Thorpe St Andrew was, perhaps, a surprising choice for a guided walk, but it proved popular – fully booked and enjoyed. Billed as ‘hidden’ Thorpe St Andrew it was essentially a walk around the Thorpe St Andrew Conservation Area set up to protect buildings, though for our walk with more of a focus on natural elements.
We started from my home at 9:30 (just outside the Conservation Area) and, having watched a female sparrowhawk come over, we walked in the sunshine down to Yarmouth Road. It was unusual to be within sight of NWT Thorpe Marshes and not visit the nature reserve (one group member went there earlier and all have been other occasions). An early building to note was the former RSPB office at 97 Yarmouth Road, described in the conservation area’s character assessment as “a nineteenth century cottage though unpleasantly close to the busy road”.
|Thorn-apple, with fruits.|
On River Green we became the fifth Honeyguide group – following on from four ‘Norfolk breaks’ in September – to stop to admire the thorn-apple growing by a wall here this year. It was good to hear Mark from the adjacent Bishy Barney Boats know about the thorn-apple it and to report that council staff were not being over-tidy, so the plant had survived the season. It was now covered in spiny fruits, rather like a horse chestnut tree, some of which were bursting open giving hope that more will appear next year. A few metres away a real horse chestnut tree was being assessed, a fallen branch in early autumn of this ‘self-pruning’ tree having already been removed.
|The Buck and part of St Andrew's church, in Thorpe St Andrew's conservation area.|
We walked up Chapel Lane, past a higgledy-piggledy collection of cottages, soon reaching The Dell. David Armstrong was on site, who is much involved with this old pit’s management as a kind of pocket handkerchief nature reserve. David produced a pot of solidified but formerly soft chalk that had come out of the ground when his garage foundations were rebuilt, one example of a complex geology here that also includes sand, making ‘former marl pit’ perhaps an over-simplification of the steep-sided dug slopes. The sunshine was pouring into the pit, which can be somewhat shady, but it didn’t help us find the tawny owls that are often present.
|The Dell, with some autumn sunshine. A self-seeded yew is an oddity in the centre of the picture.|
We took a brief look at the attractive terrace of cottages and gardens towards the top of Chapel Lane, with passion fruit on one south-facing wall. Back on Yarmouth Road we popped into Horsewater by the River Yare, which I’d learnt last week was once used to rest and water herds of geese being walked to market.
We went up the hill past the old school, with another huge (marl?) pit to our left. Sue told us stories of growing up here. There were some fine shaggy parasol toadstools on the other side of the fence.
|A carpet of spangle galls.|
The next bit of the circuit was alongside the fenced former Pinebanks site. Many of us recalled social and sporting events here and lamented the loss of the former Norwich Union sports & social club. Progress on developing the site for housing has stalled. A notable natural history point was when we realised that the ground under an oak tree was a carpet of fallen spangle galls.
We had a few splashes of rain while we were in the former Weston Wood sand and gravel pit, which has become an excellent accidental nature reserve, a grassy central area fringed with trees. A large patch of blackthorn, spindle and aspens added interest and there were late-lingering flowers of wild carrot. The challenge to find silk button galls on oaks was accepted and met, which with an earlier oak apple and some fallen knopper galls meant we’d seen four distinctive galls on oaks this morning.
|Spangle galls again, in Weston Wood pit, with a green caterpillar later identified by Helen as green silver-lines moth.|
We returned via South Avenue, watched a kestrel plunge to the ground on the rough land this side of the railway line and then back to Thunder Lane for coffee and cake.