Grey leaden skies greeted me on Sunday morning. I had planned to do a bit of pottering on the plot but I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. There isn’t a lot that I can do at the moment anyway. A whole week without rain has been welcome but it’s going to take much longer for the ground to dry out enough to be workable. Instead, we decided on a walk around a nearby village. Known locally for its large (and expensive) houses, the village has some beautiful old buildings, a lovely church and some stunning views across the countryside. On a clear day you can look out across the Severn Estuary, with an impressive view of the bridges. There wasn’t much chance of this on Sunday though, the low cloud and fog reducing visibility. I had wanted some fresh air and exercise after spending too much time in front of a computer but as we drove up the hill onto the ridge the fog descended and it looked pretty grim. It was very tempting to stay warm and cosy in the car and just drive home, but we didn’t.
The quiet country lanes make for good walking when most of the paths and fields are just too muddy. Walking out of the village, past the church we came across an old stone wall, running alongside the road. Driving past in a car you would probably not notice the myriad of plants growing in the cracks and crevices. Stood in front of it though, it was fascinating. The damp, shady conditions had created the perfect growing conditions for mosses and ferns to thrive. In parts, the vegetation was so dense it was impossible to see the stones of the wall, so much so Wellyman wasn’t sure whether it was hedge or not and had to have a feel.
I love places like this. I was fascinated by hedgerows and mossy covered walls as a child. My imagination would conjure up a world of creatures that lived amongst the foliage, flowers and stones. I wrote in an earlier post about my favourite childhood books being the Brambly Hedge series and this wall was the perfect place to imagine mice and voles going about their daily activities. I’m more interested in plants nowadays, I have to say, than rodents dressed up in aprons and bonnets but I still think there is something quite magical about places like this.
I’m always surprised how I can come across something different, something I’ve never seen before, on walks near my home. There was a really lovely sweet scent in the air but we couldn’t work out where it was coming from. Everything seemed pretty green and we couldn’t spot any flowers so we thought it must have been coming from someone’s garden, hidden behind tall laurel hedging. And then we noticed this.
It wasn’t something I recognised at all but bending down it was definitely the source of the fragrance, its pinky-white flowers smelling very similar to Viburnum bodnantense. At home, I discovered it is called Winter heliotrope or Petasites fragrans, which according to Richard Mabey in Flora Britannica was brought to Britain from North Africa in the early 19th century as a garden plant. It turns out, though, that it is extremely invasive, spreading rapidly. It was certainly everywhere on this walk, covering the roadside verges with its heart-shaped leaves. Considering its seemingly successful quest for colonising parts of our countryside I can’t believe I haven’t noticed this plant before.
Navelwort, or Umbilicus rupestris, was another plant in abundance. A lover of damp climates it is particularly at home in the south-west and Wales. Strangely though, I discovered it is a member of the Crassulaceae family which are known for their succulent, fleshy leaves that store water like the house plant, the money tree and stonecrop. The name Navelwort derives from the dimple in its round shaped leaves looking a little like a belly button. And in summer it sends out spires of tiny bell-shaped flowers, apparently, which I’ll have to remember to look out for.
I loved the rich green of the mosses and the delicate foliage of maidenhair spleenwort and polypody ferns. The enchanting little world was completed by the spiders webs glistening with moisture and this collection of tiny fungi, looking like an illustration from a fairy tale.
What had initially looked like a pretty uninspiring walk had turned out to be a fascinating way to spend a few hours.