Creating connection with nature

Rodborough Common – orchids and oakgalls and nettles, oh my!

Another equinox-y walk, this time on Rodborough Common with my dear friend Helen the Herbalist from Malago Medicinals. Everyone should have a herbalist friend to wander with, especially one that specialises in our native herbweed friends.

We’d gone armed with bags and scissors in case foraging opportunities presented themselves, but really, we were just on a good old-fashioned leg stretch and nature ramble to see what we could see, as the bear had it.

First stop was some Scots Pine – a cut one, so we took a good few handfuls of needles for tea in my case.

We paused at the top to admire the extensive views across Stroud and the Severn Vale and nearly trod on the leaves of a common spotted orchid. I think so anyway – turns out there’s a handful of UK orchids with similar so I’ll have to wait until it flowers to check for sure.

As we walked we pondered on the difference between this land and the Cotswolds, the creamy yellow and the deep red stone of Blackdown in the Mendips where we often walk. I reflected on how Blackdown felt older, much older, and how I was always aware of the presence of the Cailleach sleeping in those hills. Even in the height of summer it feels like a perpetual Autumn. This common, by contrast, feels like Spring. I haven’t even been here in anything other than the cold and wind, and yet the land feels young, light, airy in comparison.

Our speculation fuelled a desire to check out my ideas around age and it transpires that Blackdown is indeed older by far. Late Devonian Portishead Formation, laid down between 385 – 359 million years ago, as opposed to the whippersnapper Inferior Oolite Rodborough Common, transported from tropical southern climates a mere 175 – 167 million years ago. I wonder if its tropical marine ancestry adds to its sense of springtime summery warmth, in some doctrine of sympathy reflected in the pale yellow stone.

As we walk on we disurb a skylark, which then hovers above us whirring, warbling, creeching and buzzing. We must be near its nest. It is really noisy, quite improbably so, and its range of sounds – its vocabulary – awesome.

We walk past a juniper shrub, berries just emerging pale green. We crush some between our palms and rub in the botanical scent, and it mingles with the pine. Juniper and pine, or more prosaically Vicks and Gin. I can’t decide if we smell like the spa or the scullery.

We pause for a munch on the first spring tops of nettles and cleavers. Having just done a nettle herbal immersion in Bristol before we left, it felt good to meet the Stroud nettles. Picked with bare hands and eaten raw (easy if you know how and a great trick to impress children) they taste rich, iron-y, a perfect compliment to my wild garlic and I pick some to make new pesto.

As we wander along the western flank of the common, we pause to look down on the gorgeous fuzzy purple haze of birch and alder against the washed out yellow of the grass. More echoes of the limestone here.

Helen spots some oak galls on a stubby, scrubby little oak – the last known home of a parasitic wasp. These were once used to make an ink in medeival times, and I pluck them from their twigs to put aside for dyeing experiments.

We are lucky enough to spot two birds of prey within quick succession – my bird flight identification skills aren’t great, but I think one was a kestrel and one a sparrowhawk. They were definitely two different species, and definitely not a buzzard, and that is all I can definitely say.

We considered the walk successful  and returned home to domesticity – hearty stew, school runs and prepping my birch bark for dyeing…

 

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