Dunkery beacon

“A beacon a day keeps a heart attack at bay,” according to my husband. So, for our first cycle ride in Exmoor (29th December 2014), we didn’t just pick any old hill to tackle (and there are plenty of them around here). No, we decided to head for the highest point in Exmoor, indeed Somerset – Dunkery Beacon. Although I was hoping to break myself back into cycling gently (I haven’t been on my bike since the Alresford trip in October), it was a clear sunny day and it made sense to head for the beacon to make the most of the views.

To get anywhere out of Porlock (our starting point), you’ve got to climb, and our efforts were soon rewarded with magnificent views over the Vale of Porlock and the Bristol Channel.

The Vale of Porlock

The Vale of Porlock

From then on, it was a tough slog along the road, through Horner Wood, up Dunkery Hill. We emerged from the trees onto a great expanse of heather-covered moorland, and still the road kept going up! By this point I was in the the lowest gears and my front tyre was lifting. I’d love to say I cycled all the way, but as the road got steeper there was a fair bit of pushing involved. Despite the winter sun, the higher we got the colder it became, and there were large patches of ice on shaded areas of the tarmac.

Looking back down Dunkery Hill

Looking back down Dunkery Hill, on the icy road

Eventually, we turned off the road onto a rocky track, and struck across the heather-clad moors with the beacon in sight – it is marked by a huge rock cairn and there were people crawling all over it.

Cycle to Dunkery Beacon

Goal achieved: Dunkery Beacon (519 m, 1705 ft)

View from Dunkery Beacon

Views from the top

Ham sandwiches and hot vimto had never tasted so good. And the views were truly magnificent. But we soon started to cool down, and didn’t linger too long, heading onward along the rocky track for the circular route back to Porlock. The good news: it was all downhill from here. The bad news: the path was covered in sheet ice, and I hit it wrong. My bike went one way, I went the other. There were tears, there was blood, there was a hole in my cycling trousers, but apart from slightly less skin on my knees and a broken front light there was no real damage to me or my bike.

Still, we could see that the downhill route was going to take us longer than expected, given the conditions, so we cut short part of the ride and took the road down over Wilmersham Common, with a steep descent down to Pool Bridge (really tough on the brakes!). We took it steady, as there was frost and ice all over the road.

We then climbed back out of the valley and back down into Porlock for a much-needed hot bath and cup of tea.

If you’ve walked or cycled to Dunkery Beacon, please share your experience below. Thank you.

Exmoor exploits

After lots of Christmas travelling, spending time with loved ones, and of course way too much food, we’ve finally paused for breath in Exmoor – the little patch of England my heart calls ‘home’. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hampshire, and I have travelled to some amazing places around the globe, but there is something about these deep valleys, undulating wooded hills and bracken-strewn moorlands, all conveniently packaged alongside stunning coastal views, that make Exmoor the most special place in the world for me.

The green fields of Exmoor

The green fields of Exmoor

The woodlands of Exmoor

The woodlands of Exmoor

The deep valleys of Exmoor

The deep valleys of Exmoor

The bracken-strewn moorlands of Exmoor

The moorlands of Exmoor

The coastal views of Exmoor

The coastal views of Exmoor

We’ve rented a 1-bed cottage in Porlock for the week, we’ve got the walking boots and the mountain bikes, and the forecast is good. So follow our exploits on Exmoor, as we climb a few hills, follow a few rivers and indulge in some very special 15 minutes of green:

If you love Exmoor, and have any special experiences to share – favourite places, recommended walks etc. – please leave a comment below. Thank you.

Lofty pruning

 

Abbey Meadows poplars

Abbey Meadows poplars

Walking along the Thames path in Abingdon, heading from Abingdon bridge towards Abingdon lock,  you can’t help but notice the striking lines of lofty poplars in Abbey Meadows park. But this week, some of them were going topless! The distinct sound of a chain saw, a shout and a crash, and the tree surgeons’ work in progress became apparent.

Tree topping, Abbey Meadows, November 2014

Topp[l]ing from right to left

All trees need to be pruned from time to time to maintain the desired size and/or shape and to keep them in a safe condition. Pruning also promotes growth and improves the quality of flowers, fruit or timber. These poplars were getting a bit more than a short back and sides.

I think the tree surgeons deserve the award for the highest 15 minutes of green this week!

Tree surgeon, Abbey Meadows, Abingdon, Nov 2014

Human woodpecker

Tree surgeon, Abbey Meadows, Abingdon, Nov 2014

What a view!

Tranquil waters at Abingdon bridge

Tranquil waters at Abingdon bridge

I’m sure they had amazing views from up there, but I was content at ground level, with the tranquil reflections on the water and dappled light amongst the trees. Another stunning lunchtime walk.

 

View from the Thames footpath, Abingdon

View from the Thames footpath, Abingdon

Abbey Meadows park, Nov 2014

And back through Abbey Meadows park

 

 

Barn owl encounter

Down at Selsey, we made the most of the bracing sea air and local fish and chips, as well as the neighbouring nature reserves:

Pagham Harbour nature reserve

Evening stillness at Pagham harbour nature reserve

Evening stillness at Pagham harbour nature reserve

From the car park at Church Norton, we took a late-afternoon stroll around the edge of Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve, a peaceful sheltered inlet where all the usual suspects – namely red shank (Tringa totanus), curlew (Numenius arquata), oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and little egret (Egretta garzetta) – were wading on the mudflats.

Teals-Pagham-harbour

Teal, dabbling in the early evening sun

There were plenty of teal (Anas crecca) and wigeon (Anas penelope) doing what dabbling ducks do, i.e. dabble, and in the distance we could see a great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) disappearing from the water surface for lengthy periods of time as it dived for its supper.

Seated on  a bench at the edge of the wetland, we were thoroughly absorbed with our ‘twitching’ and we were soon chilled to the bone as the sun started to go down. Getting up with the aim of a brisk walk to warm up, we weren’t prepared for our next encounter –a magnificent barn owl (Tyto alba).

Barn owl encounter

Barn owl, Pagham harbour nature reserve

Barn owl

Okay, so this turned out to be a bit of a cheat, as this 14-month-old female barn owl was being flown from the arm of an elderly gentleman. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about barn owls being kept as pets. This one had been raised in captivity from a very young age, and she never took her eyes off her handler. But there is no doubt that it was a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with a breathtakingly beautiful creature and really appreciate the intricacies of her plumage – snowy white heart-shaped face that almost glowed in the dusk, and golden plumage with black and white speckles.

She’d already been flying around the harbour in the early evening sunshine, so by the time we met her she seemed extremely content to sit on a fence post and watch us watching her – surely one of Britain’s most charismatic birds.

Captive barn owl

Captive barn owl

Medmerry nature reserve

We also walked along the sea front to Medmerry, a huge new coastal reserve between Selsey and Bracklesham, which has been created as a result of the largest managed realignment of the coast anywhere in Britain. The Environment Agency has built new coastal flood defences inland in order to protect homes in Selsey from rising sea levels, and has allowed the existing shingle beach to be breached by the sea, forming a new wetland area – 183 hectares of mudflats, tidal lagoons and saltmarsh.

Medmerry after flooding

Medmerry after flooding

The site is still in its settling stages and it isn’t teeming with bird life as yet, but we did enjoy seeing flocks of meadow pipits and yellow hammers in the scrubland next to the path, and in the distance we could see huge flocks of lapwing landing on the mudflats, along with a few cormorants and egrets.

 

 

Fleet Pond

Fleet Pond, Hampshire

This gallery contains 14 photos.

Last Sunday dawned crisp and sunny, so we decided to take a walk around Fleet Pond. I guess, because of its name, I’ve always envisaged this local green space to be a large ‘pond’ covered in duck weed, bordered by a few weeping willows and home to numerous bread-scavenging mallards.  How wrong could I be! Fleet Pond is actually Hampshire’s largest…

Find out more

Lunchtime mill stream meander

Abingdon millstream footpath

Mill stream footpath, Abingdon

It’s been drizzling with rain pretty much all day, which makes 15 minutes of green a bit tricky. But, no excuses. At lunchtime, I donned my waterproof coat and headed out into Abingdon, through the Abbey Gardens and up the footpath that borders the old mill stream to Abingdon lock. Note: you can make this a longer circular walk by crossing the river Thames at Abingdon lock and heading back to the town along the main river bank  … but not today!

As you can see, there wasn’t a lot of ‘traffic’ along the footpath. It was wonderfully peaceful: a couple of dog walkers (with very muddy dogs!), one runner, a fisherman (can you spot him under his green brolly in the photo below?), plus the usual entourage of mallards – if you stop for more than 5 seconds at the side of the stream the ducks come a-paddling and a-quacking on the assumption that you are toting vast quantities of stale bread.

Abingdon mill stream

A peaceful spot (for fishing): Abingdon mill stream

This brisk 20-minute walk ticked all sorts of green-therapy boxes: lungfuls of fresh air, entertaining grey squirrels in the canopy overhanging the stream (who needs Cirque du Soleil?!), an enjoyable and impromptu workout, and another chance to soak up that amazing autumnal colour palette. Make sure you get your fix, while there are are still some leaves on the trees. Judging by the amount of leaf litter around, our autumnal days are numbered.

 

First tweet

So, we’re up and running on twitter, and – as my first tweet announces – my 15 minutes of green today was a stroll through Abingdon Abbey Gardens.

First, through the formal garden area of flower beds and herbaceous borders (polyanthus and pansies being the current planting scheme), then into a parkland area bordered by mature trees, including a magnificent European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica), resplendent in its autumn glory and a giant redwood that more than lived up to its name.

I carried on along the leaf-littered path, past the ornamental lake, where water voles are reputed to thrive. There were no water voles today (I’ll be sure to let you know if I ever see one!), but a rustling in the leaves above me revealed a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) tucking into something tasty. I finally came to the Mill Stream that borders Abbey Meadows, where mallards, moorhens and mute swans were making the most of a half-term bread-feeding frenzy. By 4.30pm I was losing the light, signalling that it was time to return to my desk – refreshed, of course, by my 15+ minutes of green.

Abingdon-gardens-trees

Copper beech

formal-garden-Abingdon

Abingdon Abbey Gardens

Squirrel-Abingdon-Gardens

Grey squirrel

october-cygnet-Abingdon

Cygnet on the Mill Stream, Abingdon

Back on a bike

I can’t remember the last time I rode my mountain bike off road, so my husband was both surprised and delighted when, last weekend, in the spirit of setting up this website, I agreed to a 19-km (12-mile) ‘get-back-in-the-saddle’ pedal through Hampshire countryside.

Starting from New Alresford (one end of the Watercress steam railway line – the other end being in Alton), he assured me it was a grade 2 (easy/moderate) ride that would ease me back into mountain biking

Described in Nick Cotton’s Hampshire & The Isle of Wight Cycle Tours book as “an easy exploration of the wide tracks that criss-cross this part of Hampshire,” what he didn’t share was the caveat that followed: “… after a few days of heavy rain, it will take you twice as long, with big puddles, lots of mud and potentially slippery smooth chalk.” Hey, guess what? We’d just had “a few days of heavy rain”!

Fortunately – for my husband – we completed the ride without major incident. Yes, there was mud (but where’s the fun in mountain biking without a little mud?), and yes, there were several deceptive puddles that turned out to be a lot deeper than they looked(!) And, yes, I did fall off into a clump of nettles after unsuccessfully navigating my way around one particular gate post – painful in shorts! But, oh what a wonderful way to explore this charming downland landscape.

berry-biker

A berry happy biker

For 3 hours we cycled along a gently undulating route (so for every uphill grind there was a downhill whizz) of shady bridleways overhung with berry-laden trees and quiet green lanes scattered with crunchy beech mast. We stopped frequently for me to catch up, check the map and enjoy the views. Breaks in the hedgerows revealed sweeping vistas of arable farmland, interrupted by compact islands of uncut corn. Every so often we plunged in and out of small pockets of broadleaf woodland where beech and oak trees were still just about holding onto their summer greenery.

I highly recommend this 15+ minutes of green. Full details of the route can be found in the Cycle Tours book (link above). So, if you’ve got a mountain bike, and you’re in the area, give it a go. Hampshire County Council also produce leaflets that outline a number of off-road routes here.

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