I love visiting the Severn Vale, it’s so different to the character and look of the landscape around Stroud and on the Cotswold escarpment that I feel as if I’ve been in another part of the world for a few hours. Once you’re off the main road, there’s a tranquillity and restfulness that I find so soothing. Last Friday evening strolling around the woodland near Frampton Pools was no different and was enhanced by a glorious sunset over Frampton Court.
The pools are best known for the sailing club, but between them and the road running into Frampton is a large area of woodland that’s usually the best spot in the district to hear nightingales singing (if you know different, send me the details!). Nightingales are a bird that seems to have an enigmatic appeal to most people – the song heavily hinted at in the title of this blog was written in a small French fishing village (really!) and recorded countless times by singers such as Frank Sinatra, Vera Lynn, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Anita O’Day, Harry Connick Jr, and even Rod Stewart! Many folk songs contain a reference to this seasonal bird suggesting that it was once relatively common around England. Now it’s rare in numbers – it’s numbers have decreased by 60% between 1995 and 2009. Lack of enough shrubby undergrowth is thought to be one of the reasons as this is its favourite place to hang out.
Nightingales arrive in England about mid-April and the males sing until late May. Once the eggs have hatched, the males stop singing and beaver away with feeding the young. In late April, they’re still tuning up and flexing the vocal chords so the beginning of May until later in the month is the short window to hear the song at its richest. It’s a bit of a hard life being a male nightingale at this time of year – they start singing at dawn and carry on until gone midnight so sleep is a luxury! Strangely, the nightingales that migrate to England from Africa behave differently to those who stop off on mainland Europe – they become shy and hide deep in bushes when they sing. The continental cousins are much more showy and easy to see. So the English reserve must be something that’s in the air!
Unfortunately, the nightingale was having a night off on Friday or perhaps he was just catching up on some sleep! I could become the object of derision at this point but I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the nightingale’s song. The first time I heard it was on a guided walk led by a RSPB warden. I was admiring a nearby bird song as we walked through Highnam Wood and thinking how the nightingale’s lovely song deserved all the accolades, when the warden said “And on our right you can hear a song thrush.” I’ve never quite recovered from that, and a song thrush was singing its heart out all the time we walked around the Frampton Pools wood as were plenty of robins and blackbirds. I can’t help thinking that their songs go under-appreciated in general, they obviously need a song writing about them. However, my 11 year old was really excited to hear a cuckoo for the first time, so that was a result. Plus we tracked a frenzied squawking to a hole high up in a tree trunk and realised this must be a brood of woodpecker chicks in there getting extremely fed-up waiting for their next meal.
If you want to hear the song for yourself here and now, and see what you reckon, visit the RSPB’s website http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/n/nightingale/index.aspx.
When to visit: mid-April to end of May, though the first three weeks of May are probably the best time.
Location: Frampton Pools, Frampton-on-Severn. OS Explorer Map 14 SO753075
How much time to allow: a gentle stroll through the wood takes about an hour.
Terrain: the paths are flat (remember you’re in the Severn Vale so it’s all as flat as a pancake in Frampton) but getting to the wood involves a climb over a couple of stiles. So no good for people with restricted mobility; all-terrain buggies could easily be pushed around the site if they’re light enough to be lifted over the stiles.
Facilities: Frampton has two good pubs (The Bell has a play area for children) plus a community shop (open 9am-1pm Weds + Sats and 9am-5.30pm other weekdays, closed Sundays).
Directions: head into Frampton from the A38, turn left to drive down the centre of the village green (the longest in such green in England) to its end. Turn left and a few yards further on is a small car park on the right hand side. Park and then continue to walk down that lane, skirting around the metalled gate across the road. A few feet further on the left is a public footpath, climb over the stile and walk across the meadow following the diagonal path heading towards the wood at the far end of the field (you’ll see it). Climb over the stile and then follow the path running alongside the wood. It’ll take you to the end of the wood and then veer to the left to go past an open area on the left and a hedgerow on the right. Keep going and then take a footpath to the left, just before you reach the road. This path goes through the wood and brings you to a gate near the entrance of Pan Global Plants. After going through this, turn left to walk across the open pasture land (keep dogs on a lead as there are sheep grazing in this field) with Frampton Court over on the far right hand side. As you near the far fence, veer diagonally to find a stile close to a red brick cottage. Climb over this and then the one on the opposite side of the track. This path takes you through the first field you came through, back to the road. Turn right to walk back to the car park.
It’s only a small wood and there are other paths running through the wood if you want to explore a bit.
Thanks to Kev Chapman for the great photo of the nightingale.