Monday, 8 February 2016

Aston Rowant Nature Reserve and Watlington Hill

I have been beetling up and down the M40 to Oxford every day for the last couple of weeks. On my way home each day, I'm cheered by the sight of the Chilterns stretching ahead of me. Then as I get close to my exit on the motorway, Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve appears on the hillside and I know I'm nearly home.
The M40 cuts Aston Rowant Nature Reserve in two, with Beacon Hill on the
left and Bald Hill on the right
The reserve is an amazing site with large areas of chalk grassland rich in orchids and butterflies, including the silver-spotted skipper and chalkhill blue. I've spent many happy days climbing around on the slopes and it's a real treat to catch a glimpse of it every day, even if it is at 70 miles an hour. You can read about some of our adventures where we found rose moss, chiltern gentian, juniper, lots of butterflies, early purple orchids and many other treasures herehere and here. I'm very much looking forward to getting back out there in a few weeks!

The motorway cuts the reserve in two and gouges a deep scar through the hillside. It caused outrage 50 years ago when the motorway was first built, acting as one of the triggers to the formation of the Chiltern Society, who still aim to protect the beauty of the Chilterns. Today the planned route of the HS2 high speed rail line causes similar levels of outrage locally and the Chiltern Society (and many other groups) are working hard to limit the damage to one of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When I see the motorway cut through the Chilterns today, I think of home. I'm not sure I will ever feel the same way about a high speed rail line hurtling through our wonderful countryside!

Earlier in the morning I took the dog for a walk on Watlington Hill, which is the next hill over in the chain, to the right of the picture above. It has some fantastic views across the Oxford Plain, Didcot to the left and back towards Aston Rowant Nature Reserve to the right.

Aston Rowant  Nature Reserve in the distance
The gorse was in flower, splashing the hillside with sunshine yellow. Such a cheery site on a cold, windy Februrary morning!

You are always guaranteed to see red kites on Watlington Hill and often get an unusual view of them floating on the wind below you on the hillside. I'm used to looking up and seeing them, but it seems strange to look down on their backs as they enjoy twisting and turning in the wind.

It was great to be out in the fresh air again and I'm looking forward to Spring more than ever now.

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