Fragrant summer arrives at Yoesden

Among the grassy banks, close to beech hanger woodland, islands of pink and purple have appeared. They’re reminiscent of the night lights on airport runways. But unlike airports, whose purpose is to take us somewhere else (or was – it seems so long ago now), these pink and purple indicators encourage us to linger. These are the orchids of Yoesden nature reserve, near Bledlow Ridge just outside High Wycombe.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), who manage the site, note that “Yoesden has changed little over the centuries”: sheep grazing in medieval times, bodgers (local craftsmen specialising in wood) in Victorian times. BBOWT bought this site in 2014, raising enough money from a public appeal to acquire three plots of land adjacent to the initial purchase.

Yoesden’s south-westerly aspect, descending steeply from the woods, enables plenty of sun to warm the slopes. The stars of the many plants which take advantage of these conditions are the orchids which appear in June. The common-spotted, the chalk fragrant- and the pyramidal orchid are all here, basking in the afternoon sun and gentle breeze. In addition to orchids, you may also spot the Chiltern gentian, kidney vetch and horseshoe vetch.

The last-named is significant as a foodplant for caterpillars of the Adonis blue, one of the scarcest of the 28 species of butterflies which inhabit Yoesden and probably the most spectacular. We didn’t see its brilliant blue wings on this visit, nor the paler small blue and chalkhill blue, but the marbled white, the comma and the tortoiseshell all flitted around us, along with several meadow browns, their single “eyes” seeming to wink.

By autumn the orchids and butterflies will have gone. But there’s plenty more to see in autumn, or the following spring, whether on the slope or in the woodland beneath the beech, whitebeam and yew trees. It’s a tranquil place to be: a reminder, after recent months, that not all of nature is out to get us.

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A slow escape: Stonor out of lockdown

How many local businesses and visitor attractions will survive the current crisis? As the UK goes through multiple phases in relaxing its lockdown, opportunities are slowly opening up to re-visit some favourite places. One example is Stonor Park, just outside Henley-in-Thames in Oxfordshire, which has opened to the public since 1979 and has been in the same family for over 850 years.

The house is still closed, but Stonor’s gardens are now open between Wednesdays and Sundays (timed slots, pre-booking required, including parking). We dodged the showers to visit yesterday afternoon. Social distancing of the mandatory two-metre kind was easy, perhaps because some morning showers had put off a few other potential visitors.

Having bought pancakes from Jesseco’s vintage horsebox in the car park, we followed the one-way system arrows around the gardens, including their distinctive Japanese-style summer-house. They have been a labour of love for Elisabeth, Lady Camoys (the mother of the current owner), since the late 1970s.

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The herbaceous borders were in excellent condition, considering the challenges of lockdown, not to mention a very wet winter and an extremely warm and dry spring. We also walked around the Park, spotting a pair of deer and a few chickens crossing a road (yes, really – see below).

Such are the pervasive effects of lockdown that we couldn’t remember exactly when we last had a day out. It was good to be back at Stonor; we hope it, and the many other local visitor attractions, will soon be fully open and flourishing again.

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