Glow, baby, Glow!

Bisley Rd cemetery chapel + gravestones _ C Aistrop

July is the time of year when nature offers the opportunity to visit a fairy grotto or two. If you know where to go, you can take a stroll at dusk surrounded by lots of tiny, neon green lights that appear as if by magic. I’m talking about the glow-worm, that fascinating creature which seems to belong in fairy tales: invisible during the day yet once darkness falls, it decorates a field with nature’s version of fairy lights.

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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.

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Coaley Peak – meadows, marvellous views and possibly ice-cream, too.

 

View down Severn Vale from Coaley Peak - C Aistrop

When it’s a warm, sunny day at this time of year, one of my favourite places to go for a picnic and to enjoy being in the great outdoors is Coaley Peak viewpoint. The 180 degree view over the Severn Vale is stunning, there are plenty of interesting wild flowers to admire, lots of space for kids to run around and, if you’ve got young kids who are Harry Potter fans, you can entice them with the idea of visiting the Forbidden Forest, too. It’s also a place where people with restricted mobility, and possibly even those in wheelchairs, could enjoy being outdoors and seeing some wildlife. Add into this mix the ice-cream van that’s usually parked there at weekends during the summer and what else could you ask for?!

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Elderflower cordial: so easy to make! Here’s how…

Photo of Elderflower - Smoobs

Once the initial explosion of spring flowering has died back and the icing-like cover of white hawthorn flowers has melted from the hedgerows, the next bloom of colour appearing almost immediately afterwards is that of the elder tree. The flowerheads are so large, round and flat that they look like giant plates from nature’s best crockery set.  In reality, these white blooms are made up of thousands of tiny flowers and are a magnet for a whole host of insects gorging themselves on the nectar feast they provide.

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Trees and tranquillity at Breakheart Quarry

Map of Breakhart Quarry

The end of May and beginning of June is a bit of a quiet time with regards to wildlife spectacles. The dawn chorus is still in full swing and, thankfully if you’re not one of those early birds and prefer your cosy bed as I do, so is the dusk chorus albeit not as loud as the crack-of-dawn one. So this hiatus makes it a good time to get to grips with trees – no, not hugging them but seeing and appreciating the different types we have in this country. A great place to go is Breakheart Quarry near Dursley as there’s a fabulous range of trees growing there, it’s very family friendly and the flat footpath circumnavigating the site may even be suitable for people with restricted mobility.

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A cuckoo (but not a nightingale) sang at Frampton Pools

Nightingale - Kev Chapman

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.

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Wild garlic in the heart of Stroud

Stratford Park woodland entranceStratford Park must be the jewel in Stroud’s urban wildlife crown. It has a small area of lovely, more ‘wild’ woodland tucked well away from the formal bit of the park and I’d bet a whole pile of money that most people using the leisure centre don’t know of it’s existence. But in May, the woodland floor becomes covered in ‘spring snow’ as the glorious garlic spectacle erupts and, because of the park’s location and footpaths, it’s one of the easiest to reach and enjoy.

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Not so common orchids on the Common

Green-winged orchids on Minch Common

Often when people think of orchids, the image of the big ‘n’ blousy type come to mind. That was certainly the picture I’d conjured up when a friend first pointed out a native orchid to me. As she was mad-keen on plants, I think my initial reaction and obvious disappointment crushed her enthusiasm. Ah well, I was only 18 at the time and had yet to learn to appreciate plants and native flowers in general. Now I, too, get as excited as my friend when I see our orchids start to re-appear every spring.

We’re very lucky in Stroud to have so many orchids gracing us with their presence as they’re fussy souls – they need a fungus to associate with their roots or they can’t grow at Continue reading “Not so common orchids on the Common”

Swifts ahoy!

Photo of swift 2

I heard a sound  to gladden the heart yesterday – screaming. No, it wasn’t me finding a spider (I have to confess that the long-legged ones make my skin crawl, excuse the pun) but it meant that the swifts have made it back to Stroud for another year. For me, that signals the start of summer despite the grey clouds and cool wind. During my younger years when I lived in the outskirts of York, I never heard this evocative sound as swifts weren’t to be seen. There were oodles of house martins nesting under the eaves of houses all around us, and swallows zipped to and fro, but it wasn’t until I moved to Stroud that I hear this unmistakable sound.  This has given them the nick-name of Jackie Screamers – if anyone knows why ‘jackie’ is used, I’d be interested to know.

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Cuckoo a-calling at Cotswold Water Park

Swans on Cleveland lake 68a

OK, so the Water Park isn’t technically in Stroud district but it’s not far away and Cleveland Lakes near Ashton Keynes are almost a dead-cert for hearing cuckoos. This part of the park is also wonderfully tranquil, beautiful and offers habitat that we have very little of in Stroud’s valleys and vale apart from WWT Slimbridge. Thanks to the large reedbeds, luxuriant hedgerows and ample tree cover, the air was full of bird song when myself and friends walked around it yesterday evening. We’d only walked for a few minutes and were still close to the car park when we heard the cuckoo calling – what a result! It continued its appeal to any passing females all the time we were there.

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