20 September 2017
Bridge or slope? We dithered for quite a while, weighing up all the pros and cons. The slope was steep but there were steps and it would take us onto Archery Grove a shortish Walk on pavements to Millers Pond. There’d be no mud and, after the initial climb it would be easy going. The bridge would take us onto the butterfly walk. There’d probably be mud and obstacles to negotiate but it would be prettier.
Prettiness won in the end and we crossed the bridge. Looking down the stream from the middle of the bridge I wondered if it had ever had a name. If not it seems a terrible shame as it’s a pretty little thing meandering through this ribbon of woodland hidden in the heart of the city. Not naming it makes it seem forgotten, somehow less important than all the other streams.
We hadn’t gone very far before it seemed as if our descion might not have been the best of ideas. Ahead on the path a huge fallen tree looked to be blocking the trail. From a distance it was hard to tell if we would be able to get through, over or round or if we’d have to turn back. Up close it was bigger than we’d thought, too big for me to climb over for sure. Luckily there was a small gap where the trunk had fractured as it hit the ground. With a bit of sucking in of flab on my part, we squeezed through.
From the other side we got a good look at the base of the tree. It was completely rotten through to the core. It was obvious why it had fallen, more of a mystery was how it had stood at all. The fungi had obviously been working on it for quite some time.
It wasn’t until we turned to walk on that I realised exactly where we where and exactly which tree this was. We were in the clearing where the wooden sculptures used to be before the rot and the vandals got to them and the tree was the woodpecker tree. I’d always known it was a dead tree standing but I didn’t realise just how rotten it was.
Right at the base amongst the leaf litter I found the strangest fungus. At first glance I thought it was a small orange someone had discarded and left to rot. Then I poked it with my toe and realised it was a fungus, probably some kind of scalycap. The really odd thing was it seemed to be covered with some kind of white mould. Who knew fungi could get fungi?
We spent some time looking at the woodpecker tree. There was so much to see, the crumbling wood of the base, the main trunk peppered with woodworm like holes and the fractured surface we’d squeezed through. Death is inevitable, even for trees, but the way Mother Nature reclaims the old wood is fascinating.
When we finally moved on along the trail we found a few flowers still trying to pretend it was summer. There were rhododendrons in bud and a few last gasp blooms on the buddliea. Despite the official name of this walk, I’ve rarely seen butterflies here and certainly not cooperative ones that want their photo taken but these are the flowers that would draw them here in spring and summer.
Now were were on higher ground the trail was at least firm and dry and we made good progress. Before long we’d reached the wooden sign carved with insects and animals near the gate onto Portsmouth Road. Our woodland adventure was about to come to an end.
When we went to go through the metal kissing gate we got a nasty surprise. A thick chain was wound around it. We were locked in. This was not good news. If we couldn’t get through we had a long walk back to the bridge and the trail up to Weston Grove Road and then another walk to get back where we were now. I looked at the gate, wondering if I could climb over without doing myself any damage. Meanwhile, CJ was already climbing.
At the last moment, right when I was preparing to climb, I looked to the right and spotted a gap in the fence. It looked like someone had broken through. While I don’t condone vandalism, I’m hardly surprised. There had been no signs anywhere on the trail to say the gate was locked and there seemed no good reason for it. Anyone who has walked for miles, negotiated mud and fallen trees only to find the gate chained shut is bound to be a little miffed.
CJ, with his long legs, made short work of the gate. Whether I’d have had as much success remains to be seen and I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. Once we were safely on the pavement we looked around for any signs explaining why the gate had been locked. We found none but the chains and the huge lock seemed rather excessive whatever the reason.
Still wondering who had locked the gate and why we took one last look over the wall at the stream with no name where it emerges from the conduit under the road and headed towards Millers Pond. Of course we couldn’t pass the pond without a quick detour to look at the water.
Time was getting on so we didn’t stay long. As we walked up the hill towards home we saw our first butterfly of the day. Sadly the poor thing was on the pavement, dead. A little further in we almost trod on a giant caterpillar wriggling across the path. It was probably the fattest catterpiller I’ve ever seen, with interesting, almost iridescent markings and a tapered head. Later Googling told me it would one day be an elephant moth. There is a certain irony in walking the whole butterfly trial without a single butterfly and then seeing these two fellows outside the trail.
We walked the rest of the way home talking about the mystery of the locked gate and wondering if the caterpillar knows it’s going to become a butterfly and the butterfly remembers it was once a caterpillar? Some things, I guess, are meant to stay mysteries.
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