshly dug spoil heap or discarded bedding at the entrance. He thought it smelt, possibly of fox, so could have been a fox’s lair.
Lots of runners today (at least 11) some paired, some with dogs. Very many cyclists. No other walkers.
21st February 2017 : 11.30am – 2.10pm / 10 c / Grey overcast skies, intermittent mizzling rain.
The stream is shallow, just a trickle falling over the sleeper bridge. We watched a kestrel flying back and forth across the path then landing on a wooden fence near the entrance. Four pigeons in a row perched on a fence beyond until kestrel lifts off the fence and they scatter. Three buzzards soaring on the wind above the trees on the edge of the hare field. Heard the sharp bark of a vixen red fox in the field beyond Fussell bridge. There were fresh badger diggings around setts and lots of muntjac prints on several paths up the banks and into fields.
Talked to a dog walker from Oldford who said he had occasionally seen deer grazing in the fields in the valley between the path and Great Elm and muntjac on the edge of Newbury Firs.We found a hidden geocache box with several badges a pencil and notebook with 30 signatures over 2 years and added our signatures.
17th February 2017 : 2.45pm – 3.45pm / 11 c / Hazy, sunny, light thin clouds
We had a long conversation with the Missing Links’ volunteer Ecology Group who were clearing brambles, some blackthorn and undergrowth from the banks above the path, laid some to hedging and burning the cuttings about their plans to extend route 24 into the centre of Frome and the problem they would need to overcome.
One talked about the animals and birds he has seen over the years he had been working on the path. Bank voles, slow worms and common lizards on the banks, lots of local bats, peregrines flying over, deer in the fields around the bridge and frequent sightings of an otter in the stream which starts at the top of Newbury Firs and runs down the hill to join the Buckland Brook and the Mells River.
Fern in flower
15th February 2017 : 3pm – 4.30pm / 11 c / Sunny, fresh.
Song thrushes singing, buzzard mewing loudly as we arrive, green finch calling,
Beautiful walk in the sun after cloudy start and days of heavy overcast skies. First sightings of deer prints in the muddy opening into the field leading up to the woods. First primroses in flower, furry catkins of the pussy willow pushing through, arum lilies about 5 inches tall clumps of snowdrops.
Lots of walkers with children (half term) and dogs; only 3 cyclists.
7th February 2017 : 11.15am-1.10pm / 10 c / Streams in full spate, deep and fast.
Buzzards, blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits, robins, wren, blackbirds, rooks, jackdaws and crows. A greater spotted wood pecker drumming, green woodpecker yaffling, pheasants, wood pigeons, a song thrush singing and two mallards on the edge of a flooded field!
All of the hazel trees covered in bright yellow catkins, buddleia in new leaf.
31st January 2017 : 3.30 – 4pm / 9 c / Overcast, very fine drizzle, southerly breeze
Winterbourne in full, noisy spate – lots of small waterfalls over dams formed by fallen leaves and branches blocking the flow.
Heron, magpies, raven, robins singing, song thrushes singing, wrens, pheasants, rooks, jackdaws, crows, wood pigeons, at least 10 long tailed tits chasing each other through the branches.
22nd January 2017 : 2.30-3.30pm / 5 c / Fine, sunny, light wind, very cold.
The stream or winterbourne run off from the fields above the flight of steps showing just a shallow trickle.
Hedgerow and trees opposite the steps have been cut down to allow good view across the fields to the church and rectory at Great Elm on the skyline.
Notes on New Trail
The new path will link to the old Dorset & Somerset canal and two new bridges will need to be built, one over Jacks Lane (Murtreye) and the other utilising the aquaduct over the Mells River on towards Frome.
Quotation from Missing Link: The second phase, between Great Elm and Elliotts Lane, Hapsford, has been designed, and a planning application has been submitted, and the land permissions are in place. We are now seeking funding for the construction and working on developing the plans for future phases.
Brown Hare by Bleaklow John
10th January 2017 : 2.55 – 4.20pm / 8-9 c / Dull, overcast, light wind
Uncultivated pastureland, deciduous mature trees, many self seeded saplings (mostly ash, hazel and hawthornes). Heritage apple trees.
The rose briars are in leaf, some rose hips left but all the haws stripped from the hawthorns, some apples rotting on the ground for the redwings.
A brown hare eating then running through the rough pature among the pheasants on the edge of the wood. Lots of squirrels doing their usual aerobatics in the trees.
A representative of The Hare Preservation Trust writes: “According to their map, this is a good spot for hares with very little human intervention. Hares do well where land is managed or attracts pheasants so I am not surprised to hear that there are hares around here. There seems to be plenty of areas where wild plants can flourish, and although hares keep themselves going on farm crops they do prefer to nibble weeds and move on.”
Lapwings – Chris Rose, Four Marks, Hampshire
1st January 2017 : 11.30am – 12.30pm / 7 c / Steady rain, brisk NE wind, overcast skies
Cycle path past mixed hedges, trees, pasture, some winter wheat. Flocks of rooks and jackdaws circling above the tall beeches which form a boundary at the top of the ridge; well spaced crows and magpie nests among the upper and middle bare branches of the trees.
Redwings, blackbirds, robins, wood pigeons, flying amongst the branches as we walk along and a solitary song thrush sings loudly, repeating and repeating his phrases over and over.
Flocks of 200-300 lapwings and several herring gulls feeding in a ploughed field alongside the Way. Hen pheasants skitter into the safety of the undergrowth and cock pheasants strut across the fields.
As a good sign of a mild autumn and winter, hazel catkins showing yellow and new leaves are unfurling on the honeysuckle. Fresh diggings and snuffle holes below the badger setts on the bank alongside the path. Clouds of midges.
Beginnings….. Out of disaster comes opportunity.
An unfortunate ankle injury which was proving achingly slow to recover meant our preferred walks which often took us across uneven, tussocky ground were no longer possible, so walks along the level cycle path of Sustrans route 24 became the new destination of choice.
The casual nature diary kept over many, many years with dates, birds, plants and butterflies we saw out walking, now became more specific and from New Year’s Day 2017 focused on the cycle path. We had become extremely curious to see just what species of plants had colonised land left uncultivated for a number of years (in this case since the railway closed in 1968 – nearly fifty years) and what birds, butterflies and insects fed on them. This blog and the accompanying notes is the result.