Saturday dawned hot and clear and it was to the sound of distant jet engines (a hint of approaching activities) that we set off to walk a section of the abandoned Thames and Severn Canal. Completed in 1789 it was conceived as part of the route from Bristol to London though it was never much of a success and was finally killed off by rail in 1927. It was perhaps ironic therefore that our approach took us along the trackbed of the similarly abandoned Midland and South Western Junction railway. Lasting until 1978 it now serves as a wildlife corridor whose proximity to the fledgling Thames provided a wealth of dragonflies and damselflies. I’ll confess to not being much of an authority in this area but it was impossible to miss the stunning Beautiful Demoiselles, though only a considerably dampened shoe would have gained me a photo. Instead I concentrated on those species over drier land including this Common Blue Damselfly and Small Tortoiseshell.
The insect life only increased as we arrived at Crickdale North Meadow, an internationally important habitat as one of the finest lowland hay meadows in Europe. Sadly we were a little too late to enjoy the vast array of Orchids that grow here but there were still a few good examples of Great Burnet in bloom. I’m reliably informed by my Dad that these are rather special so had to include one here.
The photo above shows just a small corner of this vast meadow and it was clear that more than flowers were benefiting from its protection. Overhead a Red Kite showed off incredibly well, even swooping down to ground level at one point presumably in search of prey. Not far away two Buzzards were soaring on thermals and even a Kestrel chose to grace us with its presence. With so many large predators in the air it would have perhaps been easy to miss those dramas being played out on a smaller scale, though the constant sound of Grasshoppers made that almost impossible. Peering closer revealed a seething mass of life and I was lucky to find two individuals attempting to get a little closer than most. The lower Grasshopper was clearly displaying to the higher (presumably female), though it all came to a crashing stop with one huge leap through the air. Certainly makes escaping those dodgy dates a little easier.
Back to our route and it was only a few more minutes before we found ourselves walking the tow path along the Thames and Severn Canal. It’s clear that time has not been particularly kind to what remains but there was still a beauty that I often find associated with abandoned places. Perhaps it’s that sense of what little regard nature has for our brave endeavours and how ready she is to reclaim them once we step away. Whatever, they offered a fascinating few miles with locks, workers cottages and even a few very large Pike thrown in for good measure.
At Wildmoorway it was time to leave the canal once more and head back into the Cotswold Water Park proper. There was still one surprise in store however with my first Cinnabar Moth caterpillars of the year. Regulars will no doubt have seen me feature this species a few times on the blog and having seen adults on the wing recently I’d been keeping my eyes open for these. Lets hope our local colony does well again this year.
The next stage proved to be very overgrown but despite a few nettle stings I certainly wasn’t complaining. The abundance of native wild flowers meant that once more we were in an entomologists paradise. Speckled Wood, Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Peacock, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and these mating Green-veined Whites were just the tip of a considerable iceberg.
Even better was to come though with what must rank as one of the most distinctive moths out there. Known as a Scarlet Tiger it looked more like something from a tropical habitat than the English countryside.
To finish we rejoined the old railway to complete a loop of somewhere in the vicinity of six miles. By no means our longest walk but in the unrelenting heat it had felt much longer and managed to pack in such a variety of habitats and history. Definitely one to check out if you find yourself in the area.