The Malvern Hills are one of my favourite spots for a walk. The eight-mile long ridge of hills rises above the Worcestershire countryside. They stretch out across the landscape and the humps make me think of a sleeping dinosaur. Paths criss-cross the hills; walking along the tops gives spectacular views across to Wales and the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacon National Park or you can wander along at a lower level enjoying some of the flora and fauna.
We did a walk here recently as summer was fading; it was the same walk we had done earlier in the year when hawthorns were covered in their frothy blossom, now their berries were turning red. Back in spring it was bluebells covering the hillside, now it was bracken with its rusty coloured spores and the towering spires of rosebay willow herb with its pink flowers. Its not an attractive plant to my eyes. It flowers are a gaudy colour of pink and its habit is inelegant to say the least, however it does provide a great source of pollen and nectar for bees through the summer and into autumn, a very important time for the health of hives as the bees build up stores of food to get them through the winter. I also admire a plant that can grow in seemingly inhospitable places such as railway embankments.
Appearing above the grassy hillsides were patches of lilac harebells. Also known as cuckoo’s shoe or witch bells, Campanula rotundifolia looks very delicate with its papery bell shaped flower, a complete contrast to the coarseness of the willowherb. Harebells must be fairly strong plants though, to be able to compete in amongst the grasses. Flitting about all over were speckled wood butterflies. Many of our native butterflies are struggling, especially after such a difficult summer but the speckled wood seems to be one that is coping remarkably well. They feed on brambles, fleabane, ragwort and dandelion and I’ve seen them on all my woodland walks this summer.
At first glance I thought this was Omphaloides, it was only when I checked my wildflower guide that I discovered it was Green Alkanet. They look very similar and are both members of the Borage family. The flowers are edible, although they apparently have little flavour but can be used like borage flowers to decorate ice cubes or salads. Alkanet is not a native British flower, originating in the southern Mediterranean but it was popular in medieval times with monks for the red dye that it produces and it is probably from these monastic gardens that it spread into the countryside. Not much further on were the lime green spiky fruits of the horse chestnut tree.
I’ve never been a fan of heather in the garden but I do love it growing in the wild, en masse. Another great source of nectar for bees, the smell of heather honey always transports me to a walk I once did on the Pennine moorland around Haworth. The scent of the heather that day is captured by the bees in their honey.
September is the month to look out for fungi in all their glorious forms. This one I think is a bracket fungus but my identification skills can go no further, unfortunately. One day I’ll have more time to study the vast and intriguing array of fungi, until then I’ll rely on the vast knowledge out there, as I’m sure someone will be able to help me give it a proper name.
I love walks like this, ones that I do throughout the seasons, the different stages of the growth of the trees, the wildflowers that appear and then disappear to be replaced by something else that catches my eye. Autumn will be in full swing by the time we get to walk here again and there’ll be a whole array of natural wonders to delight once again.
For more information about the Malverns.