Friday, 2 January 2009

The misty Downs

Today I walked on Durdam Down and Clifton Down in Bristol. Situated on the edge of Avon Gorge, this park has a long history of common usage. There is archaeological evidence of Romano British field systems and in 883 A.D. there was an Anglo Saxon charter which established grazing rights for an area incorporating much of the current park and residential land. Throughout the middle ages the use of the land was controlled by the Manors of Clifton and Henbury, who permitted restricted grazing, felling and mining activity. Much more recently the Merchant Venturers and the Corporation of Bristol (a sort of local council) teamed up to protect the land that was being encroached by mining and building activity. They purchased land from the Manor holders and protected it by an act of Parliament: the Clifton and Durdham Downs Act received royal assent on 17 May 1861, making the downs an “open and unenclosed as a place of public resort for the citizens and inhabitants of Bristol”. A fuller account of its history can be found here.

There are some beautiful trees on the Downs, I photographed some during a misty thaw late this morning:

There are many Lindens or Limes (genus Tilia), I am not sure of the species of most of them, there seems to be a considerable variation within the population and the Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) commonly hybridizes with the Large-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos) to make the Common Lime (Tilia x europaea or Tilia x vulgaris). Some of these trees have strikingly beautiful deep red leaf buds during the winter with brick red year old growth. The specimen habit of these trees is wonderful.

There are also some fantastic Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) on the Downs; this is by far the largest.

Here is a smaller Common Ash. I used to regard ash as a bit of a weed with its seemingly untidy habit, coarse growth structure and tendency to set seed everywhere (producing vigorous and tenacious saplings). I have now grown to love its shabby elegance, particularly when allowed to grow as a single specimen. Ashes growing in the mountains or exposed coasts also take on the most magnificent contorted forms.

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