Following the many footpaths that criss-cross our island is an excellent way of keeping fit, seeing the countryside and enjoying the great outdoors. In 2006 my husband and I set out to walk the length of the River Teme in the company of two friends who were fellow residents of the valley. Fourteen years and thirteen long-distance paths later, we arrived at the Worcestershire Beacon on a sunny day in July to celebrate 1000 miles of walking together. Looking back over our rambles, many of them in the beautiful Welsh Marches, I wondered how much wildlife we had seen and what had been our most memorable encounters. Admittedly, four people chattering along a narrow path is not the ideal way to find God’s creatures, but we did have some interesting moments.
Deer were the largest animals we met. On the Mortimer Trail we were lucky to spy a good-sized herd of the unusual long-haired fallow deer that inhabit the Mortimer Forest. They are unique to that place and are thought to have been there since Norman times. Occasionally we had a glimpse of the larger red deer, but these were invariably sprinting away as we emerged from woodland into quiet valleys. Badgers, foxes, stoats, rabbits and rodents all kept their distance, but we enjoyed looking at their tracks, especially when newly printed in snow. The best sightings were of hares, starting up from the long grass and jinking off out of danger with long ears bobbing. Wonderful!
Birds were easier to spot. Many of our walks were accompanied by skylarks and we were frequently soared over by red kites. High up the Carding Mill valley we reversed the situation by looking down on a kite hunting below, whilst at the same time a cuckoo called in the distance. Sometimes we saw birds we didn’t recognise. On the Teme at Martley a flock of smart water-birds proved to be a group of female goosanders and on brassica fields near Bredon we came upon a pair of yellow wagtails. By water we caught the odd flash of kingfisher blue and saw lots of herons, both real and plastic. Once we came upon a dark pond lined with half-dead trees. In the branches were perched dozens of hunched-up herons, looking very disconsolate on a wet, Welsh, winter day.
More lively were insects. My interest in dragonflies meant that sometimes I was able to contribute a few records for the farer-flung parts of Worcestershire. Out with the field-guide though, for some busy yellow moths fluttering along a sunny woodland edge. These were brimstone moths and just as beautiful as their namesake butterflies.
We saw lots of flowers. I had my first sightings of early purple orchids on The Worcestershire Way, Moschatel on the Offa’s Dyke Path and autumn crocus on the Herefordshire Trail. Over the years we covered many types of terrain from lowland arable and meadowland to upland pasture, moor and marshland. We enjoyed countless stunning views of the countryside, deepening our love for the wonderful area we live in. We only hope that the next 1000 miles will be as fine as the first.