Invasive Species

The strong winds are back. Although the skies are a fairly uniform dull grey, where there are differences in nuances, wispy streaks rush over their lighter neighbours like smoke from a bonfire, or what was soon to emanate from the car bonnet. The rain was not heavy, but the gusts blew Jackie and me up and down the gravel slopes crossing the heath on which we walked at Frogham where she had driven us this morning.
On Roger Penny Way there were two sets of temporary traffic lights marking spots where trees had presumably fallen across the road. One root mass circumference was quite the largest either of us has seen.Runners For a short stretch around Godshill, vehicles, and the inevitable Sunday cyclists, had to share the road with runners as they strung out along the tarmac before disappearing through the car park into Ashley Walk which winds across the heath.
That resting place for cars was bone dry compared with the one at Abbot’s Well where Jackie normally parks when we go to that part of the forest. The road up to the second car park is normally pitted and can be muddy. Car park Abbot's WellToday the pock marks had widened and deepened and were filled with ochre liquid, some of which may have come from the glaucous lake which was even now lapping at the fenders alongside it. Fortunately we managed to leave the car in the lower section.
New Zealand pygmyweed controlThe poster visible by the lake in the picture above explains that work is under way to control New Zealand pygmyweed which is threatening native New Forest plants. This perennial species of succulent, the Crassula helmsii, otherwise known as the swamp stonecrop, that has been introduced from the Antipodes, likes aquatic or semiterrestrial conditions. displayImage-1.cfmGiven the amount of water that has lain on the forest terrain for the last two years it is hardly surprising that this invader is enjoying itself.
The John Tradescants, father and son, were seventeenth century travellers and gardeners who imported many new species of plant, some of which, named after them, are welcome additions to our flora. Others have, for various reasons, introduced both flora and fauna, some of which have come to be less than welcome.
Himalayan balsamA warning about Himalayan balsam is posted on the Castleman Trailway near Ringwood. ‘Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is a relative of the busy Lizzie, but reaches well over head height, and is a major weed problem, especially on riverbanks and waste land, but can also invade gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes’ (RHS). I’m sure I’ve seen and, unknowingly admired it.
There are more than 1,000 species of rhododendron, many of which were introduced to England, I believe from China, in the 18th Century. Their splendour is evident in Furzey Gardens and in ours. RhododendronsUnfortunately ‘some types are now a pest in Britain, because they out-compete many native plants and, because their leaves contain toxins that some animals find inedible’.
In 17th Century, Canada Geese were introduced to supplement King James II’s waterfowl collection in St James’s Park. Canada geese youngJust like any other living creature, the young of these large birds, as I found in Cannon Hill Common on 28th September 2012, are intriguing and attractive. They do, however grow up, and are now a menace on our lakes and rivers. Their excreta is rather copious and can clog up the land around the waterways preventing grass from growing.
CoypuAnother menace, thought to have been eradicated by 1989, is the coypu, introduced from South America in 1929. This was kept in East Anglia for its fur. Some escaped, went forth, and multiplied. These creatures are extremely destructive. Was the ‘giant rat’ killed in County Durham in 2012, a survivor of the slaughter? If so, how many more are there?
When we came back to the car at Abbot’s Well today, it would not start. The water with which we had filled the tank yesterday was all gone. We had just enough left in a bottle to enable us to limp home, but we have a problem. The car didn’t smell too good and steam clouds rose from outside the front.
We had thought the lack of transport would mean that we would be unable to attend Helen’s birthday party this afternoon, but Ron collected us and took us to Poulner, and Shelly drove us home afterwards. Stretching into the evening we had an enjoyable time with friends and family involving much reminiscing and a certain amount of alcohol. My choice was red wine. There were plenty of well-filled and inventive canapés, and Helen kept warm snacks such as sausage rolls, and pastry filled with pork and apricots, flowing from the kitchen.


Sausage casseroleThis morning Jackie cooked a superb sausage casserole (recipe) lunchtime meal for our friend Norman. Crisp vegetables and amazingly smooth mashed potato supplemented the dish. Dessert was an excellent plum, greengage, and apple crumble. Jackie drank sparkling water while our visitor and I shared a bottle of La Croix des Papes Chateuneuf du Pape 2012. Norman had travelled in reverse my usual fortnightly journey from his home in Preston Road, to visit us. We collected him from New Milton Station in the car.
After coffee Jackie drove us to have a look at the sea and the Isle of Wight before taking him back to the station for his return. Our octogenarian friend of more than thirty years, dating from when he had been my Deputy in Westminster Social Services Department, had, in his youth, lived in Southampton and had circumnavigated the Romans’ Vectis on many an occasion. As I have mentioned before, he is writing a book about passenger ships plying the Bay of Naples. He loves travelling on the water. Trellis and potsFront gardenFront garden 2
The problem with having potted plants and hanging baskets wherever Jackie can find to place them, even perched on the walls at the front, is that, especially on this, the hottest day of the year so far, they need constant watering. My task this evening, was to irrigate those at the front of the house. There are water butts all around the building, collecting the life-giving liquid from the guttering. It was just my luck that the one in the front garden should be empty. That meant I had to traipse round the side of the house to fill my can from one at the back. Still, Jackie had already watered far more at the back.
Afterwards, as we sat on the patio, with our books, and drinking sparkling water, we were visited by the timid pigeon that comes nightly to drink from the minuscule lily pond that began life as a household water tank. Water on lily leavesSo shy is the bird that as I reached for my camera it flew away, but had left its mark on one of the convex leaves as it sucked up the water cupped in a concave one.
The novel I finished reading this evening was ‘December’ by Elizabeth H. Winthrop. Once I got over my irritation at the continual use of the historical present used by the writer, I was gripped by this book. Winthrop has a keen eye for detail and an insightful approach to her characters. The story concerns Isabelle, locked into a self-imposed silence, and her parents’ struggles to encourage her to speak. The eleven year old child is, herself, unable to break out of the prison in which she is trapped. Her parents feel guilty and helpless, and their nerves are stretched to the limit. Psychotherapists cannot help. Eventually the girl is freed by a shock. The author’s understanding of the condition is sound and plausibly represented.

On A Mission

Geoff at Ashley Heath 2.13On another cold dull grey day I put off my walk until after lunch.  Jackie drove me to Ashley Heath, left me there, and I walked back along the Castleman Trailway (see 10th December 2012) to meet her in the Ringwood carpark.  She dropped me off in the One Stop general store.  I realised how aptly named this was when, immediately behind it, I found the site of Ashley Heath obsolete railway halt.  This was on the stretch which runs to Poole, so I crossed Norton Road to follow the path to Ringwood.Castleman Trailway ditch 2.13  The whole of this two and a half mile length is bordered on the right by a deep and wide trench.  Much of this has been to some extent filled in over the years by fallen leaves and other greenery.  It currently carries much rainwater. Ashley Heath moat bridge (1) 2.13Castleman Trailway moat bridge 2.13Ashley Heath moat bridge (2) 2.13 Where buildings back onto this ditch, many of them, especially those homes in Ashley Heath, have gates in their fences and bridges across the cleared out moat, giving their owners access to the trailway and forest beyond.  Dog walkers are always in evidence.  Some way along the track, where there is no sign of habitation, there are the remains of a small concrete shelter.  It contains the usual modern graffiti, but has clearly been there since before spray cans or felt tip pens were invented.  What is it?  I wondered.  Not really big enough for people waiting for trains.  Maybe an emergency phone box?  No wiring in evidence, but then there wouldn’t be by now.  Any ideas, anyone?Castleman Trailway concrete shelter 2.13

As I neared Ringwood the birdsong was first joined and then gradually drowned by the shrill clamour of schoolchildren approaching.  Chaperoned by three adults they came tripping, bounding, dawdling, and lagging along the trail.   I asked one of the escorts if this was a field trip.  No, it was just a walk.  That certainly beats being cooped up in a classroom.

When he read that I was walking along the Castleman Trail to Ashley Heath, Geoff Austin told me that he had done the same thing some years ago after his parents had retired to that village.  Recently he unearthed the photograph that appears at the top of this post.  In the picture he is hamming up waiting for a train at the extinct railway halt.  He sent me the photo and said he would be interested to know whether the sign was still in situ.Ashley Heath halt 2.13  Not only is it still there, but it has been cleaned and tidied up.  Not just by the removal of my old friend.

John Conway's tomb protection 2.13Walking through the Meeting House Lane shopping centre in Ringwood I was pleased to see that the tomb of John Conway ( see post of 30th November 2012) is at last receiving the protection it deserves.  Tasteful iron railings were being installed.

We dined on roast duck breasts this evening.  Possibly the most succulent yet non-fatty I have ever tasted.  I finished the Carta Roja.

After this we watched episode 3 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’.

Flood Plain

Kingsbury's Lane 12.12. (2)JPGJackie shopped in Ringwood this morning whilst I walked up and down that town’s section of the Castleman Trailway.  We then met in the Bistro for lunch and drove back home.

In recent weeks I have noticed sandbags against all the garden gates, walls, and fences in Kigsbury’s Lane.  This morning I saw why.  The lane was full of water and impassable, either for cars or pedestrians. Burst water main 12.12 To compound the problem, one of the gardens contained a burst water main.  As an alternative route through to the river, I tried King’s Arms Lane and was able to arrive at the other end of Kingsbury’s.Kingsbury's Lane 12.12. (3)JPG  Here I met a woman called Barbara, who had grown up in the corner house I had just photographed.  She told me that her family’s particular corner had always been subject to flooding but the whole street had never suffered so.  The saturated green opposite, called The Bickerley, is a fairground venue.  When Barbara was small she had watched the fairs from her window, wishing she had the money to attend them.  I accompanied her along the Bickerley finding the least muddy and waterlogged terrain together.  She asked about conditions at Minstead because her daughter was driving down from Scotland to visit her father-in-law who lives there.  I was able to reassure her.

Had the Trailway not been raised significantly from the normal river level, I doubt that I would have been able to walk along it.  The Avon and the millstream were pouring into the lakes that had been the neighbouring fields, which were now totally submerged.  Water fowl were in complete possession of the field from which I had recently seen horses being rescued.  Twitchers with binoculars were gazing at the birds in their unaccustomed habitat.  Photographers were out in earnest.  One young woman carrying a tripod, trailing behind a man with an immensely long lens, was amused when I quipped: ‘so you get to carry the tripod’.  ‘Yes.  That’s my job for the day’, she replied.  Had I been ultra sensitive I might have felt the little appendage hanging around my neck to be rather inadequate.

Quite a cluster of cameras were gathered at the point where the Trailway bridges the river Avon. Horses in water 12.12 Here there was a group of waterbound ponies struggling to find fodder.  They were feeding as well as they could on a few clumps arising from the bank of the Avon.  Their feet were in comparatively shallow water;  just beyond their noses the river rushed past.  With other watchers I speculated about whether they could swim across the river where there was some still dryish land.  One looked as if he were contemplating it but thought better of it.  A group of young people sporting RSPCA insignia hurried to the scene and continued on past. Horses in water 12.12 (3) They said the horses were the reason for their attendance.  I wasn’t sure where they sped off to.

This evening Becky, Flo and Ian arrived to stay for Christmas.  It is actually Flo’s birthday, which she shares with Oliver.  The opening of our present to Flo caused a certain amount of amusement.  We gave her a Pleo, which is a robotic dinosaur.  The first reaction came from her brother Scooby.  Scooby is a Jack Russel terrier who has undergone a head transplant.  For the uninitiated this is my way of indicating that his head seems to be too big for his body.  Showing a certain amount of jealous insecurity, Scooby approached first me. then Ian, the two least doggie people in the room, for succour.  When Flo discovered that the instruction leaflet was in various European languages other than English, Ian suggested that his failed German O level might be of some use. Ian, Becky & Flo 12.12 Becky and Flo found this amusing.

Later we dined on Jackie’s beef stew followed by bread and butter pudding and Florence’s birthday cake. Jackie drank Hoegaarden, Ian Peroni, Becky fizzy water; and my choice was Dino sangiovese 2011.

Jogger’s Nipple

Castleman Trailway 12.12This was another beautiful clear winter’s day when the hard frost did not leave the ground, but continued to sparkle in the sunshine, except for the very open heathland where steam rose offering a misty veil across the backlit landscape.  We reprised yesterday’s Ringwood trip, except that I didn’t have my hair cut; I walked further along the Castleman Trailway; and we had our brunches in Bistro Aroma, a much friendlier and more popular cafe, with a greater range of food better cooked.  As she drove along the A31 Jackie spotted a hawk atop a fir tree, and likened it to a star on top of a Christmas tree.Ponies, seagulls, crows 12.12

It seemed to me that the waters were subsiding a little; just enough for the seagulls to share the fields with crows, and for the ponies to enjoy a little firmer foothold in parts.

Castleman Trailway 12.12 (2)As I now knew the way I walked further along the Trailway in the allotted time, managing to reach the edge of Ashley Heath and walk up the hill of pines and heathland by a pukka path provided with a small footbridge that spanned the ditch I had lept yesterday.  I was able to look down on the small town before retracing my steps back to the cafe.

Whilst perhaps not quite ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’, this was definitely extremity-tingling weather.  That phrase, incidentally, having nothing to do with cojones, is not as rude as may be thought.  The brass monkey was a container for cannon balls on nineteenth century sailing ships.  It was made of brass, which the balls were not.  Because the two metals froze at different rates the balls would fall from their perch.

Having been revealed by Donna’s attention yesterday, my ears were certainly tingling.  She had actually said, when exposing my lugs, that she hoped this wouldn’t make them too cold.  Nevertheless, brisk walking, as usual, warmed me up, just as running had in years gone by.  Training runs in a track suit were one thing.  Running races in sub-zero temperature, clad only in the briefest of running shorts and vest, usually of some unyielding synthetic material, was quite something else.  The combination of stinging cold and the friction engendered by clothing on skin could be quite painful.  When awaiting a start in conditions such as today, the experienced person wore a black bin-liner until the last available seconds and discarded it before getting into a stride.  This was when ‘jogger’s nipple’ was prone to set in.  When, even through a vest, exposed to a cold enough temperature, the nipple would react as may be expected.  The friction of regular movement would do the rest, and soreness and sometimes bleeding would result.  As a runner you just had to grit your teeth and press on.  Rather difficult if your gnashers were chattering with cold as you lined up for the off.  Men’s particular appendages would also suffer in withering cold.  It was not a good idea to jump into a hot shower before you had thawed out somewhat.Backlit robin 12.12

This evening Jackie produced a flavoursome, hot, chilli con carne.  She drank Hoegaarden and I had a glass of Le Pont St Jean minervois 2010.

Helen having recommended the village of Bartley’s Christmas lights, we drove out after dinner to see them.Bartley Christmas lights (2) 12.12  Many of the residents of this location have decked out their gardens and houses with an amazing array of colourful electrical and mechanical celebratory illuminations.  Deer, for example, glow with light and move up and down as if grazing.  Particularly as street lighting is at a minimum, this alternative serves to guide one round the village.  One of the literal highlights of Christmas in Morden was the ritual drive down Lower Morden Lane.  House after house seemed to vie with its neighbours in producing similar spectacles.  As people of the Muslim faith have moved in, so these displays have reduced, but it is still worth the trip.  In Bartley we have found a most satisfactory substitute.

One Direction

Seagulls in waterlogged field 12.12Today I decided my Father Christmas locks must be shorn.  From the options available on Google we selected Donna-Marie of Southampton Street, Ringwood.  Jackie drove me there and we made an appointment for 3.30 p.m. which was five hours away.  I set off on a walk and Jackie went shopping.  We met two hours later in Poppies coffee shop above their baker’s, where I had an all-day breakfast and Jackie enjoyed a cauliflower cheese.  After this we bought quite a few pieces of cake-making equipment at The Lighthouse cookshop and returned home before revisiting Donna-Marie, who was a delightful young woman who gave me an excellent haircut and lots of cuddly chat, a couple of hours later.  She said she had wondered to a customer who she had been styling when I made the appointment why Derrick wanted his hair cut when Father Christmas hadn’t been yet.

My walk took me back to the riverside area swamped by the river Avon.  Conditions were much the same as they had been on 30th November.Horses in waterlogged field, Ringwood 12.12  Screeching seagulls claimed the fields where a few remaining horses stood to get their feet wet.

The raised path I had walked a couple of weeks ago is part of the Castleman Trailway, which, turning right along the river, I wished to explore further.  This follows the Southampton to Dorchester Railway Company’s now obsolete line.  The railway branch line was another of the casualties of the Beeching axe of 1964.  The Trailway runs from Salisbury to Poole.  If you can find it, you can walk it.  My regular readers will expect me to have had trouble finding it.  I did not let them down.  Passing the still drowned garden I had first seen on 30th November, I soon came to Hurn Lane.  No continuing footpath, just Hurn Lane, a great big roundabout, that and another road to cross, having walked under the A31.  No Trailway sign.  Just the roar of heavy traffic.  I walked on a bit, looking this way, and that, and the other, puzzled.  I asked a woman for directions to the trail.  ‘Where do you want to get to?’, she asked, and seemed somewhat nonplussed when I replied that anywhere would do.  I clarified matters by saying I was new to the area and just exploring.  She pointed back the way I had come.  I had to explain that and say I wanted the other direction.  She then proceeded, augmenting her verbal instructions with clear pointing, to lead me in exactly the opposite direction to the one in which I needed to go.  Very soon I was dicing with death on the A31.

Back I tracked to the place where I had asked directions, and asked another couple.  They were going there themselves, did it regularly, and wondered why the signs ran out when they did.  ‘Someone ought to tell them’, the man said.  So, if ‘them’ are reading this, please take note.  Before the next sign appeared we had crossed two roads and walked round a left hand bend.  It was not visible from the direction in which I had first been led.

Couple on Castleman Trailway 12.12My guides walked on ahead as I rambled.  Some way along the trail I took a comparatively dry path up into trees and heathland which I traversed for a while before taking a very muddy track down, which led me to a ditch I had to leap across to get back to the trail.  I retraced my steps to meet Jackie. Himalayan Balsam 12.12 Beside the Ringwood part of the trail is posted a laminated sign asking walkers to uproot the menace that is Himalayan Balsam.

Had I met the couple before the first woman, or had the signing of the Trailway not petered out I would not have gone on a false trail as I would have been led only in one direction.  My title for today’s adventure was inspired by an exchange with Louisa who had posted on Facebook that her 5 and 3 year old daughters were walking around the house singing songs from One Direction, the latest boy band.  When I had asked whether the songs were anything to do with The X factor, she had told me they were by this band, and added ‘get with it Dad’.  Well, I’ll have you know, my darling girl, they came third in that programme in 2010.

We had a light salad this evening before going off to The Amberwood pub quiz, which we won.