lunchtime getaways

Having spent the weekend in a sort of feverish lump alternately tunneling under bedclothes and then trying peevishly to throw them across the room with limp spaghetti arms, I decided I needed some air Monday and went for a walk in Charleville Castle wood over lunch. There is a definite squelch factor this week as the weather roils between storm and startlingly blue skies. That line from Great Expectations was properly appropriate “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ” The muck factor strongly influenced my decision to take things a little off the beaten track, instead strolling along a pleasingly winding animal track into the main wood, wondering about what might be keeping this particular pathway viable in the everyday.

I am not a particularly good mammal tracker. I know they’re out there and I can tell some basics about badgers and foxes, hares, rabbits, pine martens and squirrels, but not to the degree that I would like. My particular liking for the snap of twig underfoot usually sort of spoils my chances of seeing anything too, I probably should try to relearn how to travel quietly in woodland. The birds, on the other hand, are very visible right now, indeed a great many were indignantly informing me that I was making a nuisance of myself and to remove myself from their sight forthwith. I doubt they’d be too impressed that their bluster tends to make me happy, they sound so very pretty telling me to .. let’s be polite.. “Go Away!”

Charleville Wood is not really a wood you’re ever truly alone in, there are lots of lunchtime walkers like me, but it is big enough for the feeling of being alone (with a few tens of peeved birds). It gives you a chance to catch your breath and reorganise your head that’s been slowly filling with work tasks shoving everything else to the background all morning. It’s got some properly old, old oaks including the famous King Oak just a short distance in the gate, which is estimated to be around 400 to 800 years old. The tree was nominated as the Irish entry for the 2013 European Tree of the Year contest, and finished third. I adore it, have for a great many years, my kids have grown up climbing all over the lower branches and I’ve sat in it reading and writing letters and watching leaves fall in autumn to catch some lunchtime peace. It’s a pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and the lower branches are enormous, spreading up to 27 metres from the main trunk. Charleville wood is apparently home to one of the largest Pedunculate Oak forests in Ireland, they’re dotted around through an invasion of young sycamores and there are some hefty hulks were some came down in previous storms. Charleville Castle itself is surrounded by yew trees planted in the shape of the Union Flag, which is only properly seen from above. I’ve seen it myself from the top of the castle many years ago when I did some work for the Conservation Volunteers of Ireland. (There’s a bit more about the tree, some ancient Irish trees and some obscure Irish if you like that kind of thing here)

One particularly old looking oak has an unfortunate number of gashes around it, all opening to the unquestionable proof of wide scale internal rot. I’ve always been fascinated with how life continues around a hollowing core, since all the life maintaining operations of a tree are close to the skin, closer to the outside world. This particular oak was playing host to a spectacular number of fern plants on every branch. Unfortunately the photograph below does this absolutely no justice, it is definitely one of those “come here and experience it for yourself” kinds of situations. Ferns do the trees no harm at all, and I’m quite fond of the idea of trees body modding with mosses , ferns and lichens. I had a very quick google search to try to find the correct fern variant and was tickled that my first result was a “resurrection fern” – it seemed appropriate for this particular tree – but I’m pretty sure that’s a North American plant and our native oak dwelling fern has a much less evocative name.

Further along the path, having dutifully recorded some spring flowers, I came across this little lost blossom, vibrant against the muck and all alone. I’ll have to go back and see if I can find the larch tree it came from. One of my favourite things about spring is the absolutely gorgeous soft green new growth on larches on the gnarled branches amoung the nodules and the tiny cones.

I also happened upon a HUGE bumblebee with a very fetching shade of yellow stripe. I need to get my hands on one of these http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/product/bumblebee-swatch/ so that I can make far more educated observations about them. That particular sod wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a photograph or even to properly fix his stripe and colour configuration in my head to try identifying him after the fact.

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