Coaley Peak – the perfect place for evening picnics, sunsets, and wild flowers

Coaley Peak - sunset July 2018 C Aistrop
Sunset over the Severn Estuary seen from Coaley Peak picnic site. credit: C Aistrop

Coaley Peak viewpoint and picnic site is one of my favourite wild places around Stroud and most evenings it offers an added bonus – a wonderful cooling breeze blowing off the Severn Estuary. After another day of delightfully hot weather (I’ve vowed not to complain about the present heatwave given how much English people moan when it’s raining, cold and generally miserable), an evening’s stroll here not only offers a wildflower spectacle but also the opportunity to cool down and take in an impressive view and sunset. There are picnic benches dotted around the meadow, and my family has enjoyed evening picnics there – much cooler than a lunchtime one as some of the benches are in shade from early evening onwards. This keeps my husband and daughter happy as they dislike strong sunlight (I sometimes wonder if I’m living with vampires, though I haven’t noticed them staring intently at my neck yet).

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Rudge Hill – can you resist a ‘Sound of Music’ moment?

Rudge Hill - view from the site June 2018 C Aistrop
View from Rudge Hill to the far hills. C Aistrop

It’s the last flourish of orchids right now and Rudge Hill near Painswick is an ideal place to enjoy this. The flowers of fragrant orchids and common spotted orchids were starting to finish when I visited the site the other day, but pyramidal orchids are in their prime and looking sooo perky. It’s also peak time for meadow flowers and there are more flowers than you can shake a stick at showing themselves off in the sun with the accompanying butterflies dancing around. Added to all this is a fantastic 180 degree view from the top, taking in Painswick, the church, Sheepscombe and into the distance along the Painswick valley. It’s such a sublime site, especially on a sunny day, that I dare you to not to break into a ‘Sound of Music’ moment: you know the one – the opening scene where Julie Andrews runs through the meadow on the mountainside, arms outstretched singing ‘The hills are alive….’. And then you can recover your composure in the fabulous Edgemoor Inn just across the road. So this is 4 star wildlife watching!
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Lovely lily of the valley, fabulous flag irises, oodles of tranquility and a helping of beer (of course)

lily of the valley - _Alicja_ pixabay
The dainty and demure lily of the valley flowers. Credit – _Alicja_

Small yet perfectly formed is a good way of describing the lily of the valley flower. Its string of tiny, white coloured bells hang down from the flower stalk, hiding shyly amongst the leaves which are ridiculoulsy large compared to the size of the flower. I have to confess to being a big and blousy type, prefering large, colourful flowers which stand loud and proud. However, I know that lily of the valley is a popular garden flower with lots of people and so there’ll be many who’d like to see it in the wild. Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell boasts a large carpet of it right now, and you can create a circular walk incorporating the canal where there’s a riot of flowers and colour.

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Orchids and ice-cream

early purples + cowslips with view to Woodchester May 2018 C AistropRodborough common is a popular place for Stroudies to stroll on a Sunday afternoon – thanks to the beauty of the common and Winston’s Ice-cream’s parlour with its enticing range of delectable ice-cream delights. But my hunch is the vast majority of these visitors don’t realise the importance of the common they’ve just walked the dog or the family around, or that they’ve just sauntered past rare orchids.

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Sauntering through bluebells in Standish woods, Randwick

Standish wood - bluebells and lots of trees May 2018 C AistropAt this time of year, bleubell woods seem to be everywhere you turn – and that’s one of the (many) wonderful things about living in the Stroud district. Standish woods near Randwick village is one of the most popular woods around Stroud for a bluebell experience – partly thanks to the stunning views down the Severn Estuary, the flat path along the top of the wood, the good parking and the ice-cream van.

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Bluebells and beer

Siccarige wood - close-up bluebells amongst coppice 6.5.18 C Aistrop
A carpet of bluebells in Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell. credit – C Aistrop

The Frome valley must be the closest we have in the Stroud area to a feeling of wilderness. It stretches from Chalford village (near Stroud) for a few miles towards Cirencester and, running along its bottom, the disused Thames & Severn canal offers tiny glimpses into an age of industrial triumph. But its state of decay atmospherically demonstrates how, in the end, nature subtly claims back and subsumes everything. One of the rare bits of human intrusion in the valley is a very welcome one – it’s the excellent Daneway pub, and a return walk from Chalford along the canal towpath taking in lunch at the pub is a popular summer Sunday activity.

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Fancy a wildlife spectacular this weekend?

Bluebells on Cam Peak
Bluebells cloak the slopes of Cam Peak near Cam, Dursley. Credit – C Aistrop

Despite us still being in a state of shock at the news that this coming bank holiday will be both sunny and warm (when did that last happen?!), a bit of planning means that you could make the most of this and see quite a few wildlife spectacles. May is the month when nature seems to awaken with a start and bound out of bed. It’s May that’s busting out all over, not June. Bluebells, wild garlic and orchid meadows are at their best; nightingales and cuckoos are singing; the dawn chorus is at full crescendo; migrant birds are arriving back from southern climes by the thousands; and hawthorn hedges become coated with the ‘white icing’ created by the profusion of may flowers.

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Forest of Dean’s daffodil weekends – a real harbinger of spring

Gwen___Vera_s_field(rev 0)
The wild daffodil splendour of Gwen and Vera’s field, Forest of Dean (copyright Caroline Aistrop)

If you fancy seeing a real riot of nature this weekend or next weekend, the Oxenhall and Dymock Daffodil weekends are a must. They’re a celebration of the wonderful sign of the coming spring which we all love to see – the daffodil. In this case, it’s the wild daffodil which grows in profusion through the woods and fields around three villages – Oxenhall, Kempley and Dymock. Never mind those hosts of golden daffodils in the Lake District, Wordsworth could easily have been writing about his walk through the countryside in the Forest of Dean.

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Cheerful snowdrops at Cherington Pond

Cherington Pond - bank of snowdrops Feb 2018 Caroline Aistrop

Cherington pond is a jewel of a place, hidden away at the bottom of a secluded valley not many miles away from Stroud but feeling like it’s in its own world. It offers a variety of different wildlife in one small area – the water birds that live on the open water plus those that prefer the seclusion of the woodland that wraps itself around the pond; the shallow stream leading into the pond where once a pre-occupied water shrew bumbled along looking for food, quite oblivious to my great bulk standing just inches away. But in February and early March, it’s the spectacle of the snowdrop carpet gracing the woodland floor that makes this an ideal place for a Sunday (or any day come to that) stroll instilling a feel-good factor that far out-weighs a bucketful of prozac.

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The devil went down to Strawberry Banks

Strawberry Banks Comma + db scabious - Caroline Aistrop

Hurrah! Another opportunity to write about one of my favourite places in Stroud district. I visited Strawberry Banks a couple of days ago and discovered a profusion of devil’s bit scabious creating a purple tapestry weaving through the grassland of this beautiful, hidden valley. Its delicate, lilac pom-pom flower nods on the top of stem about 2-2.5 feet high, and is primly arranged in pairs (though my wildlife-watching companions disagreed and said it was blue. I often have this argument with people ‘It’s purple’, ‘No, it’s blue’, ‘Don’t be daft, it’s obviously purple’…anyone else go through this when discussing flower-colour? No? Must be my funny eyesight, then. I magnanimously agreed on lilac).

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