The Fields and Woods of Winthorpe - 50 Years Ago

Bartholomew Howlett's Engraving of the Village Green - 1807.In summer time, when the sun always seemed to shine, we would set off for long walks. These were always on Sunday evenings. My father, sister and I would walk on well-worn paths across fields, through woods, by the river or stream, generally about seven or eight miles.

We loved to go to the Carr Farm Woods. The great Shire and Suffolk horses stood at the gates, towering above us as we walked through them. Our first stop was the keeper's gibbet at the first wood. There, on a long line, stretched between two trees were remains of magpies, jays, crows, jackdaws, kestrels and sparrow hawks, stoats and weasels. The vivid blue of the jays' wings stood out among the battered corpses. My father wore some of these feathers in his trilby, as did most of the men of the village.

Along the wood side, in the long grass, meadow blues and browns, the black and red of the cinnabar moths, the white ermine moths and others, of many hues, rose from the grass as we walked along. Yellow hammers sang in the hedges and-larks soared high in the blue.

Wild Flowers, Woods and Footpaths - 1930.Often we would go through the fields to Coddington and return by Drove Lane. In the fields behind "Two Mile House" in front of the plantation on the hill, foxes played with their cubs, and the green foliage on the trees hid the enormous rookery, with its nests deserted in midsummer.

There were three other rookeries in our village, one down Holme Lane in the elms which have just been felled, a second in the Ash Plantation down below Mr. Newbold's house, and a third in the grounds of the Grange in the enormous elms along the roadside. This one was so large that it overflowed into the Hall grounds opposite, and the last nests were in the trees near our present Village Hall. Sometimes there were as many as twenty nests in one tree. This year (1971) there are three near the Village Hall.

Each year we watched for the return of the rooks in February. Having spent the winter in their roost among the conifers of the Dukeries, each adult pair would return to their old nesting site and sit in the pale winter sunshine. The old people used to say they were listening to the creaks and groans of the tree. If the rooks deserted a tree it invariably blew down in the next gale. In late February, nests were repaired, young birds chose new sites. There was quarrelling in the treetops, but eventually we heard the faint cawing of the young birds. Soon these were too big for the nest, and they sat on nearby branches testing their wings. Then rook shooting began. The real sportsmen shot only two birds from each nest. Rook pie was delicious! The tender breasts surrounded by thick jelly under short piecrust. The thought of it makes my mouth water fifty years afterwards.

The Walk through the Park - 1971.Once the young birds could fly, the rookeries were deserted by day as the birds were feeding on the fields, but when autumn had gone, each evening began their flight to their winter roosts. Regularly at 3.30 p.m. flocks of a hundred or more rooks would fly towards the Dukeries, each flock keeping to a regular route. On rough days when they could not fly directly into the N. or N.W. wind, they circled spirally to gain height, finally gliding down from above the strong air currents.

The arrival of redwings and fieldfares in winter was a sure sign of snow. One year, possibly 1928 or 29, we had much snow, and hundreds of redwings arrived exhausted from the north. One particular morning we found about two hundred dead in the village. The fieldfares thrived on the rotten apples we threw out from the apple store-rooms. The brambllngs came to our bird tables.

Finally spring came, the snowdrops and violets appeared in the hedgerows and the celandines in the woods. We listened for the cuckoo and watched for the first swallow. My father recorded the dates on the doorpost of one greenhouse. Many of these are now indecipherable but some remain. 

The cuckoo was first heard on:                          The first swallow was seen on:

April 22nd, 1929                                                          April 26th, 1936

April 24th, 1930                                                           April  9th, 1937

April 29th, 1931                                                           April 27th, 1938

April 26th, 1932                                                           April 24th, 1939

April 27th, 1933                                                           April 23rd, 1940

April 24th, 1934

April 22nd, 1935

May 4th, 1936

April 24th, 1937

Some of the first recordings were for 1910, 1911 and 1912, but these were very indistinct, and I regret that the rest were painted over long ago.

Then in May came the flycatchers, chiffchaffs and whitethroats. The blue tit nested in the garden pump, the long tailed tit built its nest of cobwebs, moss and lichen in the shrubbery, goldfinches nested in the pear trees. A kingfisher nested in the gravel pit in the Hall grounds, while farther afield, by the Fleet, we knew where to find mallard, coot, moorhen and snipe. Red squirrels frequented the trees, scattering husks of beech nuts or acorns on to the paths. In spring we could watch the same red squirrels sitting on the sycamore tree across the road, scattering the outer green scale leaves of the buds on to the road below as they sought for the juicy green leaves in the heart of the bud.

At night, as we lay in bed, we could recognise the voices of barn owl, tawny owl or little owl, and often the double bark of the fox. On hot summer nights the nightingale broke the silence now shattered by the harsh sounds of vehicles on the by-pass, or the youth of the village on noisy motor-cycles.

Never again shall we see the dog fox jump over the wall opposite, cross the road, jump over our wall, walk slowly under our window and on through the shrubbery to raid the hen roost at the Grove, leaving clear footprints in the undisturbed snow. Nor are we likely to halt while a hen pheasant emerges from the park side of the Lincoln Road and walks her brood across the road to the safety of the cornfield on the Carr Farm. The heavy "clomp" of the stallion, brasses gleaming in the sun, his mane and tail neatly plaited with bright red ribbons, as he is led to the farm, or the quick light steps of a well-groomed horse, head held high by the bearing rein, drawing a brougham - these are only a memory.

Miss K. E. Euston. 1971.

 

List of bird, positively identified at The Grove during eighteen years until 1969, by Alderman and Mrs. G.R. Walker.

 

Blackbird *                                                 Partridge   *

Bullfinch  *                                                 Pheasant

Bunting, Yellow  *                                     Pigeon, Wood  *

Chaffinch  *                                                Redwing

Cuckoo  *                                                   Robin  *

Crow, Carrion  *                                        Rook  *

Creeper, Tree                                           Skylark

Dove, Collared                                          Starling   *

Dove, Barbary                                            Sparrow, House  *

Dove, Turtle  *                                            Sparrow, Hedge  *

Field Fare                                                   Sparrow, Tree

Fly Catcher, Spotted  *                             Swallow

Gold Crest                                                 Swift

Greenfinch  *                                             Tit, Blue  *

Goldfinch  *                                               Tit, Great  *      

Jackdaw  *                                                 Tit, Marsh or Willow

Jay *                                                            Tit, Coal

Kestrel                                                       Tit, Long Tailed

Kingfisher                                                  Thrush, Song   *

Lapwing                                                     Thrush, Missel  *

Linnet   *                                                    Waterhen

Magpie   *                                                  Woodpecker, Great Spotted

Martin, House   *                                       Woodpecker, Green

Moorhen                                                    Wagtail, Pied

Nightingale  *                                            Wagtail, Yellow

Owl, Little                                                   Wren

Owl,  Barn                                                  Whitethroat   *

Owl, Tawny                                                                                                                                               

Cuckoo In Hedge Sparrow's Nest

Cuckoo In Robin's Nest                                *   Nested at The Grove.

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