Saturday, 22 February 2014

Boiling Sands in Spring

Thick drifts of snowdrops send a reminder of colder Winters, but Spring is definitely coming. The signs are everywhere. Colourful crocuses are popping up by the roadside. The first daffodils are trumpeting in warmer weather. I have even seen early Plum blossom in Hedge End where I work.
This weekend though, we were looking for a different type of Spring. We were hunting for the source of the river Hamble. The Hamble’s tidal estuary exits into the Solent and is Hampshire’s premier yachting mecca. Some of the older readers of this blog may remember the TV series Howard's Way, which was filmed there.
The source of the Hamble (a group of natural springs) can be found near the town of Bishops Waltham, in the Moors nature reserve. It is known locally as Sand Boils or the Boiling Sands and it is quite an exciting discovery when you first discover it. 

A strange phenomenon occurs where chalk aquifers meet clay and sand but geology lesson aside – when you look into a shallow stream basin, true to name, the water appears to be boiling! 
Sand on the bottom of the clear stream bubbles and swirls as if some underground heater has been turned on. This is an illusion caused by the water being forced up through the stream bed; the water is actually cold. The film (below) captures this curious effect better than the photo.
We washed our muddy wellies by paddling in the boiling sands and then set out on a short walk through the reserve, to make them even muddier. It is a beautiful area with lots of interesting things to see, but even the established paths were mostly under water. We spotted a venerable old apple tree that had covered the ground at its feet with hundreds of small apples. We also noticed a Nuthatch singing a buzzing song high up in the crown of a tree.
There are various different areas where the water wells up from below and many of the trees stand in quiet pools creating a unique environment. The different spring waters all gradually come together and there is an ancient mill (Chase Mill). The river then runs down a valley to the lovely little town of Botley, where there is another historic mill. Thereafter the river is tidal as the estuary leads down to the Solent via Manor Farm Country Park, Bursledon, Wasash and Hamble.
A few years ago, my brother in law and I paddled a kayak up the Hamble estuary from Bursledon to Curbridge. There we had a tasty Sunday roast in the Horse and Jockey, before heading back down the river again. We saw Kingfishers, Herons, Oyster-catchers, Turnstones and many other birds on our journey.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Solent Storm Warning

We popped down to Leap Beach, in the New Forest to check out the weather in the Solent. The wind was savage and it was difficult to walk into it due to flying sand stinging our faces. The vista was slate grey, the foam streaked sea was whipped into an angry rage. We ate our picnic lunch from the safety of the car, before venturing out into the howling wind.

Every now and then the low, thin sun came slanting out from beneath the clouds. This contrast gave us some respite from the persistent weather and the lovely shearing light created long shadows off the beach groins and scuttling sea-birds.
Despite the havoc wreaked by the relentless storms that have lashed the South of the UK, the jewel-like crocuses continue to spring from the sodden turf; brightening my cycle ride to and from work. I have even spotted plum blossom buds, preparing to burst open.
Speaking of work, my lunch box is still packed with healthy nuts and apples that we picked last Summer/Autumn. The apples have been tucked away in our shed for the last 5 months and they are still crisp and tasty.
Apple from the Common
Walnuts and Hazelnuts will keep for ages; I keep ours in wicker baskets in the house and they are lasting very well this year. I spend 20 minutes cracking the shells off and then chuck a few raisins into the mix.

We still have some Poached Pears, preserved in syrup. I bottled these last year and they make a delicious evening treat for a stormy night. I love them heated up and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream…

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Signs of Spring and a Seed Swap

The land is currently so saturated that any rain seems to simply sit on the surface, in dank, dark puddles. However, despite the depressing weather, it’s always nice to discover something new, even if it’s only fresh news to you.
For instance, from a young age, I knew that catkins were the flowers of the Hazel tree. Children love collecting and playing with these soft furry danglers and we often compete to see who can find the longest. What I didn’t know, was that the catkin is the male flower and that the Hazel, also has a female flower!
I discovered this fact for myself, when photographing catkins recently; I spotted some tiny pinkish flowers, clinging to the same branch. They looked like miniature, red sea urchins.
Having seen them, I was surprised that I had never noticed this detail before and further investigation proved that these little marvels were indeed the female partner to the male catkins.
I have also spotted other signs of Spring, crocuses, starting to show their colourful faces; in a spirited attempt to dispel the gloomy, grey, wet weather. Snowdrops are also flowering in the fields and hedgerows.
Snowdrops are out now too...
While we are thinking wistfully about Spring, there is a Seed Swap on Sunday the 9th February in Southampton, opposite the Art House CafĂ©. 
It starts at 11.00 am till 3.30 pm; we will be there later on. 
I will also give a quick talk on our adventures with the Urbane Forager project at the Art House afterwards; so, you can have a cup of tea and a tasty cake too...

Do come along and say hi, if you can.