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Oakley Mynd – a wildlife garden with views

Here is a post I wrote back in the summer which I thought would be good to post now to bring back memories of warmer days.

We always like finding new gardens opening for the NGS, and Oakley Mynd was a real find. As there was no parking we had to park in Bishops Castle where we took the mini-bus provided by the NGS up the narrow steep lanes.

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Return to the Fold

You may remember in an earlier posting on my Greenbenchramblings blog that we enjoyed a walk up a local hill to find the stone circle called Mitchell’s Fold. Recently when my brother and his wife, Graham and Vicky, came to stay with us in lovely Shropshire they fancied a walk somewhere with a feeling of openness, calm and peace. So, we returned to “The Fold”.

For the first set of photos I stood in the middle of the stone circle and took a series of six pics as I moved around in a circle taking in the 360 degree view.

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And then I took a series of shots of the stones themselves, the stones that give this special place a unique feeling and atmosphere. Calm. Peace. Contentment. When we stood within the circle of stones we realised why it has been for thousands of years a place of worship and magic.

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Mother nature has been at work here growing beautiful grasses, sedges, fungi and flowers specially suited to the difficult terrain.

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Graham and Vicky who live down in a town in the South of England, were blown away by the massive views and the 360 degrees through which eyes and mind can wander.

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This place is where we expect to see unusual birds but not very many of them. Today was no exception as we enjoyed the sight of small pipits and finches being buffeted in the winds and birds of prey such as Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Kestrel and Buzzard hunting in their own special ways taking advantage of the slopes and thermals. We met a special creature on our way up the track from the stone circle to the cairns atop the hill. A dung beetle. Its name is a little off-putting as is its habit of moving dung around by rolling it into balls. But they are fascinating little critters who are one of nature’s great recyclers. This little glossy black spherical beetle had iridescent kingfisher blue legs that flashed as it moved and when turned over it revealed similar brightness

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As we turned at the end of the outward leg of our trek we made our way up to the top of the ridge where we stop for refreshment at the cairn. We searched for a stone as we moved uphill as we like to follow the tradition of putting our own stone on the cairn to mark our presence. The views from the cairn wre stunning and simply huge!

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Our little stone sat happily among its much larger cousins who will protect it from the extremes of our weather.

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The coffee and fruit stop was most welcome and came at the right time as Vicky and Graham’s looks of anticipation illustrate.

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Suitably refreshed and impressed with the hill top cafe facilities we made our way along the ridge and slowly back down to the car.

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On the way back down we came across an area where the bracken was glossy and shone in the afternoon sunshine, a phenomena we have not experienced before.

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Bracken and Bilberries. Part 1. Walking in the footsteps.

Bracken and Bilberries is a short series of posts all about walking and appreciating our local uplands, The South Shropshire Hills. Bracken and Bilberries are the main herbage underfoot as we walk these beautiful hills. They have a special atmosphere all of their own that is tangible. You can experience this atmosphere in its silence and smell its delicate scents wafting in the wind that never quite goes away. It is interesting but up in these hills the silence has a particular quality – the secret sounds of grasses moving, the wind pushing at foliage, clouds scurrying and rocks groaning through the centuries gone before. Strangely romantic words but there is no other way of explaining it!!

These hills have their own wildlife, difficult to see and only slightly easier to hear. Creatures here have to adapt to the uniqueness of place – the micro-climate, the acidic upland soils and topography moulded by passing glaciers. The wild creatures here are below our feet or above our heads, not actually sharing the space we walk in.

We decided that as we have so many wonderful walks within minutes up in these hills we should take advantage of them more often.The first trek was up to find a stone circle called Mitchell’s Fold which is a few minutes drive from home. We left home in bright sunshine, under clear blue skies, well wrapped against the cold but just as we approached the starting place the sky darkened, the rains fell and the mists rolled in to hide the hills from sight.

We had a quick coffee in the dry and warm car and then as usual decided to defy the rain and as usual within ten minutes of setting off on our gradual uphill climb the rain stopped, the mists lifted above our heads but continued to cap the taller hills. The sun even came out at times through our wanderings. The light changed with every passing minute and I hope the pictures I took show this well.

From memory there was going to be a long steady climb to the stone circle. In truth it took just ten minutes or so. It shows how our perspectives change for the last time we came exploring up here our children were small so their short legs must have thought it a long climb.

We walked up through bracken browned by autumn on a soft path of green where sheep had mown the grass short with their munching. This gave little chance for few  other plants to grow. The air hung with the unpleasant smell of sheep – dung and wet wool – simply too many sheep. In less favourable areas for sheep grazing the much more pleasant aroma of bracken won over, sweet and herby.

The weather brightened as our first sighting of the standing stones came into view. Sadly what showed most was the information board which presents a dilemna. We want the info but prefer not to see the board! Perhaps it would have been better for it to be fixed out of the view first seen on approach. Walking up to the stone circle we felt honoured to be walking in the foot steps of our ancestors from thousands of years ago.

Mitchell’s Fold originally boasted 30 standing stones varying in height from 1 to 2 metres and arranged in a circle of 27 metres in diameter, but today there are 14 stones left with only a few standing. The people of the Bronze Age, between 3000 and 4ooo years ago, constructed the circle it is assumed for ritual or ceremonial purposes. Originally there were three such circles within a few kilometres of each other. Hoarstones is still in evidence but of Whetstones there is no sign.

An alternative version of the story of the circle’s creation is very much a local tale. The tallest stone is a petrified witch who was turned to stone as a punishment by the local Shropshire folk for milking a magic cow through a sieve. Our Shropshire ancestors sensibly built the rest of the circle to prevent her from escaping. This tale is told in carvings in the sandstone of a local church.

If given the choice of the Bronze age peoples creating it and the petrified witch story I would opt for the second as it seems eminently logical and sensible to me. And obviously much more fun.

As with most places of mystery in England and Wales there are said to be links with King Arthur, the largest stone being the one the young Arthur pulled his sword from to make him the rightful king. This tale is not exclusive enough for me so I am sticking to the petrified witch story!

Close up to the stones we could admire Mother Nature’s artistry. She had painted landscapes of woods and fields out of lichens an mosses.

After soaking up the atmosphere of the magical circle of stones we decided to move on along the Stapeley Hill Ridge where we hoped to find further evidence of ancient man’s influence on the landscape. We were not to be disappointed. We found lots of earth works and shapes in the  ground from the activities of ancient man. We even managed to pretty confidently work out what some were, surmised as to what others might have been and scratched our heads at others that totally baffled us. So we left the stone circle and followed the Ragleth Hill Path.

The first signs of man were more recent. The remnants of old hedgelines from the time after the Enclosure Act, just a few small trees along with broken bits of wall finished off with strands of modern barbed wire.

Before we encountered any ancient works of man to be confused by, we met a more recent addition to the Shropshire landscape which was designed to make the lives of walkers easier. This sign post definitely failed to make anything clear. Too many choices!! And the photo only shows the choices on two sides!

The first sign of man’s hand at work beyond the sign post was this long raised rampart.  We thought it could be a trackway or perhaps the outer ring of a hill fort.

We were still climbing slowly and the air was moist. Water droplets sat on the webs spun by spiders on the Gorse bushes.

The views gradually  became clearer and we could see further into the distance. As we walked these gentle slopes we were entertained by the Red Grouse calling in the bracken, but we failed to actually see one.

We skirted around the bottom of a ridge upon which we could see two piles of rock . We were determined to see what they were so we turned away from the track and followed a narrow sheep walkway up towards the top of the ridge. When half way up the climb we stopped to catch our breath and take in the views.

The clump of trees atop Callow Hill on the horizon is an old friend, as we see them ahead of us as we drive towards home from Shrewsbury.

The ridge of stones and raised ground, although difficult to see on the picture, appeared on the ground to be a part of the ditch and way into an earthwork.

The area of stones here at the base of the hillock that took us to the first stone pile were around a circular depression in the ground so we presumed they were the site of a hut circle.

As we reached the top of the ridge we realised the pile of stones was a cairn. We noticed just below the summit that the raised area was encircled by several clumps of different varieties of fungi. There were many different colours and shapes but none got much above the height of the shee-grazed grasses.

The most beautiful of all was this tiny bright red fungus. In the second shot Jude trieses to show us the underneath without damaging it. The grey woolly gloved finger shows how tiny this specimen actually was. Underneath we noticed that the inside of the gills was bright yellow with the outer edges painted in red.

When we reached the summit we had to follow the hill walkers’ tradition of adding a stone to the top of the cairn. The damp clear air up there provided the perfect atmosphere for lichen growth as this close up of the rock surfaces highlights.

This photo shows the landscape beyond the ridge which we planned to follow next to a second stone cairn. We promised ourselves a banana and a coffee when we reached it to give us energy and to warm us up. It was a good incentive.

We stood drinking our coffee and letting it warm us through as we drank in the view, looking out over the huge panorama. In the middle distance we could see the hill in the lee of which we live. We quietly stood hand in hand both having the same thoughts which we shared “How can we be lucky enough to live in such a beautiful place.”

Partway back along the ridge we enjoyed distant views of The Stiperstones, a high rugged ridge famous for its rock formations along its long ridge back. That distant view gave us an idea for our next walk in the Shropshire Hills.

We came across a big earth work partway back where a long ditch and raised bank crossed our path. We realised after exploring it for a while that it may have been a part of Offa’s Dyke, the massive wall built to keep the Welsh marauders from crossing into England (we had been following the Offa’s Dyke Trail for part of our walk). We crossed without resistance!

I hope you enjoyed sharing this wander through the Shropshire Hills with us. The weather was a bit dramatic and ever-threathening, the ground beneath our feet wet and slippery but we defied the rain and wind and cold and enjoyed the gentle climb and the views that unfolded for us.

Stiperstones next stop!

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A Wild Mountain Pool

Wildmoor Pool sits alone up on the top of the Long Mynd amongst open moorland. We live on the northern edge of the South Shropshire Hills and we need to drive only a short distance to the Long Mynd at the southern edge of the South Shropshire Hills. On a very hot and humid day we decided to take our books, a flask of coffee and some fruit and seek out the cooler air atop the Long Mynd. We had never been to the Wildmoor Pool before and we were stunned by its beauty and isolation as it came into sight. A triangle of clear water tinged brown by peat.

It is described in my book on the Long Mynd as a place to sit and wait for the wildlife to arrive. This proved to be so true. On our arrival we spotted lots of different Damsel Flies and Dragonflies in a myriad of sparkling colours, but little else, no birds to be seen or heard in the sky, on the bushes or amongst the bracken and heathers.  These dragonflies have such evocative names – Black Darters, Common Hawkers, Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

So we sat, got comfortable, poured coffees and got out our books to enjoy in the peace up on the long mountain. The silence and still warm air created an atmosphere of calm and peacefulness – and above all contentment. This silence was only occasionally interrupted by tiny splashes of water as fingerling Brown Trout plucked flies from the mirrored surface and sent ripples out in concentric rings moving slowly outwards towards the edge of the pool. Deep throated croaks from frogs emerged from deep within the reeds. The surface dwellers barely make a sound or a ripple, the Water Measurers, Pondskaters fail to break the surface. Water Beetles and Water Boatmen pierce through the surface to collect bubbles of oxygen.

Reflections decorated the pool’s surface. When the Brownies’ ripples reached them they shimmered but otherwise they were still as the mountain air.

The slopes of the mountain here were decorated with bracken and heather and little else, so the tiny simple blooms of the Tomentil shone like golden stars in a clear sky. Yellow glows in so much green. Close to the pool edge the bracken is joined by tough sedges such as Bottle Sedge, rushes such as Common Spike Rush, with Yellow Flag and Mountain Thistles punctuating them with colour. Further from the bank Bogbeans and Bog Pondweed flourish.

Water plants often take a pool over trying to cover it and dominate, but here the National Trust manage the amount of growth and keep a good percentage of water clear. This allows us to appreciate the large white flowers of the Waterlilies pushing through the surface amongst their flat circular plate-like leaves. As far as we know we have only two native waterlilies, one little yellow one and a larger white one but this one was the palest shade of pink, which confused us.

The clear air up here encourages lichens and mosses to grow on any suitable surface. Around the pool and roadside they colonise fenceposts of concrete and wood.

After sitting quietly for a while and enjoying a coffee we became aware of a deep rumbling a little like distant farm machinery at work or a distant hovering helicopter, and after a while we realised this incongruous sound was under the road where it skirted the pool. After a little exploration we discovered that the sound was that of the water overflowing from the pool through a pipe passing under the road. The water drains from the peaty slopes and seeps into the pool. The road acts as a dam and on the far side the overflow bursts from a pipe rumbling and roaring into a tiny stream which disappears into the valley. From the pool side the water disappears beneath a grated hole before rumbling and bubbling its way underground.

After a while we began to hear bird calls and to see the occasional one in the sky passing over our heads or perching atop the tallest fronds of bracken. The smaller birds prove mostly to be Meadow Pipits. But two scarcer species the Stonechats and Whinchats share the same silhouette so are difficult to differentiate when perched on tall strands of bracken. But when they move and their colours and markings become clearer we can see that the Whinchats have definite eye-stripes and the Stonechats black heads. The chest of the Stonechat is more colourful being more pure orange than the buff-orange breast plumage of the Whinchat. This area suits them well as they like steep hillsides covered in bracken with a good understory and enjoy being near water.

Big birds are less frequent, probably the commonest being the large black Ravens which pass high over us nearly always in pairs and cronking deeply. Although we love seeing the dragonflies and their cousins the damsel flies and the small songbirds we are equally enthralled with the sight of their predators. While watching a male Kestrel hovering above the hillside vegetation and admiring his russet and grey tones, I was distracted by the site of a rapidly flying tiny bird of prey, the Hobby. I followed him as he flew to the damp area above the Wild Pool where dense clumps of reed and rush are interspersed with small pools of water. Here he hunts the dragonflies and damselflies. What a flying display!They look like a cross between a Swift and a Peregrine Falcon.

Even smaller is the Merlin, Britain’s smallest bird of prey which we watched as it hunted for the Meadow Pipits just feet above the bracken. They are now rearing their second batch of youngsters so are hunting here and when successful flying off to the nearest trees and small woods lower down the mountain.

As the afternoon wore on the heat increased alongside the humidity and the slopes became quiet. We returned to sitting and admiring the very special pool.