The Bluebells Are Late This Year

Bluebell flower heads

If you didn’t manage to see the bluebells over the bank holiday, you haven’t missed your chance, thanks to this year’s unusually cold April they are late this year. Here are some of the woods you can visit to see bluebells, the flower of Saint George.

I've stated where I've found that the wood has good access if you have poor mobility, but I haven't been to every wood on this list.

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Tree Identity

Blackthorn blossom

The Monday Photo

This is blackthorn blossom, but how do I know that; when these look just like Hawthorn blossom? One big clue is that the flowers are out before the leaves. Another is that it’s still a bit early for Hawthorn, though the flowers are quite similar.

Their thorns mean both these trees make good, stock proof hedges, and it’s not unusual for both to be planted in the same hedge, giving a longer flowering season.

Where is this tree? While out researching and taking pictures for last week’s post Where Did the River Go?, I found a nice group of blackthorn trees in blossom on the Ouzel riverbank, close to the spillway at North Willen lake. I got in close to the nearest one, to show you these flowers.

Blackthorn supports all sorts of wildlife. It provides early nectar and pollen for bees. Many moth caterpillars feed on it and the rare black hairstreak butterfly lays its eggs in the blackthorn. Birds find a safe nesting place amongst the branches of this dense, thorny tree and small mammals also use it for shelter.

In the autumn, birds and small mammals can feast on the deep purple berries, the sloes. You might know them from sloe gin, but there are recipes for sloe jam and sloe preserves, too.

The Ouzel once ran on the other side of these trees, and the parish boundary followed the middle of the river. That means the blackthorns here were just inside the old Willen village parish.

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Living Together

Tree at Goosey Bridge  Olney

The Monday Photo

Remember the tree I showed you not too long ago, that wasn’t actually one tree but several things growing together? I’ve found another example, this time in Olney.

I’d gone for a walk with my nephew a few days before Christmas, and we crossed Goosey bridge (you can see it in the background) and around the edge of Goosey Island, on the Great Ouse. As we left the island I spotted this one on the bank. I couldn’t get too close, but I could see there’s a compact shape that’s still in leaf, while another set of branches, this time bare, has grown out further.

This tree or trees (I’m struggling to find a word that clearly describes it) is very much the same shape as the one I found in Woughton on the Green, except that the branches come down to a lower level. Perhaps only sheep are kept in this field, not cattle, and as sheep can’t reach as high to nibble at those tender shoots, the branches can survive closer to the ground.

If you’ve seen other examples of this mutual growing arrangement, please let me know in the comments.


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This is Not a Tree

This is not a treeThis isn't what it appears to be.

The Monday Photo

This is not a tree. It looks like a tree, but when I went to look at it again at the weekend I found three sorts of leaves and two main trunks. It hasn’t been snowing in the Ouzel Valley Park; this photo is from a previous year but you can still see the two main trunks.

I walked around and around it on Sunday trying to work out just what is growing here, and here’s what I think. The biggest trunk is Hawthorn. It has been strangled by ivy and it’s struggling. I found just one Hawthorn leaf and a few red berries which gave me a clue; there were very few thorns.

Most of the Hawthorn branches I could see were the lowest ones here. Even though it grows leaves and is obviously alive, the main trunk is rotten in places.

The Ivy stays close to the crown of the Hawthorn and its evergreen leaves are in shadow, just where they like to be. Considering how thoroughly the Ivy has strangled the Hawthorn, there are surprisingly few of them.

The other tree is probably a Dogwood, and it’s doing quite well. Even now in December, it still has many of its leaves. In the past one of the branches has touched the Hawthorn’s trunk and they have joined together; the Dogwood bending away like a bent elbow above the join.

The curious flat bottomed shape to the foliage we can see here is down to livestock, who might eat the tender leaves and who certainly like to rub up against the trunks, judging by the muddy and hoof marked ground I found underneath. The dense foliage will give shelter to livestock in the height of summer and the two trees and the Ivy all provide food for many insects and birds.

What was the other thing; why am I showing you a photo taken in the snow? Oh yes. of course.

I wish you all a merry Christmas. and a happy and healthy New Year.

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This Tree is Nuts

English walnut tree

The Monday Photo

What did the Romans ever do for us? They brought the walnut tree to Britain, because they liked the nuts.

Now we can eat Walnut Whips (they date from 1910), crack the shells for a Christmas snack, and eat big slices of coffee and walnut cake at tea shops. Walnuts are very good for you, but that doesn’t mean a walnut cake is a health food, no matter how nice it is.

This large Walnut tree is one of a pair planted either side of the drive of Gayhurst House, not far from Newport Pagnell. The other tree has had major surgery and last time I looked (this photo is a few years old) was recovering nicely.

It’s believed that most of the walnut trees in the area are descended from these two trees. I couldn’t find out how old the one in the photo is, but it's one of the biggest in the United Kingdom, with a height of about 66 feet (20 metres), and a girth of over twenty feet (6.2 metres).

The girth is measured at five feet above ground level; it would be called the circumference if trees were perfectly round.

This is an English Walnut, but sometimes they are called the Persian or Common Walnut. But the latin name is always Juglans Regia.

Gayhurst is one of North Buckinghamshire’s many lost villages; moved on from its original site next to the manor house, in the interests of having nicely landscaped grounds.


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Blackberry Ways

Buckinghamshire blackberries

The Monday Photo

Autumn is nearly here. Out taking photos for last week’s Thursday post on the East West Rail project, I found plenty of ripe blackberries in the hedges by the lanes, so I picked quite a lot and ate them on the spot.

But these lovely ones in the photo were way out of reach. Oh well, there were plenty more further along the hedge.

I’m told that there are hundreds of species of blackberries across the country. Over the centuries the blackberries have bred differently from the ones on the far side of a line of hills, or on the other side of a big river.

That day I had some blackberries from Winslow, and more near the old Swanbourne station perhaps two and a half miles away. The bushes seemed spikely alike to me and the berries all tasted the same, but perhaps some from twenty miles away might be different.

I’ve made a nice drink from blackberries, from a recipe my dad gave me. It’s very simple:

Pick a load of blackberries. Remove any twigs, but do not wash them.

Put the blackberries in a demijohn; do not fill it over half way. Add the same volume of sugar, and put a cork and trap in the mouth of the demijohn.

Natural yeast on the blackberries will ensure fermentation. Leave the demijohn for about a year in a warmish spot, making sure the trap always has water in it. Collect a few empty spirits bottles over the year; you will need them.

You’ll now have a demijohn full of dark red liquid. Filter the liquid and add vodka; 1 part liquid to one part vodka. It doesn’t have to be the good stuff. Put it all into bottles; you'll also have to bottles the vodka came in.

Clean the demijohn, cork, and trap, and start again with that year’s crop of blackberries.

You can see that a quarter of a demijohn of blackberries and the same volume of sugar will give you about four pints, two and a quarter litres of liquid. This is doubled once you add the vodka. But it isn’t something you can drink a lot of at once. Even with the vodka it’s still a bit sweet as I know from the couple of times I’ve made it.

Having said all that, I have about a gallon’s worth of blackberries and sugar that has been left fermenting for about five years. If I ever get round to finishing the process I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever made something like this? Do you have a recipe? Please comment below!

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