Pyramidals: the last of the orchid spectaculars

Pyramidal orchids Rudge Hill - C Aistrop

The Stroud district is sooo fortunate in having a wealth of different orchid species growing in lots of places around and about, and in having some that occur in great profusion. There are certain ones which are solitary souls, for example the frog orchid certainly doesn’t copy its namesake as a party animal, but others are real show-offs making everyone a winner in the game of ‘spot the orchid’. The end of June and beginning of July is the last time during the flowering season when you can enjoy one of these spectaculars as the pyramidal orchid livens up grasslands with splashes of its cerise pink flowers.

Spot a pyramidal orchid and you can immediately tell how it got its name – yep, the flowerheads are pyramidal in shape, especially when the they’re forming. Once all the flowers are out (and there are usually dozens on a single flower spike), the shape can morph into a sort-of long oval but the pyramid shape can still be evident. I’m not kidding when I describe the colour as cerise – it really can be this bright, making the flowers stand out amongst the greens and browns that colour grasslands right now.

It seems that the spectacular flowerhead is all for show – strangely, the seeds produced by the flowers don’t contain enough nutrients to feed a new plant and instead the tiny new plant has to rely upon a particular fungus found in the soil. It acts like the orchid’s very own pantry, providing the food needed to fuel growth. Fussy souls, these orchids. It takes a few years before the two are working together properly (called symbiosis in biological circles) and the plant can develop flowers – no rushed relationships here!  The flowers, when the plant finally does grow them, are fertilised by butterflies and moths. The mechanism by how this happens was discovered by Charles Darwin, no less, and described in his book ‘Fertilisation of Orchids’.

Selsley Common, Rudge Hill National Nature Reserve and Minchinhampton Common are good places to see this flower in large numbers – if you know of anywhere else, let me know!

When to visit: latter half of June into early July.

Location: Sesley Common – take the B4066 Stroud – UIey road which runs along the edge of the common, OS Explorer Map 179 SO830030; Rudge Hill National Nature Reserve near Edge – take the minor road from Whiteshill to Edge and just before Edge there’s a bus stop on the left (coming from Stroud) with a lay-by on the right shortly afterwards. Park in the lay-by and cut through the little footpath to reach the entrance. Or turn right just after the lay-by to park next to the entrance but note, there is virtually no parking space here. Alternatively, park in the lay-by opposite the Edgemoor Inn on the A4173 Stroud – Gloucester Road as this is on the edge of the site and there’s a footpath leading from the lay-by into the site. Or, better still, park in the Edgemoor Inn car park and after you’ve explored the reserve, enjoy a tasty meal or some refreshments in the pub (which also has fab views towards Painswick). OS Explorer Map 179 SO745094.  Minchinhampton Common – at Tom Long’s Post, take the turning towards Nailsworth, drive past the right hand turning to the Old Lodge pub and then take a left turn towards Box. You’ll easily see the Halfway Cafe (it’s an oldy-worldy Cotswold stone building) – head to this and on the left hand side of the road, opposite side the cafe, you’ll see a couple of small parking laybys. Park here.

How much time to allow: Selsley Common – an hour or so to walk around the whole area but 20 minutes should be enough time to see the ones near to the car parks. Minch Common – as much time as you like since the orchids are close to the road that runs in front of the Halfway Cafe so it’s easy to park and find them. Rudge Hill – the orchids are spread around the site, and it’s such a fabulous place to visit, allow yourself a couple of hours.

Terrain: Selsley common – the terrain is fairly flat but the ground is a natural surface so obviously it isn’t smooth like a pavement and there may be holes and bumps in it. The path does gently slope up and down in places but is mainly smooth grass so fine for pushing prams along. Minch Common – the area where the pyramidals are is flat but covered with long grass (so look out for hidden dips and hummocks) which not easy to get a pram or wheelchair along though there is a smooth grass path running through the middle. Rudge Hill – the path surfaces are level, consisting of grass or bare earth; although there are a few little ups and downs along the way, generally the top path is fairly flat. The bottom path does slope down and then back up again at the far end of the site.  It has a gated entrance but the whole gate swings open so prams and wheelchairs can easily get through. The paths are fine for prams and the top path may be OK for wheelchairs (if anyone tries to push one along, let me know!).

Facilities: Selsley Common – The Bell pub is in the village of Selsley just half a mile (approx) away. Minch Common – the area with the best show of pyramidals is next to the Halfway Cafe which makes cakes to die for. Yum – another helping of triple choc fudge cake, please. Rudge Hill – this place is perfect for pampered wildlife watching as the wonderful Edgemoor Inn is on the the A419, opposite the site and a path even leads down from the site to the layby opposite the pub (just watch out crossing the road as it’s a busy main road to Gloucester).

Directions: Selsley Common – start from one of the car parks situated alongside this road sort of half way along the common (one used to have an interpretation board there but now only its legs remain sticking up out of the ground. This is the one I usually park in). Turn right out of the car park and follow what is obviously a smooth grass path. Look out for the big ‘dips’ in the ground which are  the remnants of old quarries. These are usually good places to see pyramidal orchids plus lots of other flowers. When you’ve past the TV mast and a bench on the right, look for another patch of orchids on the left. Just beyond this, there’s another path on the left joining yours to form a V-shape. Turn left onto this path to walk back upon yourself with TV mast now on left. There are lots more pyramidals in quarry dips plus along the path. You should also be serenaded by skylarks, too. Pick up the Cotswold Way (shown by the symbol of an acorn on wooden posts) and walk to the far end of the common to a small quarry face. There are lots of pyramidal orchids here plys plenty of butterflies on a sunny day. Minch Common –  park in the lay-by opposite the Halfway Cafe and the pyramidals are growing in the area on the opposite side of road. Rudge Hill – the best places to see pyramidals are along the top path and the path at the far end of the site. After passing through the entrance gate, take the right hand path and simply follow this all the way along and down the slope at the far end. The orchids are along the paths plus under a tree at the far end of the reserve on the right of the top path and then under another tree on the left of the path going downhill (I think this will make sense when you get there!).

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