Sally Rankin led a circular walk on Wednesday 15 December, starting from the Flowerpot Hotel at Aston, to the north-east of Henley-on-Thames. It was a mild, cloudy morning, with the temperature rising from 12C to 13C during the walk. After a short stretch along Aston Lane, the route led eastwards along a footpath across farmland, part of the Berkshire section of the Chiltern Way. The ground dropped away steeply to the north, with extensive views across the valley of the Thames to the wooded hills of the Chilterns. White Dead-nettle was in flower beside the path, there were pink berries on the Spindle and a Robin was singing in a nearby copse. The walk continued down Remenham Church Lane towards the village. A Kestrel was spotted, perched in a tree in an adjoining field. Despite the strength of recent gales, there were still a surprising number of leaves on some of the trees, including a Hazel and a Wych Elm. A Redwing and a female Chaffinch were seen in a big Yew in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church in Remenham. More Redwings and a chacking Fieldfare were calling from the tops of the big Lime trees on the other side of the lane. Ivy-leaved Toadflax was in flower on an old flint wall and Hart’s-tongue Fern was growing at the base of one of the stone tombs. In one of the adjoining gardens, a Mistle Thrush was perched below a big clump of Mistletoe, protecting its winter berry supplies. Pellitory-of-the-wall was growing along the base of the wall at the side of the quiet lane which led down towards the river. The next section of the walk followed the Thames Path northwards along the river bank towards Temple Island. The river was busy with rowers, which meant that, apart from a couple of Mallards, there were few water birds to be seen. A big flock of geese were grazing in the grassy pasture to the right of the path. They were mostly Canada Geese, plus a few Greylag and Egyptian Geese. A Buzzard perched in the top of a tree. Scentless Mayweed was in flower beside the path, while on the river bank, flowering Hogweed and Wild Angelica were seen. A Pied Wagtail fed busily on the lawn on Temple Island. In a patch of reeds next to a bankside Alder, a male Stonechat was flying up from and returning to its perch, while the female was spotted on the wire fence on the other side of the path. Further downstream, a moored pontoon and barge marked the location of bank restoration work. Gulls were flying above the water at the approach to Hambleden Lock. Most were Black-headed Gulls, with white wing tips, but there were also several Common Gulls, with white mirror-marks on black wing-tips. Below the weir at Hambleden Mill, there were no rowers to disturb the birds and here a Great Crested Grebe and several Grey Herons were seen. After a short stretch along the river bank, the final section of the route followed Aston Lane back to the village. There were still a few withered black berries on an Alder Buckthorn bush at the side of the lane. In an adjoining field, a flock of Goldfinches twittered as they fed busily at the top of a tall tree, while a flock of Fieldfares perched at the top of an adjacent tree. Most of the group stayed for lunch at the Flowerpot Hotel. Amazingly for mid-December, this was eaten in the garden, which was thought to be the safest place at a time of rapidly-increasing numbers of cases of the newly-arrived Omicron variant of the Covid virus.
Pictures by Jim Wills