Sunday afternoon, a bright sunny autumnal day, and time for a walk. As usual we leave it a bit late, and realise we’ll be returning in darkness, but as we sometimes hear owls in the woods darkness could be a bonus.
This is a walk from Stonehouse, northwards – skirting past the empty Standish Hospital in its spacious grounds – still empty after all these years, and a local scandal. Closed by the local NHS Trust against local and medical opinion, and now mired in discussions over who should take it over – a local community health group or a big international outfit. Guess which the NHS and Government seem to prefer. Click here to find out.
There’s mistletoe in the grounds, but the old through-route has been blocked, possibly illegally, so we don’t go that way. Instead we cross from Horsemarling Farm up to Arlebrook – across the now empty fields (we had an impressive maize crop in the fields nearest us this season) and then up Vinegar Hill towards Haresfield Beacon, set in open common-land at the edge of the steep Cotswold scarp.
There’s a mistletoe angle to this of course – now the leaves have largely fallen I’m hoping to see how much mistletoe grows on the hawthorns and whitebeams on the edge of the scarp. There are scattered bushes across the area, mainly hawthorn, and it is sometimes possible to spy out an upper limit, above which mistletoe doesn’t grow (the Beacon is at 217m).
But mistletoe growths on these bushes tend to be small, and a bit tatty, and so difficult to spot, even close-up. On the way up the hill we see none, even though we pass a spot where I’m sure there were some last year. But on reflection we decide that they were on another path (you can hear our debate about this on the podcast – when I finally get round to producing it).
So we get to the top without mistletoe – though Caroline mischievously points out we can see some – far below in a small apple orchard in the vale. But that doesn’t count – I want to find some up top.
And of course I do – eventually – on the south side of the hill a bit further east of our route up – I have to scramble down to look at it, and take pictures. On returning to the top, to my surprise we find a single plant, on a hawthorn right up near the summit – a tough little specimen, just about coping with the higher exposure up here.
We return along the edge of the scarp, passing all the families and dog walkers who’ve cheated and come up by car and picking up the long track through Standish Woods in the gathering dusk. The low sun sets off the orange of the falling beech leaves beautifully – but it soon gets too dark to take pictures and we trek on through increasing darkness for the mile or so of woodland.