Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Friday, 1 May 2015

THE VALLEY OF STONES

Imagine you are walking through the country on a route you've never taken before and you see a wooden signpost pointing to 'The Valley of Stones'. Well you have to follow the path don't you?

Close up of gorse in flower.
Exactly. So over I went and through the kissing gate and along by mountains of gorse. Plants and trees seem a bit all over the place this year. Last weekend I watched the London Marathon on television. I have no idea why I find this interesting. It's a whole load of people I don't know hurrying along through emptied city streets for hours on end - thousands of them! It's a bit like horse racing. I sometimes watch that on the television too. Perhaps it's the predictability of it. Everyone starts at A and tries to get to B as fast as they can. Then un-threatenting people who didn't do the hurrying talk to those who did - and that's it. When the news is otherwise full of bombs and earthquakes, things which burst terrifyingly out of the blue, perhaps I like to be reassured by events with no surprises. But the thing which stood out specially with the Marathon this year was how green were the trees in London compared with the trees in Dorset. A week later and everything here is lushing up. Some places are almost unrecognisable because the rain-inspired green-ness is so sudden - and tall.

Pond with weed. Gorse around it and sky reflected in it. Uprooted small tree.
Hang on - I think I've got lost. Why am I talking about horse racing and marathons and the trees in London? - oh yes - it's about gorse. Our trees may seem a tad slow in comparison this year and the blackthorn blossom may not be as impressive as usual - but the gorse? Oh the gorse! Roads are lined with it in brilliant yellow. It's all over the place and on the hills there's so much in flower it looks as if great billows of golden clouds have come to land in the grass. And there it was on my way to The Valley of Stones.

And a pond too; murky and mysterious. Brilliant! Sometimes it's like living in a children's story book.

Two trees beyond grass. One in leaf. One not.
Think England and you think thatched cottages. Maybe you think of crumpets and UKIP too. Maybe football in cities and cricket on village greens. Red buses? Late trains? We don't have red buses round here but I've seen quite a few UKIP signs in the last few weeks. They come - and will hopefully go. But thatched cottages are abundantly present - and comfortingly old. Why am I going on about cottages now? Um . . . oh yes. The cottages are tucked in valleys and folds between great big green hills. I mean really big. They aren't mountains. They don't go sheer up and sheer down. They go in great waves through the land. There are villages (and thatched, stone cottages) hidden in some of their folds but in other places there are no dwellings - just gorse and trees and cattle or sheep . . .

In the picture, we are part way down the hill. We will walk a bit to our right, then down, then left again behind the tree and continue further down still. It's not hard walking - just a bit steep in places.

Until we reach this place - The Valley of Stones.

Boulders at the foot of the valley reaching into the distance. Each one separate from the others.
Scale is hard to convey in photographs. I don't want to exaggerate how high are the hills on either side of this valley - but they are higher than they appear in the photo; so the presence of boulders at the bottom when the slopes on either side of them are smooth comes as a surprise. They snake along like a wide path. It's better seen when you are standing there among them or looking down from a distance. (Distance is hard to get right on blogs.) And don't be put off by the telegraph poles either. It's because we are out in the country that wires have to be supported above the ground instead of expensively under it. This place is is not remote in the way some of the wilds in Scotland are remote - but there are no houses nearby (only ruins); and when I was there, no walkers apart from the friend who came with me. The silence is tremendous.

Nor would I like to suggest I'm terribly genned up on science and geology so I'll simply copy the Natural England notice at the top of the path.


Wild violets beside one of the boulders.
'This National Nature Reserve is named after the distinctive boulders that tumble down this dry valley in the downs. These sarsen stones, of tightly cemented gravels and sands, derive from the former capping above the chalk that became fragmented during the freeze/thaw conditions after the last ice age 10,000 years ago.

'This Reserve is also notable for its fine chalk grassland and the associated insects and flowers. Scarce lichens and mosses grow on the sarsens, The downland and heathy grassland is maintained by cattle and sheep grazing.

'This is part of a working farm, managed in partnership with the landowner, the Bridehead Estate, and a tenant. Stock are present all year so please keep dogs on a lead.'

One of the boulders made up of smaller stones close up.
Some of the rocks are smooth, but others, as mentioned on the notice, are made up of smaller stones stuck together and some of the flints are so polished by the weather (or so compressed?) they have glass-like qualities . . . (anyone know what causes this?) . . . and their broken faces shine as if they have been consciously cut for the sake of reflecting light just as windows and car mirrors do - or binoculars in the distance . And in this I am not exaggerating. They are pretty and special.

Three Yellow Dung Flies on a cow pat.
The notice mentions wild flowers. Most noticeable when I visited were violets clustered around one of the rocks but there were the beginnings of bluebells here and there too - for all that it wasn't woodland. You know what violets look like. You know what bluebells look like. And I posted about Oil Beetles last year . . . So in the spirit of bringing you pictures you might not often find on other blogs - I spent a little while moving from cow-pat to cow-pat taking photogaphs of these beautiful Yellow Dung Flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) who were mating en masse in the sunshine. They may be called 'Yellow' but if I have named them I would have said they are gold. I'm a fan.

Me new and multi-coloured shoe.

Thinking of bright colours - what do you think of my new shoes? They may not look much good for walking in but they are so supple they give an excellent grip on rough (dry) ground and are extraordinarily comfortable. (I haven't tried them in the wet yet.)

And remember - It's only a week before our next Tree Following Festival. THURSDAY 7TH MAY!

16 comments:

Toffeeapple said...

Doesn't Gorse smell beautifully of coconut? I love it.

Great post altogether Lucy, thank you.

flightplot said...

A most enjoyable, and interesting, post, along with wonderful pictures.
Liz and I will both be doing Tree Following posts this month.
Flighty xx

Chel @ Sweetbriar Dreams said...

Yep, I didn't expect to be looking lovingly at a photo of cow dung! The Valley of Stones looks really interesting and I love the narrative you have taken us on. The shoes are great too - so colourful and summery. Enjoy a lovely long weekend xx

Down by the sea said...

The title had me scurrying to read your post as it was on my old hone ground (before I moved to Weymouth.) The valley around here is fantastic later in the year, it was the first place I ever saw harebells. We too think that spring seems so slow compared with other parts of the country. Sarah x

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Toffeeapple. Agreed about the gorse - though the sun is not yet hot enough to release the wonderful smell.

Mike - looking forward to your Tree Following post. It's great that you are hosting Elizabeths' too.

Chel - it's exciting to find new places. Especially so when they are not far away.

Sarah - I wondered a bit at the time whether what I thought were bluebells were really harebells because they were so much out in the open. But the buds were tight shut, I've only knowingly seen harebells once - later in the year when they were large and open and way up north . . . and all the plants down the slope and in the valley were confusing - even dandelions were very short, hugging the ground in what must be a very exposed environment when the wind blows and the rain rains.

The Furry Gnome said...

Very nice shoes!

philipstrange said...

Thanks for a very interesting read. I have never been to the Valley of Stones but I have always wanted to go to the nearby Grey Mare and her Colts which also sounds interesting. Do you know if there are orchids on this chalk grassland?

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Thanks Furry Gnome. (I'm thinking of buying a second pair so when they wear out I'll be able to carry on wearing them - if you see what I mean!)

Philip. I looked on the Dorset National Nature Reserves site
http://tinyurl.com/k5yla7e
It doesn't mention orchids for the Valley of Stones but does for Hartland Moor.

Angie said...

If you ever get lost, lie down on your back and wave your feet in the air - I'm sure you'll get spotted immediately Lucy :) Just kidding, they are very nice and hope they are really comfy.
What a real interesting place - rough and ready when you throw those stones into the equation.
I have noticed that the gorse is really standing out this year - I wonder if there is a reason for that. As you have found down there, the trees are quite a bit behind.
Super post, as always :)

Hollis said...

Super interesting post, Lucy, and beautiful country, thanks for taking us along :-). I would be interested in seeing your harebells ... They are common in Wyoming, in many different habitats. I wonder if they're the same kind?

I googled Sarsen stone and found a bit about their origins (post glacial) on Wikipedia. First I've heard of such a thing, pretty neat.

I'm far from my willow tree this week, but I think i'll post anyway, about one of the trees here in California.

amanda peters said...

Lovely and intresting post, I would enjoy a visit there. Glad the Gorse is doing well as I think it has suffered a little over the last few years.
Amanda xx

squirrelbasket said...

What a great place! Love the stones, love the violets and celandines and the flies - the colour always reminds me of butterscotch. And of course the gorse.
And what beautiful shoes (do they come up to your ankles?)
I always think of "sarsen" stones as those big ones at Stonehenge and not shiny at all. But the ones you show are so twinkly with silica. Beautiful. By the way, did you know "sarsen" comes from "Saracen stone", as they were thought to have pagan connections. I didn't either, but googled it!
Sad we will never be able to visit that valley, as it looks a bit far from any car parking, and the husband's knees are going!
All the best :)

Stewart M said...

Nice exploration.

Even from here, I hope that the UKIP signs go as well.

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

liz said...

What a delightful post. I loved your free-association -- marathons, late trains, red buses, thatched cottages, UKIP (which has been a recent source of newspaper articles in the US). But The Valley of the Stones -- what a fascinating place! And that gorse in its blazing glory.

Donna said...

Yes I do love your shoes....supple is the best. And those stones are fascinating as was the whole walk.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Glad you liked the post, Angie. I'll remember the feet waving tip if ever I get lost!

Hello Hollis. I've been looking through the blog to see if I can find harebells I came across in Derbyshire a few years ago but can only find the view I saw when standing next to them. But there are bluebells in my tree following post from the end of April 2011

http://looseandleafy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/tree-at-end-of-april.html


Hello Amanda. When gorse decides to make a big deal of flowering - goodness does it do so with panache!

Hello Pat. The big block of blue is my sock not part of the shoe! About car parking; there's a space for two cars to park in a lay-by on the side of the road opposite the beginning of the path if that's any use. Along the path itself there are two moderately steep bits but no-where is clambering necessary. You simply keep going down!

Hello Stewart. The election is on Thursday so many of the UKIP signs may be taken down after that. But UKIP itself will not go away and may even have some MPs come Friday. And after that? If there's a referendum on our membership of the EU they'll be out and about in force. And if there isn't - Nigel Farage will be forever on the TV saying there should be. It would help if the more conventional parties would come up with clearer answers to some of the questions UKIP raises. Simply complaining that its members are racists won't make them dissolve or go away.

Hello Liz. UKIP is making it in your papers too? It's a challenging and interesting time. People used to be anxious about immigration from commonwealth countries. Now they are worried about workers from Eastern Europe. (And the two issues get muddled and conflated.) Maybe we will be able to learn some things from the USA - both in its successes and failures.

Hello Donna. I'm hoping I'll find more walks like this. I've tended to move around quite a small geographical area and know it well. Widening out is quite an adventure.