We've been seeing so many beautiful and interesting trees in the last few days - and that is not something I usually say at this time of year when tree branches are usually bare, grey and rattling in a chilly wind. But several days of summery temperatures showed February in a new light. It was like a sudden slice of summer, except without the leaves. (The alder tree above, on the canal near Rickmansworth, has no leaves yet, but is covered in golden catkins).
We have taken every chance to get out around London, with the result that lots of rather important tasks have been neglected here in the Woolf household. We mostly picked out places randomly on the Ordnance Survey maps. These great maps are full of incredible detail, and you can use them to plan a route to see all kinds of features that aren't much publicised.
T. has all the OS maps on his phone. My picture shows part of an older, paper map which is now out of date (personally I still like the paper maps.) This fragment of the East Chiltern Hills paper map - in Buckinghamshire, north of London - shows Burnham Beeches nature reserve (the blue bird symbol) a car park (a blue P symbol) a long distance footpath (green blobs and dashes) and many other small public tracks (black or green dashes).
There are very ancient landscape features - see the moat and the settlement? The terrain is fairly flat, with a slightly steeper bit round Victoria Drive. Some of the old names recall past features of the landscape ("Kilnwood" was likely used by charcoal burners), and narrow minor roads (less than 4 metres/12 feet wide) are yellow, larger minor roads are brown. You'll also see Dorneywood on the bottom left. Dorneywood house is a grand grace-and-favour residence for Cabinet ministers. It is known for its beautiful 1930s style gardens, which are open to the public in warmer months, so who knows - you might even spot a top politician if you go. Although personally I have seen enough politicians lately to last me a good while.
Burnham Beeches has some very old, gnarled and characterful trees.
Nearby Stoke Common nature reserve couldn't be more different. It consists of a curious swampy heathland with conifers and marsh plants, criss crossed by (fairly dry) paths. It is an oddly fascinating landscape and is owned by the rich burghers of the City of London who are conscientiously restoring the habitat to encourage wildlife. We met some dogwalkers who were thrilled that previously absent birds like woodlarks and stonechats are now breeding there again.
Another day we walked near the charming little town of Wendover, and in the woodland I spotted a few trees which had acquired hand knitted scarves. I think these are to make a political point - the very unpopular new railway line, HS2, is going to crash through the area and spoil the view. I wouldn't mind a scarf like that, though.
A little further from the scarf-clad trees Combe Wood opened into a sunny hillside with wide views over surrounding countryside. The light was golden, although it was only about 2.30 PM, and the air was so warm and benign that we were in teeshirts.
There were strange humps all over parts of the hillside. I bet they are anthills. I wonder how many ants there are hibernating under that turf! I'm told they do a good job keeping down greenfly and are winter food for woodpeckers.
A bit further on we spotted a garden with what looked like clumps of purple heather, though I didn't think heather has flowers in early Spring. But the bumblebees were working hard and there were several big yellow brimstone butterflies fluttering about. It was very strange to know it was February and yet the air was full of these summery sights and sounds.
It's obviously because of global warming, which is worrying, but I am doing my bit by supporting charities that help the environment - Plantlife, Buglife, R.S.P.B, Woodland Trust, National Trust, Countryside Restoration Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust. They all seem to agree roughly on what needs to be done, and they need all the support in the world to achieve it.
A bit further west, in Hambleden, Bucks, snowdrops were out in the churchyard - sorry it's a blurred picture.
You can see a bit of the old church on the right. Inside I noticed that the verses on the imposing old tomb of Cope and Martha D'Oyley are very interesting. Here they are with their ten children - sorry, my photo does't show them all. The ones carrying skulls died before their parents.
I do visit Hambleden occasionally and had seen the tomb before, but hadn't really noticed the epitaphs. Reading them again, I thought they seem to be hinting at something. After some thought I decided that Cope and Martha might have been accused of some kind of unworthiness, which their family would naturally have wished to refute. Read Cope's epitaph, and see if you agree (I have put some of it in modern language below) ...
"Ask not me who's buried here (Don't ask who is buried here)
Go, ask the commons, ask the shire [ask people in the local area]
Go, ask the church, they'll tell you who,
As well as blubbered (tearful) eyes can do.
Go, ask the heralds, ask the poor
Your ears shall hear enough to ask no more.
Then, if thy eye bedews this sacred urn [if you weep tears over their ashes]
Each drop a pearl will turn
To adorn his tomb. Or, if it you can not vent
You bring more marble to his monument." [if you cannot weep, then you are as hard as this marble monument].
There is another rhyme relating to Martha too, but my Biblical knowledge isn't quite good enough to interpret that.
We also cycled round London, where Spring was coming to the Inns of Court...
London Zoo is on one of our main cycling routes, and whenever I go that way I always look through the fence to see how the giraffes are doing. This time I saw they have a new way of feeding, from tall feeders hung on a rope. I don't know what the baby giraffes do; perhaps they have special low feeders.
On another day of sunshine, we met up with V, our older daughter, and wandered around, calling at the Crossbones graveyard which memorialises rejected, abandoned and rejected people. Although it sounds depressing, it is an uplifting place. Many of us have a relative or friend who somehow took wrong turnings, or possibly took their own lives, and it is good to remember them and celebrate the many good things they did.
The entrance gates are hung with all kinds of little memorials and there are regular remembrance ceremonies. It's entirely a community initiative. Transport for London, which owned the land, was persuaded to let it become a garden by a bunch of volunteers, who now maintain and cherish it.
The poet John Constable was the driving force behind the scheme. He was very moved because this patch of land is the last resting place of many unnamed women (and their children) in medieval times who were licensed as prostitutes by the local bishop, but not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground.
The thing about going out with V is that she seems to have become an expert on London's coffee shops, of which there must be thousands. The sign outside this one, in Lower Marsh, SE1, amused us. The coffee was good, too.