Thursday, November 4, 2010

From ditch and bank beginning on soft cliffs of chocolate-brown Severn, suspension bridge looming, to the murky Irish Sea, grey horizon punctuated by white wind turbines, Offa’s Dyke twists through 177 miles of forest, rolling farmland, moorland and mountain.

The Dyke initially enters the Forest of Dean following the rim of the Wye Valley, winding river glimpsed silver below, raddled with Badger setts, occasional sibilant whistles and harsh buzzing of Long Tailed Tits; loud ‘whooet, whooet’ of Nuthatch, sudden ‘chack’ calls of Great Spotted Woodpecker overhead. Only the thinnest of squeaks from tiny Goldcrests penetrate the sough of wind above the dark, fragrant conifer depths of Glidir Forest.

From the start, coloured leaves and bright berries scatter the green grass and poached mud of ditch and bank accompanied by sweet fragrance of mould, crushed leaves and fallen fruit: toffee-brown Oak; rich yellow Beech; red Cherry, clear yellow Field Maple; bright red Holly berry, deep red Hawthorn; and pale green or yellow flushed pink Crabs.

Over tree-lined lengths of rolling farmland, soft ‘peep’ of Bullfinches is most frequent, though seldom seen, whilst berry-laden trees attract marauding flocks of Scandinavian thrushes from the skies: thin Redwing whistles and harsh ‘chack, chack, chack’ of larger Fieldfare.

The high, barren ridges of Black Mountains, Hergest and Clwydian Hills grow only heather and bracken, supporting only a few sheep and Grouse where cut in strips: Meadow Pipits rise in halting flight against stiff winds with characteristic ‘seep, seep’ calls, occasional liquid ‘chirrup’ from Skylarks overhead.

The black Raven patrols the entire length of the Dyke: beating off Peregrine over Chepstow; hanging in the up-draught over high ridges or flip-flopping in display with deep ‘glock, glock’ calls; alighting in mountain heather; characteristic, guttural croak high overhead in blue skies over woods, forests and green rolling hills.

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