The easiest access to the Reserve is from the southern end, so the plan is to walk up through the Reserve from the bottom, along the higher part of the valley, then drop down to the stream when I reach the northern boundary, where I left off walking last time, then continue my walk back down the stream in the direction it flows.
|View from stile by Snows Farmhouse|
The brook crosses the path just before the reserve and I become temporarily geographically challenged as I try to work out whether it's the Slad Brook here, or the Dillay. This end of the valley is confusing, with its various arms, not all of which can be seen from this angle.
|The 'Roman Bridge'|
I walk up the bank towards the gate of the reserve under a canopy of alder and hazel trees. This morning, before setting out, I looked up the difference between alder and hazel leaves because there have been a lot of them in my walks so far and the identification issue has been getting to me. Teeth, that's the point (ho ho). Hazels have toothed leaves.
Through the gate, down the hill and across the brook into the reserve proper. There is wild garlic still in bloom down by the brook, though it has long been over nearer to home, plus a tangle of ferns, nettles and tree roots. Ivy has colonised the trunk of a fallen tree, the ivy still growing though the tree is not, and wildflowers have sprung up along the trunk in the spaces between the ivy stems.
Ivy is becoming one of the themes of these walks. A little higher up the valley is a pair of ash trees held in a deep embrace by ivy stems as thick as a well-grown sapling. Looking at their sinuous lines, I can see why people of older times thought of ivy as feminine.
On up the valley, in a little grove of (pause for study of leaves) hazel trees, I find signs of industrious digging into the roots of the trees, lots of scratched earth and a hole that looks too big for rabbits. Fox, perhaps? A little further on, a hank of dark hair caught on a hawthorn branch, low to the ground. The strands are long and soft. I fantasise about a mysterious Beast of Snows Farm (a cross between a jaguar and a persian cat). Not here just now, obviously, or the deer I've just spotted grazing by the treeline wouldn't be hanging about. The deer doesn't see me at first, and just for once, the wind is from him to me. I cautiously reach for my binoculars and he raises his head, but doesn't actually move until I put them to my eyes, at which point he legs it smartly. Which seems to support a pet theory of mine, which is that black binocs might just look a lot like a gun, from the viewpoint of a distant deer.
I've now reached a point where the slope down to the stream below me is so steep that it's almost like standing on the edge of a cliff, and the view up and down the valley is stunning. Pause for breakfast (egg sandwiches) and to watch a group of horses, on the opposite slope, indulging in early-morning rolling in the grass. The layout of the valley is clearer from up here and I'm able to disentangle my earlier geographical muddle; the hill on the other side is The Scrubs, the valley branching off from it must be Driftcombe.
|Snows Farm anthills|
Onward and upward, I locate the ruins of 'the Old Shop' - four low, broken walls, one of which has a tree growing out of it. The reserve leaflet says the old shop supplied bread and (coyly) ‘other, more colourful services’. According to Patricia Hopf, it may also have been an aleshop and a brothel. All essentials under one roof, then - forerunner of the Tesco Metro. Only not quite. Now, it is fast disappearing under the onslaught of tree roots, brambles and moss. A couple of great tits have set up home in a hole in the back wall - I can see them nipping in and out with great regularity and a calm disregard of my presence, so it looks as though they have a brood to feed.
There are more dark hairs clinging to the stile outside the Old Shop, so the Snows Farm Beast was here too. With strange beasts in my thoughts, I notice a truly HUGE triangular bird box in a nearby tree and wonder what it's designed to attract. Owl? Buzzard? Vulture?
|New ferns: jewellery designs?|
It certainly doesn't work too well while trying to navigate around this reserve. Finding the way is not straightforward; there are unexpected fences and the path disappears regularly. I find myself following sinuous little animal paths. There are signs of animals to be seen - a large hole which must surely be a fox's earth under the roots of a beech tree, a series of molehills, a lot of deer prints in the mud down by a tiny tributary stream running down to the main brook. The brook itself is fenced off here; I wonder what the local animals make of these fences which cut across their paths, even cutting across the brook in places. I give up on trying to locate the human path and climb dangerously over barbed wire to get down to the brook. From the other side, it's easier to see what's what and I can spot the fence marking the upper end of the Reserve, and the path and footbridge I should have taken. I can also see a flock of interesting sheep with shaggy, dark brown fleeces and little horns. Now I know where the mysterious dark hairs came from. So much for the Snows Farm Beast.
|Beasts of Snows Farm|
Google map of this walk