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Simons Challenge- Day 4

June 3, 2011

By Simon Cripps

Day 4- Thursday

Today the count was three. You will all be fascinated to know that I swallowed 3 flies today in a flying wildlife-rich area and so I clearly haven’t yet learned to pant with my mouth shut. I started horribly late at midday due to bike and boiler problems. The bike’s brakes burnt out on the hills of the last few days. The boiler wasn’t on the bike – at least not powering it.
I started where I finished yesterday at the Pleck of Little Ansty. How’s that for a captivating name? Luckily I had already the benefit of some altitude so the journey started with great views over north Dorset from the road that runs along the escarpment at Ibberton Hill.

Wide open north Dorset

Wide open north Dorset

At Fiddleford Manor car-park I found what must be DWT’s most rustic and possibly oldest sign, romantically stating ‘DTNC’. We don’t want to encourage people onto these reserves now do we. Still it is a little piece of history. Following instructions I braved marauding sheep and vast horses to get to Girdlers Coppice. It is a wonderful flower rich oak and hazel woodland which has been coppiced for hazel hurdles at least since we leased the wood from the Hinton St Mary Estate in the late 1980s. The rides between the oak stands were covered in orchids.

Orchids at Girdlers Coppice.

Orchids at Girdlers Coppice.

A short hop from Girdlers is Broad Oak Community Orchard. It looks beautifully looked-after and seems to have far more support from the local community than our orchard at Powerstock, which is fairly new. There were loads of butterflies, none of which I photographed as I didn’t want to get their names wrong in this blog. I’ve never been good at naming stuff. Sitting at the picnic table I enjoyed my relatively environmentally friendly tinned salmon sandwiches in the peace of the garden. Joy Wallis and her husband make the best apple juice I have tasted at Broad Oak Apple Day. I was surprised not to be recognised and applauded as I passed through the village because I won second prize for the longest apple peel on that day. One of the pinnacles of my conservation career.

Site of my triumph last year.

Site of my triumph last year.

On the main road from Sturminster Newton I exchanged greetings with a chap from DCC mending some bit of kit at the side of the road. I noticed he had a DWT car sticker and asked if he was a member which he was. I comforted him that it was completely acceptable to also be a member of RSPB. We had a chat and Paul unprompted rushed to his car to give me some sponsorship for the ride. A nice and generous gesture.

Hidden portal to another world

Hidden portal to another world

I must say I did Tony Bates an injustice. After the Greenhill Down incident (see yesterday’s blog) I fully expected that I would be tramping around a boggy field trying to find DWT’s most discrete reserve at Mill Ham Island. His and Peter Tinsley’s instructions were spot on and the wardens had cleared the bridge. ‘Island’ is a bit of stretch at this time of year assuming mud counts to demarcate. Brownsea it isn’t but natural it is.

The wetter side of the Island.

The wetter side of the Island.

At Fontmell Magna by Collyer’s Brook Reserve I met Judy & Peter Westgate who gave the reserve to DWT in 2005. The ponds are linked along the brook and have a range of wildlife including what sounds like a healthy otter population. Wildlife is all very well at this point in the day, but more importantly Peter and Judy brought me a flask of tea and strawberries.

Now explain to me why most of our reserves seem to be on the top of whacking great hills. Does biodiversity increase with altitude? Fontmell Down is a case in point. It might be one of the best sites in the county for butterflies, but how did they fly up there? I’ve accused the wardens of wickedly putting the entrances at the top end of reserves, e.g. Hendover Coppice, but the stamp for Fontmell Down was thankfully on the way up the 300ft hill. The road at the top of the ridge is like Ben Hur in the rush hour so it was a relief not to have to negotiate it.

Fontmell Down despite a coronary

Fontmell Down despite a coronary

I started the day very late so I was trying to make up some distance towards Ashley Woods, hence I took the suggested short-cut through Ashmore Wood. After all the map shows the track to be dead straight through the middle. I can only guess the map was made in the 1940s before a spider network of tracks was created. I was sucked into the middle of the sizeable and dense wood like a spider down the plug-hole and then it all went to pieces. I had no idea which track was which and ended up in a dead end. Night was falling the temperature was dropping, provisions were short, water was running out, dangerous wildlife was awakening. I was cursing not having Alastair Cook’s GPS, but then I resorted to big-boy navigation with a compass and topography. I still say the Ashmore Wood needs its own team al la Cairngorms mountain rescue, but to my surprise following south-east I escaped certain death and more embarrassing newspaper headings.

When is a tree not a tree?

When is a tree not a tree?

Two in my family are laid low with a virus so I’m hoping to avoid that excuse at least until Monday. All things being well I start tomorrow at Tarrant something-or-other with or without a mended boiler.

You can donate to Simon’s Challenge by following this link

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    June 3, 2011 3:07 pm

    Keep going, Simon. You’re doing great and it sounds like you’re even enjoying it a bit. The rest is easy (well, apart from Kimmeridge/Stonehill Down). You might end up in Hampshire for a bit, but it’s not for long

  2. June 3, 2011 4:10 pm

    While you were having such a fun time I was surviving the rigours of the Big Smoke. Dodging half term families, with grandparents, most of whom seem never to have travelled on an escalator before – No, you do not stop to rearrange the pram right at the top! Later, sitting back in the severe discomfort of my 1st class seat on the air conditioned train home, I tried to download your blog so I could get an update on your jolly outing and discover what i had been missing. I thought of you as I tucked into my ice cold gin and tonic. Well done, keep it up and stay away from family viruses.

  3. Sue Cakes in the Kitchen Patterson permalink
    June 3, 2011 5:21 pm

    Brilliant blog Simon. How on earth do you have the time or energy to write it?

    Whilst you are out enjoying yourself we are all beavering away in the office (except when eating cakes in the kitchen). If you make it to the office next week I will bring some more in!

    Enjoy the rest of your adventure.

  4. Rachel Pearce permalink
    June 4, 2011 9:15 am

    Great to see you at Beacon Hill yesterday Simon! You’ll be well on your way through the Purbecks now, a really beautiful stretch of the challenge (the only bit I’ve done so far- 11 down, 31 to go!)

    Looking forward to reading the next updates….. have fun!

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