Sunday, 30 August 2015

Landscape Detective at Higham Gobion

From what I can remember the place in which I am now sitting is labelled 'fishponds' on the map. In front of me is a fairly large, flat triangular area of grass, perhaps about an acre in area, and surrounded by a grassy bank about six feet high at its highest. In the middle of the grass is a small rounded mound overgrown with berry laden hawthorn and blackthorn bushes. A single willow tree at one edge possibly indicates that there might be rather damp area there. With no knowledge of this place it does indeed look it might once have been a man-made fishing lake with a central island but I don't think it has seen water for many years. The field in which it lies is enclosed by a mature mixed hedgerow and the grass is unmown with loads of thistles. There is no sgn of any young scrub developing so perhaps this has been grazed in recent years. It looks quite a well established permanent pasture.

When I set out on my bike this morning I hadn't got a plan of exactly how I was going to go to Wrest Park but this place was on the way and I felt drawn to it. A heron was circling overhead when I arrived, then there was the carcophonous barking from a local kennels and then the ringing of Shillington church bells. It is grey, overcast, warm and just beginning to drizzle a little.

Dried cow pats confirm the existence of recent grazing cattle and there is sheep wool caught on lower branches of hawthorn. In some places the grass and earth appears to have been scratched away - I wonder if there are badgers about?

There are streams on three sides of the field. One is just a bit of damp soil but one on the possibly higher side could have been a feeder stream. This had a small flow of water. Along the bottom edge of the field is a larger stream about five feet below field level from which I disturb a heron just a few feet in front of me. This looks like it has been dredged in the past year or so.

There are three small rectangular depressions in the ground at the top corner of the field and these must have been smaller pools. Whereas the grasses surrounding them are a late summer brownish colour, these old depressions are filled with dark green silverweed and some rushes indicating rather damp soil. There are two badger setts beneath some hawthorn scrub with mounds of deep freshly dug orangey-brown earth outside them. Walking up and down the banks reminds me of hillfort ramparts on the Welsh border. These though are on flat ground rather than on the top of a hill.

Blue and great tits in hawthorn bushes; occasional calls from a green woodpecker; pigeons; pheasant in ground level hawthorn branch. Hear a distinctive trill-like call coming from some distant trees and then see two largish brown shapes fly off. Must be some bird of prey but not sure what.

On returning home I find out that this was probably some medieval fish ponds. Some accounts suggest this was originally thought of as a 'camp' but it is not now thought to have been a residential settlement. This isn't really a landscape in which there are many pools or ponds. Wouldn't have thought the chalk geology was suitable unless there was some clay subsoil here. Now it is possible to walk right through the area and hardly notice what lies here.

The birds of prey were probably kestrels.

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