Enjoy an eight-mile circular nature walk from Little Hadham to Standon in Hertfordshire
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
A week last Monday was one of those days when it appeared to be impossible to dress correctly for a long wander. Either the clouds were overhead and it was a tad nippy, so jumper required, or the sun was out so no jumper required, or it was raining so waterproofs needed.
Consequently there were frequent stops as I set off from Little Hadham village hall towards Westland Green before heading via wonderful footpaths and lanes to Standon. From here, along the Rib valley, passing The Lordship, before heading back towards Bromley Lane and Caley Wood and from there on to the golf course and back to Little Hadham. In total, a wonderful eight-mile wander with some really good wildlife encountered.
I took the footpath opposite the village hall towards Queer Wood where a hare sat peacefully in a cereal field and a common buzzard mewed overhead. The path skirts around the southern perimeter of Queer Wood and here were mainly hornbeams, hazels, a few conifers and a good stand of bracken. From here, through a metal gate and over common ground to the green at Westland Green where two drake mallards stood in the long, damp grass whilst a few yards away a male muntjac fed.
I took the lane for a few hundred yards before accessing a footpath that runs by a large house on the right, into a small field and then cuts across a large private garden. Please note the signage here to close their garden gate and put dogs on a lead until out the other side of the garden. Here, by a large pond, two Canada geese strolled regally across the lawn and a hybrid duck – part mallard, part farmyard variety – trundled along with her duckling in close pursuit. Wonderful to observe.
The path emerges at Broken Green Farm and the route follows a lane going by a few houses near the A120. Skylarks rose from the fields and stands of white campion filled the now verdant verges. The rain the previous week has certainly brought the grasslands to life.
Soon after the houses is a path on the left through a small spinney and out on to open fields that takes the rambler down to Standon. A male orange-tip butterfly was nectaring upon Jack-by-the-hedge. At this point, apologies. In my last article I referred to this plant as wild garlic, which I know it isn't as its other name is garlic mustard (Allaria pettiolata). Just before writing my previous article I had been having a text conversation about wild garlic and where it can be found locally. Thank you to Rosina for taking the time to write to me to correct this error.
Jack-by-the-hedge is one of the larval food plants of the orange-tip butterfly, but as this was a male, identified by the bright orange on the wings which the female doesn't have, it will just have been in feeding mode. It was content and permitted me to change lenses on the camera and get reasonably close for a few pleasing macro shots. As always, just as I put this lens on, a kestrel hovered directly over me, offering great photos had I had the zoom lens on. Always the way.
I arrived in Standon and headed to the bakers to purchase my picnic lunch. They do brilliant, peppery Cornish pasties here. Suitably loaded with fodder I retraced my steps and checked out the Standon Puddingstone, mounted by an old oak opposite the church. A dispenser here gave a brief history of some of the buildings in the village and made for fascinating reading. Good work by Pat Bird.
I headed off down Paper Mill Lane towards the River Rib. Pied wagtails, blue tits, wood pigeons and a distant red kite here before I crossed the river and picked up the footpath heading south along the river valley. Marvellous scenery. Mallards with ducklings on the river, a little egret overhead and swallows and house martins swooped over the water gathering insects. Over the field, a few recently-arrived swifts just added to the awe along here. I sat a while to take it in as another red kite lazed its way towards The Lordship.
Beyond this imposing property the path leads to a bridge over the Rib once again. A small cow drinking pond was alive with more swallows and martins, some landing to gather nest-building mud. Another pied wagtail ran around gathering insects. Immediately over the bridge the path turns left, but in front a most pleasing sign stating dogs on leads as ground-nesting birds were present and the headland is a designated conservation area. Skylarks were evident all around and a red-legged partridge called unseen.
I headed uphill, passing many strong, mature oaks, before turning left towards the sewage farm then taking a right-hand turn by an apple tree in full and magnificent blossom. Also here, my first hawthorn blossom added to the variety of pastel shades as there was both red and white campion, bluebells, cowslips and germander speedwell all in and on the edges of the hedgerows.
I headed towards Little Balsams where a superbly-placed garden bench afforded me a rest, a magnificent view and a chance to enjoy my pasty. Bliss. And the sun was out, so off came the sweater. Long-tailed tits and chiffchaffs called, a blackcap burst into its complicated warble and whitethroats called their scratchy song. A pair of lesser black-backed gulls were enjoying the strong breeze as they meandered southwards. I could have spent a lot longer here, but the sky was beginning to look a trifle threatening so I moved on.
Over the lane by Little Balsams and on to some of the highest ground around this area. Views of a hazy Canary Wharf in the distance before another left and out onto Bromley Lane. Just before stepping onto the lane I walked through a cloud of St Mark's flies (Bibio marci). These are associated with their regular emergence around St Mark's Day on April 25, but, due to the cold temperatures we experienced in April, this year they are late on parade. These are those large black flies that fly in front of your face with their legs dangling below their abdomen.
Yet another left after a couple of hundred yards took me along an old Green Lane; wide and bordered by some mature trees. I suspect it's an old track from Tudor times and before. A green woodpecker called as I caught sight of a fast-flying butterfly. I eventually caught up with it – a Painted Lady, a migratory species probably recently arrived from the Continent on the warm daily southerlies we had been experiencing.
I stopped again on the second Bromley Lane to photo honesty growing in the hedge. Here, both the regular purple petals and also the less common white variety. More hawthorn blossom too.
Opposite Sun Cottages I clambered over a stile just as the heavens opened. On with the waterproof and into my camera bag with my optical gear. The rain stopped so out with the camera and off with the cagoule, but, just as I picked up the footpath that follows the boundary edge of Caley Wood by a recently-planted vineyard, the rain started again. A large oak afforded me shelter and the shower was soon over, so I continued down to Ash Valley Golf Club where there are footpaths that lead to New Road, the River Ash and back into the village and the village hall car park. Yellowhammers, more skylarks and a solitary linnet sang as I crossed New Road.
As usual when out for such a walk, stopping to enjoy the scenery, take photographs and study the hedgerows for birds, I rarely achieve more than two miles per hour and so it was gone midday when I got back into Little Hadham having set off at 8am. A wonderful walk around habitats that I have not covered for the Indie before and well worth exploring.
If any readers have suggestions for a future walk that I may not have covered recently or have a garden they would like me to report from, please do contact the Indie office and they shall pass on your details. Always good to find a new site.