Thursday 20 May 2021

A Visit to Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire


Was it a hawk, a buzzard or a kite? All I know is that it was a bird of prey

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow (photo by the blog author)

I only noticed it when we were walking towards the exit. It hovered just above us, as if to show off its aerial skills. Was it a kite, a hawk or a similar bird of prey? I don’t know. The sky was a dull grey and fascinated though I usually am by wildlife, I can’t tell a buzzard from a sparrowhawk that far.

We were at Batsford Arboretum, in Gloucestershire. Home to one of the UK’s largest private tree collections, we’d just spent a good hour walking among cherry blossoms and oak trees.

With 56 acres of wild gardens, paths and streams, the arboretum offers something to everyone. Set up as a charity, the Batsford Foundation (the body that oversees the venue’s management and maintenance) aims to promote education, conservation and research into gardens and historic landscapes.

Originally the estate belonged to Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, who had worked for the Foreign Office in Russia, Japan and China in the 1860s. A passionate lover of the oriental landscape, this was the sort of design Mitford had in mind for the arboretum.

A cedar tree (photo by the blog author)

Sadly, during the Second World War and the years that followed the grounds became wild and fell into neglect. It wasn’t until Frederick Anthony Hamilton Wills, 2nd Lord Dulverton, succeeded the previous owner that the garden was returned to its former glory.

Once we left the arboretum I realised there was another building next to it. It was a falconry, where many birds of prey can be seen daily in free-flying demonstrations. I spotted another couple of birds up in the air with the one I’d seen before.

But hard as I tried, I still couldn’t tell them apart.

Saturday 1 May 2021

Walking In the Cotswolds With a Song In My Head

Gorse and limestone, but where’s my snake?


Climbing up on Solsbury Hill/I could see thecity light/Wind was blowing, time stood still/Eagle flew out of the night

I’ve no idea why I was singing and humming (the latter, when words failed me) Peter Gabriel’s tune in my head, other than it seemed appropriate as we went up Cleeve Common, in Gloucestershire. This is a habit I’ve had for many years now. Serenading myself quietly. I think I’ve taken after my dad in that respect. He always had a melody on his lips. Sometimes it was a well-known song played endlessly on the radio. Other times it was a piece he was working on, ready to be finished on the upright piano we had back then in my house.

Geology- and archaeology-rich Cleeve Common sits in one-thousand acres of agriculturally unimproved limestone grassland, in the Cotswolds. Quarries and gorse thickets add to the variety of wildlife habitats.

Untouched by the plough or fertiliser, the area is home to a wide range of wild flowers, many of which would have been familiar throughout Britain before the post-war intensification of farming.

However, despite the presence of three Scheduled Ancient Monuments (the Cross Dyke, the Hill Fort and the Ring), what I really wanted to see was an adder.

I’d heard so much about Britain’s only venomous snake. The presence of meadow pipits was a welcome sign as I knew that adders liked hunting ground-nesting birds. Also, the high-rising temperature would have tempted this usually shy reptile to leave its hideout in order to seek the warmth of the sun.

Yet, after walking for just over an hour there was no slithering, dark zig-zag pattern to spot. We got back to the car, my heart “going boom, boom, boom”, but I guess you already knew that. After all, I’m used to serenading myself.


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