Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Wander On The Gogs

The Gog Magog Hills is the rather grand name of the low chalk ridge to the south-east of Cambridge. You're probably wondering what the strange name means. Well, you can try and research it yourself; I've given up. The endless tangle of stories and legends convinced the antiquarian and dowser T C Lethbridge that he should look for chalk figures on these hills and he claimed to find them with the aid of his dowsing rods. Many remain to be convinced.

But my aim was to wander on the land not to wonder about the name. I started out on the old Roman Road which these days is a grassy track for walkers. It was built to link Godmanchester, Great Chesterford and Colchester, all the sites of Roman camps. But today's perambulation was not going to be a route march; time to smell the flowers - or photograph the blossom at least.

At this time of year the blackthorn is in full bloom and looking splendid. A Skylark sang against the distant drone of a tractor working the light chalky soils. In places the scrub has been cleared alongside the track in hope of the chalkland wildflowers returning. 

A Great Spotted Woodpecker hammered away at a beech tree, one of a long line which was once a hedge. The lower trunk of each tree distorted and still bearing the scars from when it was hacked and mutilated at the hands of the hedger.

I turned of the road into a stretch of woodland, part of the Wandlebury Country Park. I'm saving some pictures of Wandlebury for my next post so will just show you a few photos now as we pass through.

The wood is managed in a traditional way with some trees being 'coppiced', that is being cut off near ground-level so that they regrow a crop of thin straight poles. These would be useful for all kinds of jobs from making hurdles and fences to hazel spars for holding thatch in place. Only a few trees were left to mature to supply wood for building, furniture making and so on.

Along the margins of the wood cowslips have sprung up, while violets are plentiful where there are small clearings.

Further along I encountered my first Orange Tip butterfly of the summer. He was rather drowsy on this chilly morning which allowed me to get close enough to photograph him.

If you click on the photograph to enlarge it (which I strongly urge you to do) you'll see that he's newly emerged and just about perfect; he clearly hasn't yet encountered the harsh realities of life. You'll also see that he's quite a hairy little chap!

A small pond had a good show of Bogbean, a name which hardly conjures up an image of the delicate flowers held aloft above the water. Then I made my way across the road to what is now usually referred to as Magog Down but always used to be Little Trees Hill.

The area is a fine example of chalk grazing land and is being extended by scrub clearance. The grassland at this time of year is rich with wildflowers, mostly cowslips, dandelions and daisies.

Despite its very modest elevation - it wouldn't be honoured with the name of 'hill'  in most parts of the world - it gives superb views across the flat Cambridgeshire landscape. It was very difficult to get a satisfactory picture as the weather began to close in. This is the best I could do, the building on the horizon is the water tower on Rivey Hill which I've shown you before.

Then as I turned to go something caught my eye... goodness, an orange cowslip. These 'colour sports' appear from time to time but they're not common. It made an uplifting sight as the skies darkened and a few spots of rain began to fall.

Take care.


  1. What a lovely walk and some great photos - the orange tip was certainly worth enlarging, he's really beautiful. I love the thought of walking along a Roman road that has been in use for for nearly 2000 years. More probably as it's a fair bet that there was a track here even before the Romans came. Great post John.

  2. Really enjoyed this walk along the Roman road...visiting the various flowers...I things change, yet remain the same...

  3. Another fine walk, John. I especially enjoyed the Orange Tip butterfly. I would have thought it a moth, except for the clearly-butterfly antennae. Jim

  4. That's my first orange tip of the season John - and I have never seen an orange cowslip. Thanks for those photos - it is freezing cold here and it is lovely to view such countryside from indoors by the fire.

  5. What a treat to visit your blog, John, and see all the wonderful photos you take of the English countryside. Thank you for taking us along on this particular walk. I am about to show Charles the Roman Road and the trees and wildflowers that grow along it. Love the clouds against the gorgeous blue sky, before the rains came.

  6. That really is a quaint name for the hills! The blackthorn is beautiful in flower. The row of beech trees awaiting their leaves; you sure have some lovely countryside to walk through; these are public thoroughfares beside farming properties I assume? Nice how you have those accesses. Do many people use them for walking like you do? Love the violets growing naturally …and the Orange Tip butterfly is beautiful, he really doo look pristine in the closeup, with neat, straight antannae. Your Magog Down photograph is very special with the lovely clouds and blue sky backdrop. You had a very productive day; thanks for sharing John

  7. It's unusual for a butterfly to have such a fuzzy body - more like a moth. I like the subtle scallop edge to his soft white wings. Very handsome fellow. The view of the fields and water tower has a bluish tinge that looks so well with the very dark green of the trees. Always fun to finds a sport. Too bad they often revert back because that orange cowslip is a great colour. Saw a pileated woodpecker a couple of days ago but no pic. I'll google "Great Spotted Woodpecker" and see what he looks like.

  8. You do as I often do - you "walk the camera" as others walk the dog. it can, as you have shown here, have amazing results. My favourites must be "The Ents" in no. 4.

  9. Another great wander --a wonderful mixture of flora and fauna, history and local lore--the butterfly is icing on the cake.

  10. Wonderful walk John, I learnt something today..did not know about the art of 'coppicing', fascinating and your beautiful little 'orange tip butterfly' is a delight to behold, so perfect!

  11. Another of your great rambles. The spring flowers in your area seem quite delicate. One of these years I want to visit England for a week of walking the trails. Your photos encourage me!

  12. A lovely walk - and I've never seen an orange cowslip before!

  13. John,
    I've just had a leisurely journey through your posts dated 14-April-21-April. If I could choose a walk to follow it would undooubtedly be this one. But then--I'd enjoy visiting the greenhouses--and the cathedral. Re the cathedral--I wish I could think of a less hackneyed adjective than 'awesome.'

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