Nowhere better than the spectacular surroundings of Henley Reach
OVER breakfast I ask Rosemary where she would like to go for a walk later this morning.
She suggests we could go to Henley and head towards Greenlands Farm and Mill End along Oxfordshire /
Bank of Buckinghamshire.
We had considered doing this a few weeks ago but at the time I thought it would be muddy so we decided not to visit. It should have dried out considerably by now and if we are lucky we should find many spring flowers in bloom.
We can also check on waterfowl that, according to some recent correspondents of the Henley Standard, have disappeared due to predation by red kites.
We park at the Henley Rugby Club and cross Marlow Road with caution. Passing the perimeter of the Phyllis Court Club, we see a few people playing tennis inside.
As you walk past the old plane trees that form an avenue leading to Fawley Court, it’s great to see people exercising as well.
We haven’t taken a walk in this area since last July and I’m excited about what we could find.
After passing a large hawthorn covered with soon-to-be-emerging flowers, we approach the river. It looks healthy because the water is crystal clear with crisp reflections.
I love the small sandy beaches because they are bathed in a fluid caress. There aren’t any fry fish in the shallows yet, but they will appear before too long, I’m sure.
Both men and women scull. Good for them, I think, because it’s a great way to stay in shape, especially in such a spectacular environment. Is Henley Reach Improved All Over the World? I doubt. We continue north through the small lawn full of daisies, self-healing (Prunella vulgaris), white nettle (Lamium album), speedwell (Veronica persica) and perennial silverweed (Potentilla anserina).
“Anserina” means “of the goose” (Anser), either because the plant was used to nourish them, or because the leaves are reminiscent of the footprints of the bird.
Not yet bearing its yellow five-petalled flowers, the leaflets are covered on the underside with silky silvery hairs. An attractive creeper, it has had many uses ranging from lining shoes to defending evil spirits.
The turnip-like roots are edible. After careful exfoliation, they can be boiled or roasted. They can also be used to produce flour for thickening or baking. The roots are rich in magnesium and phosphorus. We continue across the meadow towards Fawley Court and cross our first solid bridge over a tributary adorned with a thorny rose hips but unfortunately marred by floating rubbish.
Along the banks, alders, white willows and a solitary sycamore tree rise or lean over the sparkling surface of the Thames. A few boats are moored between “private” fishing panels.
A gray heron with its dagger-shaped beak, a notable killer of ducklings, flies west overhead with its neck tucked in.
We also see herring gulls, another species that predates ducklings and young coots and moorhens.
The grass is very short, with the rabbits performing the function of a lawn mower. Above, a buzzard is ready to pounce, if the opportunity arises. We think Mr. and Mrs. Bunny must be huddled in their warm maze on the side of the treeline to our left, full of alder, white poplar, and horse chestnut. A mole was also busy throwing small hills.
The scavenging crows roam the riverside prairie, steel eyes, ready to devour anything they can spot. I love crows – they can get in trouble but they are so smart, like all of the corvid family.
Near the shore, the wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) is breaking out, similar in size to the alexander (Smyrnium olusatrum), a very rare plant in Oxfordshire that I spotted in Colmore Lane, Kingwood, recently.
The pendulum sedge (Carex pendula) is abundant, as is the marsh plague (Stachys palustris) which will flower in June. A Canada goose bothering rosemary for bread and she obliges. Wholemeal, of course.
We cross an elevated wooden walkway that takes us over another tributary through a brick and flint tunnel into Fawley Court Park. I wish the drops weren’t so pronounced.
The blue bands that pronounce the right of way on each side are still present. I think it’s silly because the people who take this road are respectful.
There is a beautiful horse chestnut tree with Lombardy poplars and holm oaks.
Fortunately, the ground is mostly dry as we walk past the reddish edifice to cross the ‘new’ wooden pedestrian bridge over another sparkling tributary.
So far we’ve only encountered about four other walkers which is good as we don’t like crowded walks.
I spot marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) with lush kidney-shaped leaves and bright yellow flowers over an inch wide and as open as it gets. Glorious.
Dawn redwoods were planted to our left, as we noted last summer, but very close together. They deserve more space to reveal their true potential.
Further on, at another tributary crossing, we see moorhens, coots and bushy ducks. Mute swans glide as if wearing badges, wings raised. Everything looks as it should. Some of the birds are doing quite a racket.
We come across a gate that takes us to a site of special scientific interest and you can quickly see why as everything changes there. The land is now truly wild and ancient. The withies on the far left are in full leaf.
The birds sing. One in particular is a whitethroat (Sylvia communis) emitting a distinct metallic melody in a thicket by the river. I spot the little bird and show it to Rosemary but it is moving way too fast for her to take a picture of it.
The meadow is large and vast. The chiffon and black caps ring and I think I hear a reed warbler.
On the marshy ground, we observe the development of meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), hemp haddock (Eupatorium cannabinum), wild caress (Dipsacus fullonum) and common valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) grows in large clumps.
Cuckooflower or lady’s blouse (Cardamine pratensis) is abundant with its pinkish-white flowers. It is the food plant of the caterpillars of the orange-tipped butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines). No wonder so many people are flying today.
The chocolate-colored tips of the small pond sedge (Carex acutiformis) abound.
I have never seen such an expanse and such quantity of this plant anywhere else.
It is an exceptional place that will delight any walker with or without botanical knowledge.
A large dead elm stands like a totem pole infested with woodworms with perfectly rounded peak holes. Near the top, a large cavity is used as a nesting site by a pair of kestrels (Falco tinnunculus).
A red kite hovers above, the sunlight catching its red hues, greyish head and deeply forked chestnut-red tail. It is one of only two that we see today.
Everywhere we look and listen is a delight, flowers in bloom, the singing of birds, the sweet scent of the river. Unbeatable.
As we make our way to the last wooden passage with a footbridge descending another steep plunge, we stop to scan this side of the Thames upstream to beautiful Temple Island. It looks like heaven on earth.
Tufted ducks dive in and resurface. They are attractive but silly looking birds, with the males sporting a rather silly mullet haircut. It’s good to see a decent population here.
Mallard ducks are charismatic and are only too happy to take advantage of Rosemary’s benevolence.
We find a large colony of Loddon’s lilies or, as referenced in my flower books, summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum). A very rare plant in Great Britain, our region is a stronghold.
The plants are at their peak now, the bell-shaped whitish flowers with unmistakable green markings at the ends.
We try to enter the last field towards Marlow Road and onward to a beautiful freshwater pond which feeds into the Thames but is thwarted by a huge mud puddle.
We return discussing the wonders we have seen and heard and as we approach the road a little robin seems to wink at us.
Our local landscape is not only beautiful but precious. He’ll take care of himself if we let him, so let’s do it.