Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

SLF - 14-12-2019 blog-26

Happy Fungi Friday!

When temperatures touch freezing, it spells the end for the mushroom season. This is because fungal fruiting bodies are largely made of water and most species simply can’t excel if they’re frozen stiff. But temperatures in Sussex have been mild at times this week.

A good 6 mile walk in the High Weald produced almost no soil-based fungi. That is except for these tiny Russulas, otherwise known as brittlegills. This family of mushrooms is very big and beyond identifying them to that level, I find that doing the same to species level (especially with a photograph) is not really possible. These specimens had already been uprooted and had a pinkish cap to go with their Kendal mint cake white stipe. I would guess it is birch brittlegill (Russula betularum) due to the colouring and the fact it was under birch trees.

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You can see from the comparison with my thumb just how small but perfectly formed this mushroom was. They are a family of mushrooms to see in late summer when autumn’s cogs are beginning to turn and all the way through to the season’s close.

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On a mossy log I found this staunch shroom growing. The faint white remnants of a veil on the edges of the cap made me wonder if it was a webcap (Cortinarius). The webcaps are a huge family of mushrooms.

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You know you’re getting desperate when you’re photographing mushrooms in the condition above. This is an oyster mushroom growing from a dead birch tree alongside a stream.

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Cowdray - 3-12-2019 blog-2

Midhurst, West Sussex, December 2019

The cloud bares blue sky wounds above the Cowdray Ruins, as mist rises from the Rother. The sun breaks from the cover and melts the frosty rushes, droplets glimmer in brambles. Bull rushes thaw like over-frozen choc ices emerging from the bottom of the freezer.

A song thrush sings from the woods nearby and it has little competition. Except for a couple shouting at their dog as it flashes through the low rushes. Imagine if a song thursh was actually just saying ‘kids, go to school’, ‘where’s my breakfast’, ‘what’s the time-what’s the time-what’s the time’. Its beauty would shrivel away and it would become an annoyance. The mystery gives it life.

The dog runs free through the rushes, its paws sloshing as it seeks the scent at the end of its nose. Its owners’ cries grow louder, angry, fear creeping in. With it a small bird, a wader, bursts from the rushes and arrows out towards the town. It has a white breast and a long, thin bill, curving as it reaches the tip. Its wings are sharp like a modern fighter jet. I’m sure it’s a snipe.

The bird will have been roosting over night in the rushes and now will seek more wet grasslands, probably where the Rother snakes behind Midhurst and where there are less people. Not that there are really so many here. On spring evenings they perform an otherworldly song flight, something that I first heard over reedbeds in Poland a few years ago.

They sing in a bizarre, electronic kind of way, but also like someone skilled at blowing through a large blade of grass. That evening I watched it soar and swoop over the reeds and river. Birds hold such potential for us, the promise of their weird songs, in these dark winter months, offers hope.

The Sussex Weald

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Midhurst - 10-12-2019 blog-2-2

Happy #FungiFriday!

You may have seen my attempts to photograph a mushroom every week on Twitter. I have hundreds of fungi images that I want to share so I’m now going to start posting a species each week (or one I’ve seen in that week). I’m not a forager and have never cooked or picked wild mushrooms to eat. I prefer taking pics and leaving shrooms for others to see.

To kick things off, this week I photographed jelly ear. This is a common species that, like in the image above, can be found growing on elder trees. It stays on a branch all year round and goes through a process of de- and rehydration. It seems happy in the winter months.

Jelly ear once had a more derogatory or racist name. This is largely because of the Latin name (Auricularia auricula-judae) which relates to Judas Escariot and the species’s association with elder. Judas is said to have died from hanging in an elder tree but that is almost certainly impossible because it is a very soft wood. The ears are said to be a remnant of his spirit. I call it jelly ear, as do all up to date field guides.

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SLF - 30-11-2019 blog-11

St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, November 2019

The last day of autumn. The final patches of beech, oak, hazel and birch leaves are all that resist the darkest greens and browns of a winter wood. The green leaflets of an elder dangle out across the path, the only ones left on the entire tree.

Grey squirrels round the trees in small groups, like people wrapping a maypole in its ribbons. They are elf-like in a place where little else moves. I stop to take a photo of a biscuit-brown pine tree and a woman waits alongside me.

‘I thought you’d seen an animal,’ she says when I look, her dog carrying on ahead of her.

‘Just squirrels,’ I say.

She laughs: ‘Oh, yes. Plenty of those!’

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The gill is full as it slaloms down through the woods. In a pond at the edge of the path fallen oak leaves rest in perfect stillness.

At the foot of the heath, golden mushrooms grow in the soil amidst the remains of bracken. They are so easy to miss. They’re trumpet chanterelles, a species as edible as the original. Like all the mushrooms I photograph, I’m not here to pick or eat them. Their trumpets curve out like gramophones, their stipes sinuous, yellow and tapering like a birch trunk.

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These are autumn’s final moments. The frosts are creeping in, our breaths stolen away on the air as they leave our lips.

The Sussex Weald

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Dartmoor - November 2019 blog-10

Buckland Abbey, Tamar Valley, Devon, November 2019

At last the rain has stopped. Buckland Abbey, once home to Sir Frances Drake (1540-1596), climbs out of its nook in the hillside, reflecting the stony skies above. Drake is known for ‘his’ ships which battled the Spanish Armada in the 1500s, for circumnavigating the earth and for his role in the slaughter of civilians on Rathlin Island in 1575.

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I first heard about him from spending time in south-east London’s remnant ancient woodland known as Great North Wood. It is said that some oaks grown in the Great North Wood were taken to the docks at Deptford and used in the building of some of Drake’s ships. It has never been verified. One thing that was verified at Deptford was Drake’s knighthood in 1851, on the ship named the Golden Hind, something I only learned at Buckland Abbey.

The fields around the Abbey are pocked by small cream sheep that run like chickens as we pass them on the track. In the distance the dammed River Tavy reflects the sky again, the dark woods flowing across the slopes to where the river enters the Tamar. Looking at the Ordnance Survey map, something stands out. To the north-west is a large woodland named The Great North Wood.

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Ordnance Survey © Crown Copyright 2019 and/or database right 2016. Licence number 100043379

Could this be simply because it’s so large, or because of Drake’s links to that area of south London? The name is said only to have been popularised in the Victorian period and could have been given to differentiate the once vast area of woodland to that of the Weald that covered most of south-east England in the Anglo-Saxon period. Perhaps this local wood was also named by residents of the Abbey in the 1800s.

Redwings are established now, flocking in the fields. I hear my first fieldfare chuck-chuck-chucking over the Abbey. Down in the woods beech trees burn even without the aid of sunlight. They brighten the most glowering corners. Hazels are yellowing and even the odd wych elm with its almost bulb-bright leaves. It’s here saying, ‘don’t forget about me.’ Many elms have gone, but wych elm survives.

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The rain threatens specks again as the light, if you can call it that, dwindles further. In a combe of a field a grey heron flaps its wings, either a slice of Buckland Abbey’s grey exterior breaking free, or a slither of sky lending itself south, to the glassy Tavy for the night.

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SLF - 17-11-19 blog-38

St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, November 2019

After so much recent rain, the water flows fast through the s-shaped streambed of Sheepwash Gill. Clouds have consumed a sunny morning, Wealden clay clogs under foot. I’m trying to cross the gill by treading across the buffed sandstone which is usually above water. This is no ‘Robert Macfarlane climbing a mountain up a stream in his pants’ kind of effort. The water runs ankle-high against my boots.  On the other side a dog bounds down off the leaf-littered slope and barks at me, stopping my crossing. It’s big. It jumps around at the water’s edge in that ‘I’m trying to pretend I’m going to eat you’ kind of way. Its owner calls it back and I find another way to cross.

A girl watches me as I find a short gap to hop over. The dog is her family’s. They’re gathered around dens made from branches and logs on the banks of the gill. The eldest man is grappling with a thirty-foot long birch tree that’s hung up in another tree. He’s getting advice from his young son on how to get it down. The man is wearing brown leather safety boots, a sure sign of a construction worker enjoying a Sunday with his family in the woods.

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The birch won’t move much and he gives up. St. Leonard’s Forest is covered in birch. It’s the most westerly point of the High Weald’s heaths, much of which is covered by wild birch and gorse, or otherwise planted up with conifers for forestry. Birch is seen as an enemy or nuisance but it is a special tree that has benefited our species in our evolution. Its wood makes excellent spoons, its bark can be used as fire lighter, its sap tapped for syrup, its branches make brooms. Its Latin name ‘betula’ means ‘to beat’. Getting walloped by birch branches was once a recognised punishment, sometimes in public.

The birches are all yellowing and dropping now, turning to their deep, purple and leafless phase. The small yellow leaves catch by the petioles in mosses and on the splintered fibres of broken heartwood. In the dark pine plantations of St. Leonard’s Forest they fizz and spark.

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Explore the Sussex Weald

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Peak District - 2019 blog-16

Edale, The Peak District National Park, September 2019

View my route for this walk on View Ranger

In September I visited the Peak District for the first time. I was heading up north to visit family and wanted to check whether an old friend’s claim to being a ‘northerner’ was accurate. He’s from Chesterfield and has accompanied me on several walks shown on this blog. Turns out that as a native of Chesterfield he might actually be a Midlander, anyway, nevermind that and apologies for any offence caused.

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The walk was 12 miles in length and a circular from the YHA in Edale. It’s a fantastic place to stay with really nice staff. The YHA straddles the slopes of the Edale valley. I said to the man working at the YHA that the valley took me completely by surprise when arriving, it comes out of nowhere. He said that despite visiting it every day it did the same to him each time.

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My aim was to get up onto the Kinder Scout plateau, a place famed for the mass trespass that took place 1932. Our public access to the countryside is a precious thing. It’s under attack from some landowners who don’t want members of the public walking across their land, by footpaths being forgotten and going un-walked, but it would have been even worse were it not for the interventions of a group of ‘young communists from Sheffield’ in the 20th century. It is said that their intervention led to the National Parks Act of 1949.

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Edale is nestled in amongst the woody riverine margins of Grinds Brook that runs down into the River Noe.

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The Peak District is a rural landscape of grazing land and heather moorland. I’m not defending grouse shooting here, but National Parks in the UK are designated as cultural landscapes. Our ‘wildernesses’ are not devoid of people. It was the Industrial Revolution that made the Peak District what it is today above its bedrock. In the UK people have to be part of the landscape for its protection to be ensured.

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Like many areas of hilly heather moorland, rowans are a common occurrence and point to its other common name of mountain ash. In September they are possibly at their most alluring with their masses of bright red berries earmarked for the tummies of redwings and blackbirds.

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This is a view up Grindsbrook. I have to admit, being out of (proper) hillwalking fitness this was a challenge. The track becomes bouldery, not helped by the heavy rain that arrived as I began. It being a Sunday morning, it created a bottleneck of walkers struggling up onto the top of Kinder Scout. After this photo I put my camera away and focused on the ascent.

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The rain was so bad up on Kinder Scout that I only took photos of the trackway heading north-west rather than the views into the Edale valley, and I have a waterproof camera! The rain and cloud had swallowed the views anyway.

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When the mist began to blow away, it created mysterious ranges of exposed gritstone and Sunday ramblers.

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Some of the rock formations were like ancient stone sculptures.

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The clearing mist gave stunning views into the gulleys and passes of the Peaks.

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The walking atop Kinder Scout is tough. It’s a labyrinth of peatlands and bog. The mist closed everything in and gave the sense of moving through endless corridors of black soil. Fun is not quite the word to describe it.

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As you can see, the path was difficult to keep. You need a compass and a map to be up here, View Ranger was very helpful in give a sense of my proximity to the general route. But mobile phone GPS is not reliable in these places and you need to know where you’re going.

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The sun slipped through for a minute and lit these totemic outcrops.

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Reaching Kinder Downfall was a relief. The sun broke through and blue sky appeared. The wind was so strong that it blew the water back up the fall. Kinder Scout is a Norse name, likely named by the Viking settlers present in Britain between the late 700-900s. I love this fact about Britain. When you look back at British history you fail to find a mono-ethnic, English culture.

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The warm sun here helped to dry out my coat and trousers (which I was still wearing of course) and lit the rock formations. As if clouds eventually grow heavy like stone and fall to the earth to rest like this in the hills.

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Kinder Reservoir was constructed in 1911 and can be seen in the centre of the image here.

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Can we talk about how much this boulder looks like a person in deep thought 🤔

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The light spread across the moors, the wind blew through the grasses and clouds broke across the sky.

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There were lots of people of all ages and backgrounds rambling on this Sunday afternoon. This is the approach to Jacob’s Ladder. The deeply worn hills show the impact of many thousands of years of water running from their summits.

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A monochrome view into the Edale Valley from Jacob’s Ladder.

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I was drawn to the sight of hawthorns against the hills. They look like people. It’s a wood pasture of sorts that is found in the Yorkshire Dales below the moorland level as well. I love hawthorns.

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At Lee Farm this wooden Pooh bear was greeting walkers from its home in the wood shed.

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The rain came and passed away again on my return back to the YHA.

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What was probably the line of an old hedgerow can be seen here with two beautiful veteran trees, hawthorns sheltering sheep.

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Sadness lingers in the countryside in the shapes of our dying ash trees. In the Yorkshire Dales, in Scotland, on Dartmoor and the South Downs our ash trees are succumbing to ash dieback disease. So, too, in the Peak District. I have to photograph them as a record for what our landscapes used to look like. Hopefully more resistant genetic strains will emerge from the mist like boulders in the Peaks and rock on for millennia to come.

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What a beautiful phrase: footpath to open country. Take me there (no, really, please I’m dying it’s been 12 miles).

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Holly is another of the veteran trees you find in moorland landscapes along with hawthorn. This was a stunning tree blown east by the wind rushing through the valley.

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This is special. I noticed a massive rowan tree at the margin of field and gorseland. It is the largest rowan I have ever seen in the UK. I tweeted about it and the brilliant writer Mark Cocker asked me where it was. Mark Cocker is a ‘hero’ of mine having been inspired by his assiduous observation of rooks in Crow Country when I first became interested in the genre of ‘nature writing’. Mark said I should write something about this tree but really I only passed it. I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to pull myself up the hill (off the path!) and get a nicer photo of it with my wide angle lens. Instead, hopefully Mark will write something about it?

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The sun shone in the valley and the Peak District in all its glory was on show.

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Views across to the other side of the valley showed the various stages of the landscape. The screen and exposed geology, the rampant woodland and scrub, held off the by the farmer’s drystone walls and sheep.

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To end, the summit of Mam Tor where once an Iron Age hill fort stood. Can you imagine what it must have looked like, high up there overlooking the landscape with its wooden walls and torches burning at each corner. Next time I visit I intend to get my butt up there and see how it might have felt for our ancient ancestors, within the Countryside Code, of course.

Thanks for reading.

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