Thursday, February 25, 2010

Butterflies - a return visit

RHS Garden Wisley has once again been hosting a wonderful collection of butterflies in the Glasshouse. They had a similar event last year, which was such a success that they came back again this January and February. The pupae are grown in their special incubator, and trained staff move them into the tropical zone of the Glasshouse as they hatch. We saw several 'new' butterflies pumping up their wings as they rested on suitable perches, before flying off to the delight of all watching.

There are some fifteen or so different types to spot and we were lucky enough to see about half of them. They fly around the tropical plants which compete with them with their vibrant colours and flamboyant shapes. In fact as the butterflies fade away the Glasshouse staff will set up a month long display of Orchids - just in time for Mothering Sunday. When we visited today there were plenty of visitors enjoying the butterflies, but the show is coming to an end this weekend. Not to worry, as the garden has so much else to offer. After we had been in the Glasshouse, we went across to the Glasshouse cafe, just opposite for a cofee and butterfly cake before walking off into the garden in search of snowdrops and other Spring flowers.

We were soon rewarded with swathes of snowdrops under the Witch Hazels that are in wonderful bloom just now. They come in colours ranging from sharpest lemon to rose wine colour, brightening up the otherwise bare branches. This is all to be found in the Wild Garden, which borders on to the Rock Garden. Here we found banks covered in tiny cyclamen crowding in with the snowdrops, crocus and helibores, giving us plenty to feast our eyes on. The sarcococca and daphne bushes are also flowering filling the air with their heady perfume. There is always something to delight you in the Garden at Wisley.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Navigating the Wey.

A cold crisp day in February, just right for a walk and what better than along the river. Strictly the Wey Navigation isn’t the natural course of the river, but a canal built on the original non-navigable River Wey. In the seventeenth century, landowner Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Place brought the idea of navigable channels that could be used for transportation from the Netherlands and began constructing the Navigation from Guildford to Weybridge, joining the River Wey to the River Thames. It was a long and complicated task, spanning many years, but eventually in 1653 the Navigation opened. The upstream extension, the Godalming Navigation was completed in 1764. Before the completion of the waterway cargoes of gunpowder were brought by horse and cart from the powdermills at Chilworth to Guildford, along rough roads, through several villages. New gunpowder wharves were built near Shalford and the dangerous cargoes could be brought by water instead. It was this later Navigation that we proposed to walk along.
If you are in the centre of Guildford it would be sensible to start the walk from the Town Wharf where there are a couple of landmarks commemorating the history of this area; a Wey bargeman and the wharf crane. It is a very short walk from both the bus and train stations. This is the official start of the Godalming Navigation. The riverside walk is very pleasant, crossing back and forth via the town bridge bringing us to Millmead Lock. In the summer this, like all the locks along the Navigation, is very busy with narrow boat traffic gently motoring up and down the waterway. The path follows a route through the Millmeads passing boat houses and hostelries. Curving round at the Guildford Rowing Club, the path becomes a tow path passing the walled gardens of the riverside houses.

On this February morning, we soon reached St Catherine’s Bridge and the golden sand just beyond. This is where the ford – the gold ford that gave Guildford its name, was and it was used by the many travellers coming to the St Catherine’s Fair held around the Abbey on the hill top. This is almost the end of the houses by the river and the path continued into meadows, reminding us of familiar Dutch landscapes of canals and trees stretching bare fingers to the sky. We had been warned that the path can get muddy in wet weather, and although this day was fine and bright, previous rain and snow had reduced the path to a quagmire in stretches. Dog walkers out on their customary exercises were well equipped with welly boots some riotously coloured with flowers, stripes and other patterns.
The Navigation is home to lots of wildlife and birdsong filled the air. We heard many different songs, but only managed to spot a few little birds: robin, wren, bluetit, blackbird, dunnock, flitting in and out of the hedgerows. On the water, swans, geese, ducks and coots were gliding by breaking up the glassy reflections in the water.
There were also some watersport enthusiasts making excellent progress along the waterway. Lone canoeists find this an excellent stretch on which to practice, picking their kayaks up and carrying them across the locks. The narrow boats have to operate the locks under strict rules, but they always seem to be enjoying themselves with older children competing for the fun of opening and closing the gates under their captain’s supervision. But in February they are not very frequent. The reflections are mirror like, the sky becoming the water with white clouds scudding across its surface.
A little under halfway along the path we came to Broadford Bridge where the A248 crosses the waterway. Just after the bridge we found Stonebridge Wharf and an old gunpowder store hidden in the trees on the far bank, a relic of earlier commerce along the Wey. If you need sustenance at this stage, there is a pub, The Parrot, just up the road to the left as you face towards Godalming. We walked on, coming quickly to Unstead Lock where the National Trust, who now look after the Navigation, are doing some work. Their green barges carrying some hefty equipment are moored here. We saw evidence of tree trimming and bank supporting being carried out further along. There are also many narrow boats moored here for the winter with their curtains drawn and tarpaulins covering their back and front ‘doors’, waiting for the new season to begin.
But then there was a large double width narrow boat ahead of us, with a crowd of people spilling out onto the path. It seemed they were stopped for lunch at the Manor Inn, whose garden comes right down to the tow path. Glasses of beer in hand, the passengers were enjoying their day out on the river, albeit wrapped in jackets and scarves. Just beyond them a family was trying to rearrange themselves in a hired rowing boat; new oarsmen taking over the task in hand. Around another bend and we were passing Farncombe Boat House on the far bank, with its little cafĂ©, Hector’s. It looks very ‘Wind in the Willows’ or maybe Brambly Hedge. Again we had to walk up to the bridge approach and down the otherside, which brought us to Catershall Lock and the last stretch of the Navigation. The waterway crosses the Lammas Lands and here we spotted a heron standing tall and thin and stock still among the grasses of the wet lands. On the far bank, the small industrial estate on the edge of Godalming appeared and then the old barn at Godalming Wharf, the southernmost navigable point on the Wey, where there is a right angle bend, and the path continues to the Town Bridge.
If you make your way over the bridge you quickly come into the town of Godalming and here there is a great choice of hostelries to sustain you after your efforts. We did exactly that, choosing coffee and sandwiches in one of the town cafes, before retracing our steps to Guildford. It isn’t necessary to walk back the way you came as Godalming and Guildford are well connected. From Godalming station South West Trains run two trains per hour back to Guildford (hourly on Sundays), taking a little under 10 minutes; and Stagecoach have a frequent bus service to Guildford Friary Bus Station, but not on Sundays. It’s best to check these out beforehand.
Our walk there and back took us a little over four hours, and we enjoyed our well earned break in Godalming before the return. Although the path was muddy in parts, we were rewarded for our efforts with lots of fresh air and some beautiful wildlife and views across this historic landscape.