“…Long days, bright summer clothes and luxuriant plant life.”

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July, our seventh and warmest month was named after the famous Roman general, Julius Caesar.

For lovers of the big outdoors, July is a favoured month, associated with summer holidays, long days, bright summer clothes and luxuriant plant life.

July can also claim to be a time for fragrant flowers.  And at Lydiard Park, visitors are likely to experience the scent of honeysuckle walking in the woodland in the evening.  Walking around our lakes will provide the delicious aroma provided by the creamy white blooms of meadowsweet, which flower this time of year.

Also lingering near our hedgerows may provide a chance to sample the perfume of the pink blooms of wild rose or ‘dog rose’. Also known as briar, dog rose is scientifically labelled as Rosa canina.  The simple beauty of the five petals, with every shade from pure white to deep pink, has the advantage that its petals do not wilt and curl as the complex cultivated rose blooms do.  The wild rose has long been associated with everlasting love in folklore and literature.  And with the arrival of the colder darker months, the wild rose will provide in the place of every bloom of summer a vivid scarlet ‘hip’, or seed case.  These liven up our hedgerows in winter, and during WWII provided vitamin C in the form of rose hip syrup. Other uses include a source of ‘itchy powder’ for school boys to dispense down other children’s necks!  Wildlife, such as birds and mice use the hips as a food source.

Also at Lydiard Park, on the side of the paths on the western edge of the estate, visitors may spot the Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) with its creamy yellow blooms which are at their best in July. The hips of the Burnet rose provide round globes coloured a dark purple in hedgerows later in the year.

Two other plants that are to be seen in July, often at the water’s edge are the teasel and burdock, both with a prickly character.  The teasel is noticeable for its architecture, with the big round seed heads that are a favourite for flower arranging when dried.  It is also used traditionally to raise the nap on cloth, which utilises the spine like bracts to ‘tease’ the cloth.  You are bound to come across one in the Park, if so, make a point of looking at the cup like formation where the leaves merge with the stem.  These often hold rainwater with added dead insects.  There are suggestions that teasel may be a carnivorous plant because of this feature.

Burdock is another tall plant (up to 2 metres) that also has clinging seed heads (burrs) which utilise animals to distribute their seeds.  But in practice it is often wool garments and dogs coats that fulfil this function at the Park!   Interestingly the burdock taproot is edible, mainly in Japan and China, but has many herbal applications in the west. And lastly burdock provided the inspiration for the invention of Velcro. Seek one out and admire the attractive form, purple flowers and large leaves up to 2 feet long.

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Image: Peacock Butterfly, CC courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Flickr.

 

July sees insect life at its peak.  Butterflies are at their best on sunny days, which allow for nectar production, which is the sole source of food for butterflies. There is a good chance that a visit on a sunny July day will give the chance to spot; red admirals, painted ladies, tortoiseshells, large and small whites and peacocks. The peacock butterfly, with its ‘bird eye’ on its wings, shows the pleasing side of stinging nettles, as the adults lay olive green eggs on the underside of nettle leaves.  These hatch into black caterpillars, which look quite scary with spines and white dots on the black body.  This caterpillar turns into an unusual chrysalis which possesses metallic markings.

Sunny days also provide a good chance to spot the iridescent colours displayed by dragonflies and damselflies near our lakes at Lydiard.  It is worth taking time to observe dragonflies hunting insects over and around the lakes.  With incredible skill they predate other small insects, and can achieve flight speeds of 50mph!  There are some 30 species in the U.K. Although as a dragonfly nymph they can live and feed under water for about 2 to 3 years, their winged adult form lives from 7 months to little more than a month.  So there is no need to seek tropical climes to see such brightly coloured insects, when they can be seen at Lydiard Park this month.

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Image: Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) male juvenile, CC courtesy of CharlesJSharp on Wikimedia Commons.

 

Another insect delight in July is the crickets and grasshoppers chorus in the undergrowth.  This is a personal favourite of mine, taking me back to all the past camping holidays over the years.

The next Lydiard Park Warden event is pond dipping on Friday 18th August, running from 11am to midday and from 1pm to 2pm. This will allow our younger visitors (ideal for 5s and over) to use nets and identification charts to learn first hand about the mini–beasts that live beneath the surface of the lake. This is a bookable event (01793 465270) and costs £3 per child.

So there is plenty to see and do at Lydiard Park in the month of July, and ponder the thought that, “being close to nature enhances our lives”.

Mark Eborn.

 

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December is here!

dsc05216With some foreboding we enter the last month of the year, typified by long dark nights and brief days.  December was originally the tenth month of the Roman calendar, hence the Latin ‘Dec.’ December is however, the first month of winter and contains the winter solstice on the 21st, after which ones spirits can be boosted by the lengthening days.  But in our culture, the preparation and preoccupation with our great winter festival of Christmas often means one is conveniently distracted from the low point of the natural world by a profusion of coloured lights and glittering decorations.

Christmas, being primarily to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or the Nativity, is intimately blended with pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The Roman world celebrated Saturnalia over the Christmas period, which was typified by much feasting, drinking and cross-dressing!  But more relevant to our culture, many of our Christmas traditions come from the pagan solstice festival, known as Yuletide. It is from the Norse and Celtic elements we owe the use of the Christmas tree (Norway Spruce) Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, and other evergreens. Lydiard Park hosts these species, but we are yet to locate any mistletoe.

Fitting in with this long tradition, Lydiard House will be festively adorned with traditional foliage collected from the grounds of Lydiard Park. Lydiard’s Country House Christmas runs from 9th to the 23rd December 2016.

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And if you wish to have a go at natural decorations there is an event at Lydiard on 10th December, entitled, ‘Deck the Halls’. Participants collect the green materials and afterwards produce natural decorations, helped by the Estate and Parkland Team.  This bookable event runs from 10am to 3pm and costs £20, which includes a light lunch, mince pie and a warm drink.

Generally in the countryside, December’s flavour is a bleak time with colour leached from the landscape, although this year the autumn colours were strikingly good and largely stayed on the trees until Storm Angus.  And modern life with its riot of coloured images, merely serve to make December drabber.  But looking at the hedgerows one can spot points of colour, such as the remaining scarlet rose hips, known as heopes in Anglo – Saxon, used in those days as a winter fruit and doubtless helped keeping scurvy at bay. Haws, of a darker red hue persist on the hawthorn trees in our hedgerows. Other red fruits to be seen include the berries on the female Yew trees, in which Lydiard is well represented. Although the hungry birds have been active, some ‘snotty gogs’ or ‘snottle berries’ remain. Please note the seeds within the berries are toxic to humans, although they pass through the bird without problems. Significantly, yew was used to denote a site of pagan worship, with many churches possessing a pre-existing yew tree in the church yard. There are yew specimens whose age predates the birth of Christ. Our yew at Lydiard’s St Mary’s Church is well worth seeking out. It is thought to be some 800 years old, and is a female tree, so in most years bear red berries.

The bright greens of moss and lichens stand out against the bleached ruins of the year’s growth, observable in the Church Yard of St Mary’s. At this low point of the year one may spot the tips of snowdrop bulbs, preparing to reassure us the eventual return of the new season of plant growth.

Although bird song is scarce at Christmas time, do look out for the subject of so many Christmas cards, the robin.  It is easy to spot because it readily comes close to people. It does however sing at this time with a sweet melodious song, which is to denote its territory.

Finally, if you tire of eating and drinking over the holidays, Lydiard can be an excellent place to get some exercise and fresh air, and look out for the natural features pointed out in this blog.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to one and all.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

Lydiard Park Honey

The Apiary is situated close to the Walled Garden, where the bees forage for nectar and pollen. The nectar is liquid that the bees turn into honey, the pollen is used by the bees as their protein to feed their young.IMG_0188

The nectar and pollen will combine to give trace elements in the honey, this has been found to help with hay fever systems and other allergies.

Honey Make-up

17 to 18% water content, these years Lydiard Honey is measured at 17.4%.

35% Glucose (Dextrose)

40% Fructose (Levulose).

4% other sugars

3% Other substances.

The other substances will cover, Organic acids, minerals, free amino acids, proteins and the pollens from the forage area of the bees.

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Lydiard Honey on sale in the Coach House Tea Rooms and Lydiard House

Honey has a built-in antibacterial substance based upon the production of peroxide by an enzyme, which is added by the bees. This active sterility of honey has caused it to be used for wound dressing, without any side effects upon healthy tissue and the fact that it does not dry out.

To clear crystallised honey, remove the metal top and place the jar in a microwave for 20 seconds to just warm the honey, if you heat it over 45 Deg C. you will kill the beneficial parts within the honey and revert to very tasty sugar.

Stephen Greenaway, Lydiard Beekeeper.

A Roman Road in Lydiard Park

Philip A Rowbotham

When people think of Roman roads in Britain the majority only consider the main named highways between the larger towns such as Ermin Street, Stane Street, Akeman Street and Watling Street. In the case of this particular selection of road names which have the suffix “street” added to them, they were identified by the Anglo-Saxons for no better reason than that they were straight and therefore they used their word “streat” or “strete” to describe them. The use of “street” to denote roman roads is not confined to main roads however but to many of the minor ones as well, although care must be taken in built-up areas.

It was the name “Hook” with its suffix “street” which provided the first clue to the fact that a section of Roman road almost certainly existed between the western outskirts of Swindon; running from the roundabout on Whitehill Way towards the hamlet of Hook situated on the road from Royal Wooton Bassett to Purton. In an easterly direction the road most probably provided a connection to the Roman pottery kilns at Toothill Farm. In the west it can be detected as a longitudinal hump in the right hand field next to Lower Hook Street Farm, further along on the right hand side by the graveyard and finally at the left by Old School House Restaurant.   There is also a possibility that the roman road splits into two just before the caravan park, with a right hand section heading towards the Bolingbroke public house.

By use of Google aerial photographs, an examination was made of the whole of the route and this showed the characteristic parallel “parch-marks” lines caused by differential vegetation growth in the ditches either side of a Roman road, within the present southern boundary of the Park. This small section runs westward [approx: 280 degrees] from the “tradesman’s entrance” to the Park used by outside contractors, through Elm Plantation and parallel to the start of the existing single track section until rejoining the modern road again prior to No 24 Hook Street.

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Google “parch-marks” with resistivity superimposed.

(After: Google Maps/Archeoscan.)

A further check was carried out to ensure that the parallel lines showing on the Google map were not made in the immediate passed, and a comparison was made with the aerial photo’s taken by the RAF just after the last world war. These showed that what Google map was showing was not recent since the parallel marks were also present in 1952. Finally, contact was made with Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre who carried out a check to ensure that no previous record existed of any roman road being found in Lydiard Park.

The first attempt at a geophysical survey using both magnetometry and resistivity was carried out in September 2013 using equipment provided and operated by Bath and Camerton Archaeology Society (BACAS), which unfortunately was unsuccessful. A second attempt, using only resistivity was carried out by Archeoscan of Gloucester on the 9th of April this year using another section of the Google “parch-mark” to the east of the first attempt. Two parallel black lines running alongside and just to the north of the Google “parch-marks” were revealed, with a slight positional discrepancy between the aerial photo and the measurements on the ground.

 Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge Swindon Borough Council for allowing access to Lydiard Park to carry out the investigation, to Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for their guidance, to Google for the use of their mapping system, to BACAS for their assistance and loan of the equipment used in first attempt and finally to Archeoscan for carrying out the successful work.