Sunday 26 July 2009

This Is Not a Chalkhill Blue

I went for a walk yesterday in the Surrey Hills, along a stretch of the North Downs Way that was previously part of the Pilgrims' Way. Delightful it was too, with plenty of climbs and descents through varied habitat - woodland (predominantly yew), patches of down and grassland, and abandoned chalkpits and lime works which have reverted to 'nature'. I was hoping to see Chalkhill Blues and perhaps Silver Spotted Skippers, but I didn't spot either, and the Blues were predominantly Common Blues (as pictured) - common but uncommonly beautiful. A high point of the walk was butterfly hunting (sans net, eyes only) in an abandoned chalk quarry which was flowering gloriously with wild marjoram, scabious, vipers' bugloss and all manner of ground plants - not to mention masses of that most butterfly-friendly invader, Buddleia. In the hot sun, with the pungent scent of the marjoram, you could almost think yourself on a Mediterranean hillside... But all this was of course on the edge of suburbia, less than an hour from the centre of London. As it was a sunny Saturday - on what I assumed to be a well-walked route, easily reached by car or public transport - I had expected to meet a steady stream of walkers. And yet - and here is my point, if I have one - in a mid-morning walk of an hour and a half, I met a party of four on foot, and one young man on a trail bike. That was all. It was only when I arrived at the obvious 'beauty spots' of Box Hill that people began to appear in numbers - but even there, as I walked over the top and down the dip slope, I had the place to myself for much of the time. I'm not complaining, of course - far better solitude than crowds - but it does strike me as extraordinary that so few people avail themselves of the beauty and enjoyment that is to be found on their doorstep. Perhaps they're simply not aware of it, or, having got out the habit of walking, they daren't venture far beyond the beauty spot car parks. Or perhaps they're sitting at home lamenting that all our countryside and wildlife has been lost. Get up, I'd say to them, get out, look around you - it's there for the finding.


  1. We're very fond of the New Forest - even in high season you can walk for hours and meet almost no-one, until you get near a car park.

  2. I, too, saw a Common Blue on Saturday, Nige, flitting futilely among the ivy leaves at the front of the house. As always, I thought of Pnin:

    “A score of small butterflies, all of one kind, were settled on a damp patch of sand, their wings erect and closed, showing their pale undersides with dark dots and tiny orange-rimmed peacock spots along the hindwing margins; one of Pnin’s shed rubbers disturbed some of them and, revealing the celestial hue of their upper surface, they fluttered around like blue snowflakes before settling again.”

  3. Ah I'm glad you have them over there too Patrick.
    It was a Blue that Nabokov named, wasn't it? He's not quietly smuggling it into his fiction there, is he?

  4. Yes he is! It's the Karner Blue - some way down this, if you can make it out...