With a friend today to the National Trust’s BorthwoodCopse on the Isle of Wight to search for bluebells. Normally at this time of year the woods are carpeted with bluebells and other shade-loving plants but for some reason this year, a cold spell at the wrong time probably, there were none to be seen apart from the lone clump in the photograph above. Nevertheless, the walk was enjoyable although I missed the picnicking families, the bounding dogs and the sight of squirrels darting up trees to escape their attentions, but we had the pleasure of intense birdsong as they celebrated spring with us.
Borthwood Copse was originally a royal hunting ground and it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1926 by one, Frank Morey, who had purchased it a few years earlier to preserve it for wildlife. The land has been subsequently added to and it now covers a total of 60 acres.
Below are a few of the pictures I took today.
There are some ancient oaks, a grove of beech trees, coppiced sweet chestnut and some hazel trees: the woodland is one of the very few examples of working coppice on the Isle of Wight. Many small paths lead through the woodland which is particularly popular during the spring for the wild flowers normally found in abundance there and in the autumn for the vivid colours of the foliage: it is also home to large numbers of red squirrels.
Maybe next week the bluebells will be out and maybe next week I’ll manage another trip to Borthwood.
A bus to Ryde (Isle of Wight) through villages and towns, down country lanes and across high Downs, to take a coastal walk along the sands at Appley Beach, a walk full of interest, from dogs on the beach (my favourite was the Caucasian Shepherd which refused to stand still to be photographed) to horses being exercised in the waters and even to a group of hardy folk picnicking on the sands! And on a crisp November day we had a marvellous view across the water to the Portsmouth skyline, dominated by the Spinnaker Tower.
The distance between Ryde and Portsmouth is approximately six miles. In the middle of the sea are the armour-plated Palmerston Forts commissioned by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in 1859 to defend Portsmouth dockyard at a time when the country feared invasion by Napoleon III.
Heavy guns were installed on the forts during the two world wars and it is said that the troops stationed there were chosen for their inability to swim as the damp, dark, and lack of all but the most basic facilities made this a very arduous posting. Although the forts were armed and re-armed as technology advanced, apart from training their guns on French ships in the harbour after the fall of France in 1940, the forts were never used and in the 1960’s they were de-activated. One has been retained by the MoD and three were sold to private buyers in the 1980’s, one of which is now a super luxury hotel and spa, another a museum and the other in private hands.
Continuing along the sea-front we enter Appley Park, a green oasis on the sea-front where the beach huts are set among the trees but with a view of the Solent and easy access to the beach: a snack bar and restaurant caters for walkers and site-owners alike.
The Solent as a whole supports 13% of the entire world population of Brent Geese and 30% of the UK population of same, and the beach at Apply is one of the most protected areas in the world. When the tide is out the mudflats are rich in winter-feeding nutrients, worms, molluscs, invertebrates and other creatures needed by the Geese as well as bar-tailed godwit and other birds who rest over here on their way to Siberia. Further out to sea at low tide you can see the rare eel grass – it looks like bright green meadow grass – where seahorses, pipe fish and sea urchins make their home.
Appley Park has two especial points of interest. Appley Tower which is a rare coastal folly is one. Most follies were built in inland private parks and gardens, but in 1875 Sir William Hutt had the tower erected which he called his watchtower. It is a delightful building and has withstood the test of time.
Beyond the tower is a fascinating monument to an event linking the Isle of Wight to Australia, a monument to HMS Sirius, the principal Naval Consort of the First Fleet which sailed to Australia from the Motherbank just off the shore on 13th May 1787. The First Fleet carried the convicts and soldiers who were sent to start a penal colony there so the Monument celebrates the start of the European settlement in Australia. The ship arrived in Sydney on 26th January 1788 then subsequently went for repairs to Mosman Bay before sailing to Norfolk Island with personnel and where she ran aground in March 1789.
The bas relief of HMS Sirius, erected on 29th June, 1991, is one of 3 commissioned by Mosman Council from sculptor Alex Kolozsy to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the arrival of Europeans at Mosman Bay and Norfolk Island where the other two memorials have been installed.
Beyond this point and round the corner and you are just a short distance from Seaview, one of the nicest little towns on the island, but with a pebbly beach, quite different from that in Ryde.
The views across the Solent on a sunny day can be stunning, the white chalk cliffs of Portsdown Hill (where U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower established his HQ during the D-Day invasions) shimmering across the Solent, matching the white tower of the Spinnaker that looms over Portsmouth’s waterfront.
I confess to spending too many days here just watching the ever changing traffic on the waters of the Solent, one of the busiest waterways in the world. The Catamaran from Ryde runs twice hourly to Portsmouth on its 12 minute journey linking the island to the mainland and the fast train to London; double-decker car ferries sail between Fishbourne and Portsmouth and the Hovercraft runs from early morning to dusk, carrying passengers and small freight to Southsea. Sometimes there are naval vessels, gunships and battleships in Portsmouth Harbour, some visiting, some home-grown, and always, of course, the huge ocean liners that sail majestically over the waters of the Solent, past the Isle of Wight to destinations unknown.
Today I changed my walking route, left the sea behind me and turned inland. I had no plans, no set route to follow and no idea of what I wanted to photograph.
First, I meandered through Los Altos Park which was deserted: it was eerie having this space all to myself. Normally a place full of dog-walkers, chattering children, and elderly folk sitting on the benches reading, today it was empty despite a temperature of 16 degrees, blue skies, warm sun and no wind. Covid space? Too late in the day? Who knows, but the place was all mine.
Not far from here was what used to be one of the area’s oldest hotels but unfortunately, it closed this year due to a series of misfortunes. The grounds are now deserted, the building, once a grand manor, now stands forlorn its windows no longer shining a light to welcome visitors. There was no one to disturb me or chase me away and I felt a terrible sadness at the loss of this great mansion, its tennis courts now a coach park, and its grounds being overtaken by nature.
Further into the gardens I came across these seats looking so forlorn as they sat amid the falling leaves. Nearby a couple of palm trees, stretched towards the light, valiantly fighting to survive. They were definitely in need of some TLC.
Although I felt sad that the bracken (or was it fern) was now running rampant over the garden wall I cheered myself up with the thought that this would provide a cosy home for the winter for the wildlife I’d seen on my walk (a couple of hedgehogs, lots of spiders and odd creepy-crawlies and I’m sure there were lots more keeping out of my way).
And then I came upon the sunken garden and this splash of colour, a glorious cascade of scarlet leaves, Virginia Creeper I think, that must have migrated from the wall of the old house and settled here to decorate these steps. And just a bit further on, the brilliant red of the Holly berries – a dazzling display of colour amid the dying of the year. It seemed the autumnal red of the Virginia creeper led me to the winter of the Holly.