In an orchid corner

Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Three Queens was nothing to do with the concert outside Buckingham Palace that had taken place yesterday but related to the three royally-named Cunard liners, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth that were all going to be present at Southampton today. For some reason, tides perhaps, they were due to arrive rather early and we debated a 5 a.m. start but a look at the weather forecast, cold and probably raining persuaded us that staying in bed might be a better idea.

We had discovered somewhat belatedly that Southampton was planning a big fireworks display tonight but had we stayed it would have meant getting home at something like 2 in the morning with work to follow. We would have stayed the extra might if we'd known about it in advance, though.

After checking out we drove down to the waterfront in fairly light traffic and found a parking spot right opposite one of the huge liners, the Queen Mary. There had been a sign outside the ticket office for the Isle of Wight ferries advertising bacon sandwiches so our first destination was inevitable and we soon found ourselves tucking in to a particularly good breakfast in Monsieur Hulot's. This is an odd place. It's hard to tell whether it is quirky by design or by evolution, with the rear of the shop being decorated with a street of dolls houses (well, the fronts of dolls houses) on one side and shelves upon shelves of traditional sweets in jars on the other. The breakfast was spot on, though.

Next we walked down to the park where the days celebrations were taking place. It was still a bit early and things were mostly just being set up and sadly it promised to be a rather chilly and windy day so we didn't hand around long and set off in search of orchids. Given the weather conditions there was absolutley no chance that Glanville Fritillaries (which incidentlall can be found at only one spot on mainland Britain) would be on the wing so the choice to look for flowers instead was quite an easy one.

Martin Down was one reserve that we had identified before the trip as a possible destination and the presence of flowering Burnt-tip Orchids helped us decide. Shortly after leaving Southampton the rain started. The forecast had suggested showers and we were going to look for a Golden Oriole first that had been seen at a village not far from Martim Down first so we pressed on.

Our route took us on the A338 past the tiny village of Ibsley and it was on an attractive old three-arched bridge near the turn off for the village that we noticed a small group of birdwatchers standing in the rain and looking into an area of dense vegetation. Using the miracle of mobile internet technology, Julie quickly discovered that a Marsh Warbler had been reported from here less than an hour before. This species has at best a tenuous hols in the UK, with the RSPB website suggesting just 3-10 breeding pairs and it has now gone from its former "stronghold" in Worcestershire. We had seen and heard them only in Estonia so we quickly found a place to turnaround and parked our car in the by now quite heave rain to joib the twenty or so people already gathered.

Fortunately we didn't have to wait for long and the bird soon popped out of the undergrowth to give surprisingly good views and more importantly to burst into song which is one of the best ways to differentiate it from the very similar Reed Warbler. Mercifully its appearance was quite brief and after providing everyone with a satisfying and convincing sighting it hopped back into cover and we gratefully returned to the shelter of our vehicles.

There seemed to be no chance of a Golden Oriole in the prevailing conditions which could probably best be summed up as "grim" so we scratched that from the itinerary and decided to make straight for Martin Down. Incidentally, I read somewhere that June 5th is the best day for fine weather in the UK, in terms of warmth, sunshine, calm conditions etc. July and August are of course hotter but also more prone to heavy rain and thunderstorms and strong winds. Today looked as though it might well bring the average down!

Martin Down is a fine example of southern England's chalk dowland and more info about the site and the influence that manhas had on it for over 5,000 years can be found here ...

It is home to a range of wildlife including birds, mammals and reptiles and is reached from what must be one of the prettiest villages in the country with a high density of houses and cottages with thatched rooves.

We pulled into the car park just as another vehicle was leaving, which was good timing because there were few passing places in the mile of narrow lane from the village. There was another car already there and for a while we simply sat and watched the rain but it looked to be easing a little so we donned our waterproofs and set off up the hill.

It wasn't too bad at first, although the rain didn't seem to be lessening as we crossed the open pastures toward the large earthworks at the top of the slope. We passed several orchids in amongst the numerous wildflowers, mainly common ones like Spotted and Early Purple Orchids but also one Greater Butterfly Orchid right next to the path. When we reached the earthwords the area just to the left of the path with grass kept short by rabbits had lots of orchids including Green-winged Orchids which are scarce back in Shropshire but probably more often seen further south. No sign of anything that looked like a Burnt-tip Orchid though, nor the other interesting species that we knew could be found on Martin Down, Frog Orchid.

After about a twenty minute search and a brief chat with the only other people mad enough to be out in the increasingly foul weather we realised we were getting wet despite our waterproofs so decided to give up. Not wanting to retrace our steps we chose a longer way back to the car and by the time we get there our lower halves were drenched. I put the blowers on and turned the heating up and we set off. Of  course I had to keep switching the blowers to the windscrren because we were misting up every few minutes.

About halfway through Wiltshire on the way north I realised that my feet were getting increasingly uncomfortable in my sodden walking shoes so I pulled over to find a dry pair and changed out of them. I probably avoided a case of Trench Foot or something.

Marlborough is a pretty town and might have England's widest high street and we got there in time for a late lunch in one of the pubs (Ball & Crown, perhaps) which gave us time to dry out some more. From there we worked ou a route back home avoiding motorways and in many places dual carriageways too and we went via Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds, Worcestershire with a stop in Evesham which is nicer than I remember and then through Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock and home. Not the fastest route but a good way to see a bit of the country.

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