Sunday 31 August 2008

How I Spent the Summer

Pounding rain. Grey skies. Thunder prowling in the distance. The one-day English summer is at an end - but it was good, very good. Speeding early from the house, I headed straight for my regular haunt of Ashtead Common, where I saw nothing of great note (bar a possible sighting of a Brown Hairstreak), but was accompanied every step of the way by an ever-changing multitude of these common but very beautiful creatures of the sun-dappled woodland rides. The picture does them no justice - a fresh specimen (as most of these were, so clearly they at least are having a good summer) is a gloriously rich velvety dark brown, freckled with cream and dotted with bright eyespots. If we saw them only once in a while, they would be real heartstoppers. As it is, they are the perfect accompaniment to a woodland walk - and they even seem to enjoy the company, flying up close as if in greeting before returning to the trees and the brambles.
The common being a mix of wood and open ground - much of the latter studded with dead pollard oaks, stark, silvery and Gothick - I followed the Keatsian prescription and sank into a pleasant lair of wavy grass for a while (though I hadn't packed a debonair and gentle tale of love and languishment). It was, in a word, bliss... And I had the whole of the common almost to myself - I can't have seen more than a dozen or so souls all morning, and three of them were runners, so they don't count. Do people not realise what they have on their own doorstep (this is the edge of suburbia, houses all around, road and rail) - or is The Country now something you have to pile into a car and drive miles to see, and Walking something you have to buy lots of equipment for, then pile into a car and drive miles to do?
Later in the day - still gloriously sunny - Carshalton's Wilderness Island (which, when I was boy, truly lived up to its name) proved equally deserted - but for a man with a butterfly net! There's something you don't see every day. I engaged him (briefly) in conversation of an aurelian bent, and when the subject got on to Hairstreaks, he pointed out a nearby oak that was home to the Purple Hairstreak - and informed me that he'd also found eggs of the White-Letter Hairstreak. Eggs, mark you. I realised at this point that, as a mere dabbler and bluffer, I was out of my depth. The conversation petered out in meteorological laments and we went our separate ways. It's good to know that some people are taking notice of what's there. Serious notice.


  1. Wilderness Island looks like a wonderful spot in the photo! And what a great name, plus "between the banks of the River Wandle," sounds like a setting right out of The Shire. Do Tooks and Brandybucks fish its chortling waters?

    So glad you had a great day and good weather.

  2. Hoho - nothing Tolkienish about Wilderness Island, I can assure you, Susan. Actually, if it was 'between the banks', it would be the Wandle, wouldn't it? It's between two branches of the river, on the site of what was once, in a rather half-hearted way, a kind of watery pleasure garden attached to one of the big houses. Broken-down jetties, boathouses, moorings, etc. As a boy I'd get through the fence and explore at leisure, when it really was wild. Much tidied up now.

  3. I thought it was an island in the stream, as in the Mississippi and other big rivers.

    Sounds like a great place to explore. I grew up on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, and spent long days doing just that. Found huge shark's teeth, Indian pottery, and all sorts of flora and fauna to examine.