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It was our 26th wedding anniversary the Thursday before last and we had intended to go out for a walk and take a picnic with us.  However, the morning was very wet and, even though the rain had stopped by midday we decided that walking through long grass and along overgrown paths and then trying to find somewhere to sit and eat our lunch without getting wet would be too difficult, so we put off the walk until the following day.  I did the ironing instead.

Friday was a much better day for a walk, with warmth, some sunshine and a fair amount of cloud.  There was a light shower of rain mid-morning and another just as we approached our picnic spot but not enough to dampen our spirits or make the going, or sitting, any trouble.

As usual, I took my pocket camera with me and looked out for things of interest.  You will have to excuse the quality of the photos; I have to take the pictures as quickly as possible so that I am not left behind.  Also my camera has decided it doesn’t like pink and has changed all the pink flowers to blue or purple.

The beautiful almond-scented Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) was already in bloom along the lane just a few metres from our house.  This is a native plant.

I quote here from my ID, ‘Harrap’s Wild Flowers’ by Simon Harrap ” The name (Meadowsweet) refers to its use in flavouring mead and other drinks, rather than a predilection for meadows, and also used as a strewing herb, scattered on the floor to freshen up the house.”

The Dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea) have been marvellous this year. Most were past their best already but I felt I just had to record this shrub’s swansong.

This is a plant I have known since I was a small girl. It used to grow prolifically in the places I played. Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea)

The plant gives off a very strong pineapple scent when it is crushed.  It is an introduced plant, coming originally from east Asia and was first recorded in the wild in this country in 1871.

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). This tiny little plant was right next to the Pineappleweed (which you can see bottom right of the photo). It gets its name from the shape of the seed pods.  You can see them surrounding the upper white flowerhead; they are grey-brown in colour and triangular.  Shepherd’s Purse is an ancient introduction to this country.

Hedgerow Cranesbill (Geranium pyrenaicum). This is one of the plants my camera decided should not be as pink as it is. It has rather lovely darker veins on its petals. This is yet another introduction, this time from southern Europe and was first recorded in the wild here in 1762.  I have added a link for you to see the usual colour of the flower.

Creeping Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans). I love the zingy lemon-yellow of this flower! Next to a buttercup it looks too bright but on its own backed by its lovely soft green leaves it looks glorious.

Italian Alder (Alnus cordata). Halfway down our lane a row of Italian Alders were planted as a windbreak. What attractive trees they are! Here you can see the substantial heart-shaped glossy leaves, dark cones from last year and the new green cones. This tree has beautiful long catkins in the spring which flutter in the strong winds that blow here.

Pretty pink and white striped Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis ) along the edge of this crop of Field Beans.

As you can see from this photo, it was quite breezy during our walk; not the best conditions for getting good pictures in a hurry! In amongst the grass you can see the brown seedheads of Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata).

Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra). The hard flowerheads of this plant have given it the name ‘Knap’ weed; ‘knap’ meaning knob.

In olden times, this flower could be used to tell a girl whether she would marry soon.  She had to pull all the expanded florets off the flowerhead and then put the rest of the flower inside her blouse, next to her heart.  After an hour she should take it out again and if the previously unexpanded florets had blossomed, that was a sure sign that the man she was going to marry was soon coming her way.

By this time we had left the lane and were walking along a footpath between fields.

Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Sitting on the flower on the right is a Thick-legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis).  Only the males of this harmless shiny green beetle have the distinctive swollen ‘thighs’.

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum). This is the only photo I managed to get of this pretty plant and most of it is out of focus because of the wind blowing it about.

Harrap’s tells me it is ‘honey-scented when fresh but smells of new-mown hay when dry.  Formerly believed to discourage fleas and was incorporated into straw mattresses, especially for the beds of women about to give birth, hence its name.’

I cannot confirm the information about the scent because: 1. I would have found it very difficult getting down low enough to smell the plant and would then have struggled to get back up again, so I didn’t. 2. The wind was blowing too strongly for the delicate scent to be discernible and 3. I haven’t got a strong sense of smell, anyway.  We’ll just have to take Mr Harrap’s word for it.

Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium). This plant with its three leaflets joined together is widely believed to be the true shamrock.  There are other plants which are also thought to be the shamrock; white clover, black medick, watercress and wood sorrel.

This plant is one of the hop trefoils; its seedheads look like tiny heads of hops.  Once the seeds begin to ripen the petals don’t fall off the plant but turn brown and the standard, the upper petal of the flower, folds down on either side of its centre line over the ripening pod like a ridged roof.  If you click on the photo above to enlarge it and look about a third of the way up from the bottom, you will find a seed head in the centre.  Does that make sense?

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Another not-as-pink, pink flower.  Here is a link to images of what a Pyramidal Orchid really looks like.

I believe this plant might be Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus). The leaves look too evenly-branched to be the native Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) though the latter plant is what I would expect to find here. Oxford Ragwort is found mainly in urban settings. It escaped from Oxford Botanic Garden in 1794 and then spread rapidly via the railway network. It sounds like the main character in a John Buchan novel!

Ragwort is poisonous, its leaves containing an alkaloid poison that can remain in plants that have been dried with hay.  Animals are not aware they are eating it when it’s in hay (though they will avoid it when it is growing in the field) and the alkaloids will destroy their livers in just a few months. Understandably, farmers will try to get rid of all the ragwort they find.

Our aim was to picnic at South Elmham Minster and we discovered it surrounded by trees.  It is on private land but the owners allow walkers to visit it as long as they respect the place.

Here is Elinor discovering and photographing the entrance to the site.

Richard, Alice and I had been here before, when we walked to it from St James in April 1995, nearly two years before Elinor was born!  We hadn’t been back since, though it is only half an hour’s walk from our present home.

The entrance and path leading to the ruins of the ‘Minster’ were very overgrown which somehow added a frisson of mystery to the occasion.

To the Minster

There was a lot of Comfrey growing next to the path.

Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). These flowers were lavender-coloured.

And there it was!

South Elmham Minster

Instead of me writing screeds about this interesting ruin I will recommend this article for you to read, if you so wish.

Here is an information sign with the ubiquitous ‘artist’s impression’ of the Minster.

Here is a message we found. We have no idea when the damage was done or when this sign was put up. It looks fairly recent.

We wandered around for a short while and then sat on the bench provided under the trees and had our lunch.

Our picnic spot

Below are a few photos of the ruins themselves.

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An interesting tree-trunk.

Many of the trees surrounding the Minster were Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).  Hornbeam trunks are said to be ‘fluted’ which might describe the tree above.

Hornbeam pleated leaves with bunches of fruits

The Hornbeam nut forms with a three-lobed bract attached that sometimes grows as long as 5cms.  This acts as ‘wings’ when the nut is released from the tree in the autumn.

I think the Hornbeams have been coppiced in the past though Hornbeams are usually pollarded.  Local children have been making dens under the trees.

Lesser Burdock ( Arctium minus)

Cleavers or Goosegrass (Galium aparine)

Above are two different plants with fruits covered in hooks.  The stems and leaves of Cleavers also have bristles that cause them to stick to anything that touches them.

An enormous Bramble patch! (Rubus fruticosus agg. )

A bird had made a nest in one of the hollows in the wall. It was empty.

Another enormous Lesser Burdock; it must have been almost 2 metres tall. By this time the sun had come out and the air was becoming warm.

There was another exit path from the Minster which crossed the wide surrounding ditch.  This ditch is fairly deep though my photographs do not show this at all clearly.

A Hoverfly, I’m not sure which one, on a large Buttercup flower; again I’m not sure which buttercup.

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). In reality this flower is a little pinker than this photo shows.

Woundworts have been used to stem bleeding and treat wounds since the time of the ancient Greeks.  Formally, the leaves were usually used as a poultice.  Ointments and infusions were also made with the leaves and the flowers made into conserves.  In fact, the volatile oil in Hedge Woundwort does have antiseptic qualities.

Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

The Dog’s Mercury was all in seed. This one appears to have lost a few of its upper seeds.  Dog’s Mercury is extremely poisonous to animals and humans alike.

We left the Minster and walked home in the sunshine.

Mayweed.  I wasn’t able to check to see if it was Scentless or Scented Mayweed.  The white outer ray florets were just emerging round the central disc-florets of these daisy-like flowerheads.

Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Field Rose (Rosa arvensis).

Field entrance

I didn’t take many photos of our surroundings as we walked and most of those shots were not suitable.  I am glad this one came out as it shows the countryside through which we walked.  Old-fashioned small fields with high dense hedges.  Lots of birds were still singing and wherever we walked we heard numerous skylarks.

A drainage ditch

Richard pointed out the cracked clay sides of this ditch.  The water though not deep, was running quickly along and was particularly clear.  We saw small fish swimming in it.

Further along, the ditch was crossed by a small bridge with what I assume is a gate to prevent sheep from crossing from one field to the next.

A cart pond.  In former times, when carthorses needed to drink, the cart drivers could get into these ponds and out again easily without having to take the horses off the cart.

Pyramidal orchid

Field edge full of orchids…

…and yet more

A selection of different Vetches

Hedge Bedstraw ( Galium album)

Borage ( Borago officinalis)

Agrimony ( Agrimonia eupatoria)

A field full of wild flowers

Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the field because of a deep ditch around it.  I had to take my photos using the zoom on my camera.

Sainfoin ( Onobrychis viciifolia)

I think the pretty pink and white clover in the centre of the photo is Alsike Clover ( Trifolium hybridum)

I think the owner of this field has sown some wildflower seed mix here.  I have never seen so many different flowers all in one field before.  From what I hear from the stories of the elderly people I know at church, all the fields were covered in wild flowers like these when they were young.  Intensive agriculture was becoming the norm thirty or forty years ago: hedges were ripped out and everything was sprayed to kill off the wild flowers and most of the insects.  This was still being done when I moved to East Anglia in 1988 and the birds I heard regularly then and the quantities of moths, butterflies and other insects I used to see then are much reduced.  I especially noticed the difference when I returned to East Anglia in 2006 after our 18 months in Somerset.  Far fewer insects certainly.  However, we had got used to hearing and seeing Buzzards during that 18 months while in Somerset and I was greatly surprised and excited to see and hear a Buzzard in Suffolk for the first time in 2007.  They are well established here now.

Common Mallow ( Malva sylvestris)  The Common Mallow is an ancient introduction to this country.  It seems to line all the lanes at this time of year.

This is the rather handsome caterpillar of the Peacock butterfly . I found it crossing the lane as I was nearing home.

You will be glad to know we all got home safely having met no-one on our walk and only saw a lady driving her pony and trap and I think a couple of cars along the lane.You will be especially glad to know that this is the end of the post!