Rural Reading: Tiptoe through the mushroomsBy Adrian Lawson
November 25, 2011
One of my local walks is along the old branch line through the Kennet meadows from Southcote to Coley.
Ever since the trains stopped running in the 1980s it has become a popular walk with local people. It isn’t signposted and it is hard to find, and oddly it isn’t even a proper path. It is a great, if short, walk.
Over the years though it has changed a lot. When I first found it more than 20 years ago it was much more open than it is now. There were some old oak trees, some of which were peculiarly stunted, a few wild cherries, hawthorns and some apple trees. The ground though was very open, and grassy.
Growing all along the track were a great variety of wildflowers, and in places there were a few patches of brambles.
There were views over the surrounding fields that have now gone. The whole embankment is now overgrown, silver birch and ash trees have sprung up, the hawthorn has spread, and the bramble patches are many times larger than they were.
Most of the wildflowers have gone, shaded out. I found one cowslip last spring, and the wild strawberries, always bigger fatter and juicier than other wild ones elsewhere, only grow in one tiny patch. They used to grow from one end to the other.
Now though the trees have shaded out most of the ground flora, and walking along the track is like walling in a tunnel. I went there this week and where the flowers used to be there is now an amazing array of fungi.
This is the best time of year for fungi, and usually it is old woodlands and pasture that have the greatest variety. The forms are astonishing, great flat caps of the parasols, the fairy tale red and white fly agarics, the tiny little stag horns, and the succulent looking puffballs.
I just marvel at their variety and how they have come to be so abundant on an old abandoned railway track.