See the butterfly that came back from the dead

Bob and bench Daneway Banks July 2018 - C Aistrop
The bench is the perfect place to sit, relax and maybe even picnic. credit: C Aistrop

Daneway Banks near Frampton Mansell offers the ideal wildlife watching experience – flowers galore, beautiful views, butterflies galore and a fabulous pub. Yep, once more I’ve managed to mix wildlife watching with a pub stop. Do you notice a pattern here? I don’t know whether or not it reveals more about the character of naturalists than about wildlife but there always seem to be good pubs in the vicinity of nature reserves. Well, all this surveying and watching wildlife builds up a thirst so we need somewhere to quench that thirst, of course!

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust manages this nature reserve which nestles in the wonderful Sapperton valley. Apart from the silence being broken by the Cheltenham to London train once in a while, the site feels like it’s in another world. It’s also the place to see the stunning Large Blue butterfly which became extinct in the UK in 1979 but has been successfully re-introduced. The main reason it died out was because we didn’t understand its complex needs and destroyed its habitat, sometimes whilst trying to help it!

To say its life cycle is unusual is an understatement. There’s more deception and killing than a James Bond novel. The large blue butterfly’s caterpillar eats the flowers of wild thyme until a certain age (the forth instar for those who know butterfly terminology) when it drops to the ground, starts to secrete  a pheromone (a hormone) which smells like the larvae of the red ant, and also starts to behave like one. The adult ants, thinking one of their young has got lost, drag the caterpillar down into their nest and look after it. How does the caterpillar repay their hospitality? By eating the ant larvae, what else?! It spends all winter in the nest, happily snacking on all the free grub burgers until the spring when it turns into a chrysallis. Once it’s turned into an adult butterfly, it scarpers pretty quickly out of the ants nest ready to find a mate, lay eggs and start the whole cycle again. Incredible to think that such a gory story lies behind such a beautiful butterfly.

You’ll recognise the butterfly because it’s large (funnily enough) and a strong blue colour, even when it’s flying – though the black spots on its wings and the black borders around the edge make it appear more purple-blue than plain blue. It’s on the wing (as naturalists say) from mid-June to mid-July. But even if you don’t see this butterfly, there are plenty of other lovely ones flying around the Banks at this time of year: marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, as well as cinnbar moths and tiger moths. Plus, the flower show is glorious: pyramidal orchids, square stemmed St John’s Wort, centuary, yellow wort, bird’s foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw, heath bedstraw, common scabious and loads more.

It’s a site to take your time visiting – just amble around watching the butterflies, finding the flowers and sitting on the creatively decorated bench to enjoy the view. A significant part of the site is flat so a picnic might be in order as well. Oh, and not forgetting to finish the whole experience off with a visit to the wonderful Daneway Inn. Mindfulness classes? Not needed after visit to Daneway Banks, you’ll be so relaxed you’ll be virtually falling over .. and I don’t mean after the pint or two at the Daneway!

When to visit: mid-June to mid-July

Location: Daneway Banks is near Frampton Mansell, off the A419 Stroud – Cirencester road

How much time to allow: one hour at minimum, and lots more if you want to see as much wildlife as you can plus visit the pub!

Terrain: the walk along the road from the Daneway to the reserve is uphill but once through the wide wooden entrance gate and onto the main path across the site, you’re more or less on the level. This part is good for picnics and could easily be managed by all-terrain buggies, I’m not sure about wheelchairs though. Carry on past the telegraph pole on the left, then go through the gate a little way beyond. Here the paths to left and right are narrower, some are on slopes and the surface is rougher but it’s the best area for butterflies and ant nests. Flowers are all around the site right from the entrance.

You could park at the entrance gate to let anyone who doesn’t walk so well get into the site and then the bench is a short walk from the gate, you’ll see it easily.

Facilities: none on the site but drink, food and toilets at the Daneway pub just down the road. If you want to eat there on a Saturday or Sunday, book your table well in advance as it’s a popular place especially in summer.

Directions:

from Stroud: from the A419 Stroud to Cirencester road take the turn to Frampton Mansell. Keep on the same road and drive through the village, along the country road through the countryside and to the edge of Sapperton where there’s a small cross-road. Take the left turn signposted to the Daneway. If you’re not visiting the Daneway, park in the layby on the left hand side just before the sharp right turn onto a bridge but if you are, park in the Daneway car park.

From Cirencester: on the A419 Cirencester to Stroud road, take the Sapperton turn-off, continuing straight over the crossroads, along the edge of the village to a mini cross-roads and turn left following signs to Daneway pub. If you’re not visiting the Daneway, park in the layby on the left hand side just before the sharp right turn onto the bridge but if you are, park in the Daneway car park.

Walk a short way up the road away from the pub and the entrance gate to Daneway Banks is on the right hand side (opposite to the entrance to Siccaridge Woods).

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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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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