Last week I had to visit somewhere just outside Epping Forest, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to nip into the forest itself. Epping Forest is a beautiful place, full of majestic, ancient trees - but unfortunately it often gets a bad press. It's close to London and has gained a bit of a reputation as a crime scene - crime writers love it, and often use it as a backdrop for all sorts of grisly plot-lines. But this is so unfair. The forest has a long and fascinating history - and of course it's full of wildlife. Herds of deer can often be seen grazing amongst the trees.
I wanted to see Ambresbury Banks - an Iron Age hill fort that lies within the forest. There was a legend, once, that Boudicca made her last stand here against the Romans, but this has been disproved in recent years. Instead, it's believed that this was border country between two powerful Iron Age tribes - the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni. The fort was built around 500 BC either as a boundary marker and look out or as an animal fold where animals could be brought in times of attack.
|Map of Ambresbury Banks, 1881|
I suppose because it has always been a border, there is a road running by - and today this road is very busy. This is a shame, because it's difficult to get a sense of atmosphere, unless you're good at screening out traffic noise (which I'm not good at doing.) I can't quite imagine the warriors of the two tribes staring at each other across the B1393! Also, this area wouldn't have been this wooded, of course; the trees would have been cleared at this time to give a good view across the Lea Valley.
The banks would have been about three metres high and the ditches outside about three metres deep. The fort had become redundant by the Saxon era and the forest was allowed to grow around it again.
A Yew Harvest for Medicine
I was going to add something about my re-queening of a couple of the beehives. I'm currently in the middle of this and I've already had a set-back due to a wasp attack on some of the bees...Grrr! But I'll now be writing about the re-queening in a future post because I'd like to mention here about some unusual harvesting that's just been taking place locally. A company from Yorkshire has been collecting clippings from a yew hedge for use in anti-cancer drugs. The yew-harvest takes place for a few weeks at this time of year; yew-hedge clippings are taken from all over the country and are then sent to cancer-treatment laboratories.
|Clippings from this yew hedge are used in anti-cancer medicines|
I find it fascinating that yew - known as a poisonous plant - can be used to do so much good - and that back-garden hedges can be vital for the production of sophisticated and life-saving modern medicines.
Our own harvest...
On the smallholding, the courgettes are finishing, but the tomatoes and mushrooms are ready to eat...
We bought dowels, impregnated with mushroom spawn, several years ago and planted them into these logs. Nothing happened for three years or so, and then they did - and every year since, we've had mushrooms. We usually pick them early in the morning at weekends and have them with fresh eggs for breakfast.
Clouded Yellow Butterflies
Finally, I'm still looking out for butterflies although there aren't so many flying now it's late summer. But I did see some lovely Clouded Yellow Butterflies in an area of wildflowers close to the smallholding...
I'm taking a break - and a blogging break - until later in the month. I'm going to enjoy catching up with everyone's blogs then!