By Alan Waterman
Like many others I had never heard of Wuhan and was only vaguely aware that there were a group of viruses known as Corona viruses. When first reports of a virus came from China in December 2019 I did not think much of it. We had after all got used to such outbreaks. There had been Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, MERS and SARS and they were somewhere far away and never really had much impact on my life. It did register and I was vaguely worried when it was reported that the Chinese were rapidly building complete new hospitals to deal with the outbreak and had also shut down an entire province, but still it was over there.
Bit by bit it worked its way over here, and slowly the name Covid 19 came into use. Officially the name of this corona virus is 2019 nCov. The 19 is because it first made its appearance in the year 2019. I had not realised that. The first definite case in Britain was identified on 20th January 2020. Soon after this we left Britain for a two week holiday in Gran Canaria and it was during this fortnight that it really took off in Italy followed by serious outbreaks in France and Spain.
On our return the writing was very much on the wall and we decided to stop visiting the gym. I stopped going to my regular Monday night camera club meetings, no more restaurant visits and only essential shopping trips. At this point, which was still about two weeks before the stay home message and lockdown was eventually introduced on the 26th March, we started our home fitness regime. Walks of about one hour on four days of the week, home gym exercises on two days of the week and on Saturday we chilled out.
Living very close to two beautiful areas, the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, we already enjoyed a decent repertoire of walks. Most of them involved a short drive but some were direct from the house. During the pre lockdown period we extended our number of routes and in particular we discovered some new paths through the Forest of Dean, some with excellent views. I normally take with me a small Olympus camera which will easily fit into my pocket so that views and any interesting wild flowers can be photographed. I am hoping to publish a book on woodland wildflowers and the publishers had instructed me to top up on and improve some of my photographs. With that in mind I did a round trip just before the lockdown first to the area of Gloucestershire known as the Daffodil Triangle, then across to Inkpen in Berkshire to find the Wild Crocuses and finally stopped off at a spot just outside Gloucester to photograph the very rare Yellow Star of Bethlehem.
So pre lockdown it was not so much blues as yellows and even when the stay home restriction was first introduced it still remained largely yellow the dominant wild flower at that time being the Primrose.
As I am sure will be the case for many people fortunate enough to live in a rural situation we soon discovered many more walks that could be undertaken direct from the house. We basically had three directions to head off in. We live in a valley, so there are lots of ups and downs involved in any walk. The right hand direction provided several routes, some involving a region known as Clearwell Meend. There are quite a few Meends in this area. Meend is a local name which might have its origin in the Welsh Myndd which means mountain but now it denotes a sort of common land. Clearwell Meend had quite a few Primroses on it and a later some Cowslips and even a couple of False Oxlips. In these early days of the pandemic there were lots of Sallow bushes with the beautiful Pussy Willow flowers. On this right hand route we could walk through some ancient woodland with wierd rock formations caused by excavations carried out way back in prehistoric times. These are known as scowles, and some of these local regions have been used for filming such epics as Star wars and Harry Potter films. Here too were Primroses and also Lesser Celandine.
To the left of the house and through the village are various footpaths and some charming little lanes with quaint names like Pingry Lane, Rookery Lane and Margery Lane. We gave the different routes our own names. Some are based on the actual names but others are based on our own observations. For example there is rat junction so called because at one time a rat was regularly to be found on the stile there, not a live version but a cuddly stuffed rat. It was there for a few weeks but eventually disappeared. Possibly the child who left it there passed by again and picked it up. Another walk is the Julie Andrews “the hills are alive” walk which passes through a meadow reminiscent of an alp. A third set of walks starts over the road from the house and involves climbing what we were told was called the burial path and passes a chicken farm. It all means something to us and each walk is different and provides a variety of views, habitats and wild flowers. We can often see across to the Welsh Brecon Beacons with the Sugar Loaf and Hay Bluff frequently visible.
Gradually the yellows gave way to more blues. Green Alkanet, which despite its name has bright blue flowers grew in a big patch by the side of the village church and along the lanes and through the woods the Bluebells made their presence felt. You always seem to get a few precocious ones that start flowering in early April but the main flush is towards the end of the month. There were also several places where Periwinkle was established, sometimes in gardens, sometimes as escapes but their blue to purple colour also added to the general blueness. Even the Violets did their bit although occasionally one could see a white variety.
Hard on the heels of the Bluebells were the Ramsons and white now seemed to be in the ascendancy. The Wood Anemones had provided a little taste of the whiteness to come and combined well with the Bluebells but in Mid Spring there was Cow Parsley in the lanes and Ramsons in the woods There was also a lot of White Dead Nettle and Hedge Bedstraw to be seen to contribute to the whiteness.
Some plants, such as the Ramsons have a very short flowering period. Others such as Herb Robert, one of the Pinks, seem to go on for ever and is still flowering now as I write this in August . Another pink that puts in an appearance at the same time as the Cow Parsley is the Red Campion combining well with the Cow Parsley. I suspect many casual observers do not see the sequence of changes especially with the white umbellifers in the Hedgerows. Cow Parsley appears first followed by Ground Elder and then Hogweed which has a longer season and overlaps several of the others. Hogweed can err on the side of pink and is more robust than the other umbellifers. Later some Common Vallerian may be seen and by mid summer there can be quite a show from the more delicate Hedge Parsley. In the woods there may be Pignuts, quite delicate but another white umbellifer and in the fields there is Wild Carrot.
Once lockdown was lifted we were allowed to travel and so we have done, but not that much. We still walk four times a week and three of those walks are from the house with only one involving driving to somewhere local. We did have a trip over to Stroud to photograph a rare orchid, a Narrow leaved Helleborine, but we are mostly maintaining the local nature of our walks. After all in years to come I expect Covid will be a memory but climate change will still be with us. I have managed to carry out my publisher’s instructions and I think I have improved my photographs. I have certainly discovered quite a few species that I never knew grew so close to home. I expect there are still more out there waiting to be discovered… maybe during the next lockdown!