From out of the woods came voices of the well-contented doves. The lark could scarce get his notes for joy; but shook his song together as he neared his happy home the ground. Alfred Lord Tennyson, Born on August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England.
Yesterday our walk took us along part of the footpath known as John Ray Walk. John Ray was born in the Essex village of Black Notley in 1627 and died in 1705. He became known as the father of British Natural History and spent a lifetime describing and classifying plants in Britain, Europe and beyond. The development of the John Ray Walk was a partnership between the John Ray Trust, Essex County Council, and Braintree District Council.
John’s father, Roger was a blacksmith and his mother, Elizabeth was a herbalist. He gained his love of nature from her as they went gathering plants from the countryside around their home. When reflecting on his childhood he wrote as a young boy he saw how frequently the flowers of the buttercup were in the gardens near his home. The route is marked out with a buttercup flower.
Though John Ray Walk covers over 9 miles and links the towns of Braintree and Witham together, we followed a short part of it. The route took us past Whiteheads farm.
Ist Slide: a rough guide of our route: 2nd Slide: John Ray Walk: 3rd Slide: Path: 4th Slide: View towards Cressing Temple: 5th Slide: 13th Century Knights Templar Barns: 6th Slide: Whiteheads Farm: 7th Slide: track to the Woods
The first wood we entered is know as Tarecroft Wood. Both Rivenhall Thicks and Tarecroft were part of an ancient woodland that was part of the Knight Templar estate. At one time within Rivenhall Thicks a small farm was carved out as depicted on a 1716 map. The mass woodland that stretched across the area from Cressing Temple barns to Rivenhall Church was probably the secondary colonization following the Black Death, but the research I found online suggests that Tarecroft Wood is a relict of the former wild wood, or derived directly from it.
Ancient woods are irreplaceable. One way of dating a wood near you is by the different plants and trees found growing there. The biodiversity of a wood has accumulated over hundreds of years. Bluebell, wood anemone, primrose, wild garlic, barnacle lichen, Lungwort lichen, Guelder Rose, Small-leaved Lime, Wild Service tree, spindle are a good sign of how long the wood has been there, as well as early flowering purple orchids too. Not forgetting the more common bigger trees such as oak, beech and elm too.
Arum maculatum also known as Cuckoo pint named in Nicholas Culpepers’ famous 17th-century herbal. The word Pint is a shortened pintle meaning penis derived from the shape of the spadix within flower. Another name for the plant in 1601 was Wake Robin, meaning, erect penis.
Dog’s Mercury is another good indicator that the woods are ancient. All parts of plant are poisonous and can induce jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting and even death, but it is great for wild life such as some species of ground-nesting birds like woodcock who are drawn to areas colonised with dog’s mercury. Speckled bush cricket nymphs feed on the leaves, along with other species including beetles, weevils, springtails and molluscs.
English Bluebells bulbs were once used for making glue and starch for stiffen the elaborate ruffs worn by the Eliazbethans but nowadays digging up the bulbs for any purpose is illegal. Trampling-down leaves are as threatening to the survival of the English bluebells. The plant can survive without its flowers, but if the leaves are crushed it will die from lack of light that feeds it.
In the Rivenhall Thicks we met the owner of the woods who was busy working. On a ten year cycle he cuts back different areas of the underwood to sell it for making and laying hedges and fences. Most common underwood in Rivenhall Thicks is hazel, though the owner told us he had lost much of his ash trees due to Ash-dieback which has devastated our countryside.
1st Slide: Spurge laurel, Ivy and Primrose: 2nd Slide: red dead nettle: 3rd Slide: Cowslip or Paigle: 4th Slide: summer snowflake: 5th Slide: Woodpecker old nest 6th Slide: Swan on its nest by the Lake 7th Slide Wych Elm seeds. The word Wych is a Anglo-Saxon word meaning pliable. The tree has a greater resistance to dutch elm disease. 8th Slide: Coppicing in the woods.
I hope you enjoyed my walk through the history of the area where I live. Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll be back for another chat with you soon.