Spring walks: Clarkson’s Wood in the afternoon of Sunday 14th May

Posted on 18th May 2017

Rain overnight, but by the time of the walk a brisk wind with sun and scudding clouds.

Naturally, whilst gathering for the walk, the talk turned to the previous night’s Eurovision which was the usual mix of exciting, boring, and completely bonkers; special mention from me for Onuka (the interval act) who had taken aspects of Ukrainian traditional music and layered on modern dance music to make us hear something new in both – much as I hope these walks have done, only with plants obviously…and in England.


Once all gathered on the corner of Cleveland street I did a quick health and safety, a thank you to Heritage Lottery who fund the project, and we set off down the hill looking out over the North Sea.

A quick diversion to look at crosswort in full flower on the old woodyard site and a discussion of the wildlife benefits of such waste sites; the white dead-nettle was flowering, as was the cow parsley – some having purple stems and others green – with the nettles, bindweed, and rosebay willowherb to flower later in the year.


And then we were off again past wood forget-me-not, red campion complete with red campion anther smut, a sprinkling of white greater stitchwort and blazing yellow bushes of broom in bloom to walk out into the middle of the viaduct and gaze out over the glorious ancient woodland of the Kilton Valley before us (it really genuinely is amazing so do go if ever you get the chance). A recap of the history of the viaduct, of how Liverton Mines village was all fields on the 1853 Ordnance Survey map and then the mines and the viaduct being built as an elegant series of arches supporting the railway line used by the mine and then the damage to one of the arch pillars and then the dumping of mine waste 100 years ago to make what we see today which is now colonised by native trees and wildflowers. Oh, and not forgetting the twelfth Century Kilton Castle ruins on one of the valley peninsulas but hidden from view below the tree canopy.


Off we went along the main track across the top of the wood then suddenly cut right to a tiny path that led down between the edge of the re-landscaped mine spoil heaps and the ancient woodland below until suddenly immersing us into the trees and the sound of birds chirping (the trill of Willow warbler (descending notes) making a pleasant change from chiffchaff and to be honest there was a lot of chiffchaffing, but then possibly because I know that one now, though perhaps not as much chirping as there had been two weeks earlier as much of the birds would be feeding young by now).


We stopped to look at a felled tree – presumably local children with an axe or mini chain saw and talked of how the trees were cut and harvested regularly in the past. Then a glimpse of a single early purple orchid before the descent of the steps to reach Kilton Beck. The toothwort, a scarce parasitic plant in white and pink, but no green ever, was sadly past its best and a little disappointing to view frankly but round the corner we were treated to more early purple orchids with their flower spikes leading the eye up the slope where we could spot them against the green of the wood anemone leaves.


A stop by the beck to see a huge cloud of mayflies dancing and swarming, then off to see the Dutch rush patch.


It being the last walk of the project there was an extra special chocolate stop that had involved a specialist internet firm and a tracked delivery in an unmarked cardboard box: we started with ‘wild gorse flower’ milk looking for notes of ‘warm coconut, toffee, walnut’, then to a 75% dark rare cacao variety for ‘luscious notes of lime, raspberry, and pecan’, a 100% Madagascan (take a small piece and let it dissolve on the tongue slowly), and finally a gritty textured Mexican-style dark cinnamon which was liked by some but not by others…but in my defence I did say it might be divisive.


Off along another seemingly random little path, over the fallen tree trunk, to descend into masses of flowering Ramsons and then stop to look at flowering wood sorrel growing on the rotting fallen tree trunks of wych elms that died during the 1980’s as a result of the Dutch Elm Disease. We started a slow ascent along the cobbled road then stopped to admire a cluster of white native bluebell amongst the blue.


I decided to take a small detour so we could visit and experience something very old, so we turned right and walked in the dappled sunlight amongst the white stars of greater stitchwort and the arched blue of bluebells along the edge of the beck until stopping in front of a multi-trunked tree on the other side of the beck.


The tree, just coming into leaf and beginning to topple over the beck, was a small-leaved lime and multi-trunked because it had been coppiced and the wood harvested in the past… each time it was cut, new shoots grew from the cut stump and so the tree would gradually move outwards from where it had first germinated much like a fairy ring does but slower.


To one side was more small-leaved lime, a semi-circle of at least what? 6-8 m across? So old that the original seedling could have germinated perhaps 500 years ago, each successive cutting down and harvesting of timber causing it to grow back a little wider, a little further away from its starting point. And the lime tree was valuable in the medieval period, when Kilton Castle was still in use, for the strong rope that could be made from the inner part of its bark.


Then back through the bluebells up to see another small-leaved lime clinging to the cliff-face and just at bud-burst (which shows genetic diversity amongst the small-leaved lime population here)before the long slow climb up the steps to the top of the wood led as we had been throughout the walk by a lovely patient little dog (Milly, I think, no-one ever needed to call so I can’t remember) and then back to a brisk wind and the realisation that the last walk of the project – nearly two miles long – had taken four hours.


thank you 🙂