30 Days Wild – Day 8 – Back To My Roots

It’s day 8 of 30 Days Wild and today I managed to combine my two favourite pastimes – looking for wildlife and family history.  Since we moved back down south from Scotland 10 years ago, I’ve been meaning to go and visit the village of Thornbury in Herefordshire, where my Rowberrys started out in the 16th century.  My 9xgreat grandfather Richard Rowberry married Izott Smyth there in 1575! If you’re good at reading old handwriting, you can just about make it out in the extract from the parish register below.

Since I’ve been working in Clee Hill I’ve been driving past the turn for Thornbury twice a week. So today I decided take a detour to the church and have a look round.

Interestingly they were talking on Springwatch tonight about how much wildlife you find in older villages. Thornbury is in the middle of nowhere and very old (part of the church dates back to the 13th century), so it should be rich in wildlife. It was probably  a bit late in the day for my visit and it wasn’t the sunniest, so the wildlife maybe wasn’t as evident as it might be at other times. But just looking around you can see the potential alright. The village has scattered houses and the church is just on the edge of the fields in rolling countryside.

You can tell the churchyard was old by the size of the trees, including a massive Yew tree in the middle and even bigger pines (I think) at the edge. One of the pines was so big I had to photograph it in 3 sections and paste the photos together to get the whole thing in.

The branches of some of the older trees were twisted and gnarled like something out of Lord of the Rings. They must be great habitats for all kinds of animals to live in.

The Yew is of course a classic tree of churchyards. Close up this year’s new growth was visible as vibrant paler green at the end of each twig.

Of course you can’t go to a churchyard and not look at gravestones. Unfortunately my old Rowberrys haven’t left any stones (it was too long ago and they were probably too poor anyway). But there were plenty of other old stones covered in beautiful black, grey and orange lichens.

Other stones had a gothic looking covering of ivy.

It was a bit too dark and cool, for many insects to be out. It was nice to see though, that although the churchyard was recently mown and generally well kept, the gardeners had left areas of wilderness around the edges, which I bet in the sunshine would have been buzzing with insects.

I did see a few bees – mainly Tree bumblebees, which are rapidly becoming one of the most common bumblebee species I see (especially in our own garden). So it was nice to also spot this Common Carder on some white dead nettle.

While I was there, a big flock of large black birds (crows maybe) took off from the churchyard trees and all flew out over the countryside. Five minutes later they all flew back again, cawing loudly as they settled back in the trees. Hard to count them on the move, but there must have been at least 40 or 50 individuals. (Hitchcock’s The Birds sprang to mind!)

All in all it was a lovely peaceful end to my working day and Thornbury is a beautiful village in unspoilt Herefordshire countryside. My family lived there and would have walked around that same church over 400 years ago. Rural churchyards are often great places for wildlife and today’s didn’t disappoint. The only other thing that would have made it any better was if I’d seen some hop poles – as my 8xgreat grandfather Humphrey Rowberry was a hop-planter (one of the early ones in the area probably). Hope he approved of my visit all the same.

30 Days Wild – Day 1

30 days forget me nots

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_01Today is the first day of the “30 Days Wild” challenge, the idea being to do something WILD every day during June. Fortunately they don’t have to be big “somethings” – so I don’t have to climb a mountain or swim the channel each day. Just incorporate something that connects me to nature every day for a month.

How hard can that be? Guess I’ll find out by the end of the month! 30 Days Wild is organised by the Wildlife Trusts and they’ve set up a page with links to lots of other bloggers doing the challenge. So if reading my ramblings isn’t enough, then check out the others at http://www.mywildlife.org.uk/30dayswild/30-days-wild-bloggers/

For Day 1, I thought I’d go and look at the oldest living thing I’m likely to find anywhere in Herefordshire or Worcestershire – actually it’s pretty much the oldest living thing I’m likely to see anywhere! Peterchurch in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley boasts a Yew Tree that is reputed to be about 3000 years old. I’ve never got up close and personal with a Yew Tree, let alone one that old, so the 30 Days Wild challenge seemed the ideal opportunity to do so.

General View

The Yew Tree was pretty easy to spot in the churchyard, which was itself conveniently located next to a pub. As Day 1 coincided with my weekly Wednesday outings for a pub lunch with my 84 year old Dad, my venerable parent got dragged round too – the aged meeting the aged! Here he is looking slightly bemused next to the tree.

Dad & Yew

The tree stands in Peterchurch’s churchyard and was previously thought to be only about 750 years old, but recent studies by tree experts have determined that it is probably at least 3000 years old. This means it dates back to Neolithic times and due to the Yew’s supposed association with religious sites might suggest that the Norman church could have been built on the site of a much earlier ceremonial place.

The tree is hollow and seems to be growing out the way from its centre, presumably expanding its girth each year (aren’t we all!) There is a lot of charring on the inside of the tree which, while terribly sad that anyone would want to set fire to such an amazing thing, in a way adds to the mystique and atmosphere.

Burnt Bark

I did something I’ve certainly never done before – stood in the centre of a tree and looked up its trunk to the sky! It didn’t feel at all like I was in a tree or a living thing, more like a beautiful vaulted cave.

View Inside

The bark alone was a work of art,  like a gnarly sculpture or a giant piece of driftwood, beautiful and very tactile.

Bark 2

Bark 1

New shootAlthough the bark looked like tough, old (and to be honest) dead wood, incredibly there were new shoots growing out of it.

It was amazing to see a tree like this, knowing it has been on this spot for 3000 years. I can trace my family back over 500 years in Herefordshire, but to think that this tree had already been standing here for 2500 years before the earliest known Rowberry trod the Shire is quite incredible.

While there I had this “brilliant” idea to  video the tree as I walked around it – thought it would give more of a feel of this ancient being. Turns out this is not as easy as it sounds! Cue shaky footage while I stumble round the tree trying not to trip over gravestones, with my Dad talking in the background (my fault – I should have made it clear to him beforehand that the video would record sound too!)

ThrushesThe video makes it sound as if the churchyard was a lot noisier than it actually was. It was really very peaceful and full of birds (including this pair of thrushes that were doing their best to pretend we weren’t there). Just realised something as I write this – I forgot to hug the tree. If there was ever a tree that deserved to be hugged, Peterchurch’s Yew Tree must surely be it.

It wasn’t exactly a day basked in sunshine today (it had been chucking it down in Malvern earlier), but I think it would be lovely to go back to Peterchurch on a really nice hot day and just sit and contemplate life under the Yew Tree for a while. I’m hoping 30 Days Wild will bring more such revelations – finding things, places, activities that I enjoy this June, then mentally bookmarking them for future enjoyment too.

I’d originally got the idea of visiting the Yew Tree from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s suggestions for 30 days wild. What a great suggestion it was – if anyone else is looking for inspiration go to: http://www.herefordshirewt.org/30-days-wild

Forget me not 30 WEEDSAs a bit of a side-line to 30 days wild, I thought I’d showcase some of the “weeds” that flourish under the Too Lazy To Weed regime (assuming a regime can be a system of having basically no system). So a different weed every day for 30 days. First up the Forget-Me-Not – I’m not sure which species we get in the garden – possibly a hybrid. Whichever they are, I’ve always loved their bright blue cheery little flowers. They’ve been a favourite since I saw a whole meadow of them on a childhood holiday. They flourish in our garden and have seeded themselves pretty much everywhere. They are quite delicate though and after flourishing in a patch one year will easily be superseded by some of the tougher bigger weeds. Why anyone would want to weed these out of their garden is a mystery to me – they are so much prettier than any cultivated exotic plant. And of course the insects love them – pretty and functional – a Win-Win Weed!