Hearsall Common

A busy road into the city cuts across Hearsall Common, between a flat area where fairs are held, people fly kites and children play football, and a wild area of woods and a rough field. Although the hum of traffic is audible in the woods, you are barely aware of it, because the song of the birds and the rustling of small animals in the undergrowth drowns it out.

In the spring, April and early May, the woods are full of bluebells, and the sun dapples the treetrunks and the ground with shadows. We never walk in the woods in spring and summer without seeing squirrels dart across in front of us and run up the trees to disappear among the leaves.

     
Molly, I am afraid, tries to chase the squirrels but they are far too quick for her fortunately, and dart up into the trees, leaving her wondering where they went.

By mid May, the bluebells are beginning to fade, but the hawthorn is in full bloom. Its blossom, which in England we call May, has a strange, sweet scent which fills the woods.

The oaks have their leaves now. They are among the last trees to come into leaf, and the new leaves are very soft and have a delicate shade of green. As the weeks go by the colour will darken and the leaves will harden.

Although the bluebells are starting to wither, other flowers take their place, and the woods are never without flowers.


By early summer the spring flowers have given way to the rosebay willow herb, and the bees are hard at work.

In the field beside the woods one summer day, Molly found a discarded Macdonalds bag with some French fries in it. She thought she was in heaven, and nothing would persuade her to leave the bag alone until every last chip had disappeared. On a sunny day, she shows how much she is enjoying herself by rolling around ecstatically in the grass.

Autumn seems to come a little late to Hearsall Common. Most of the trees are oaks and their leaves stay green longer than many trees. Even when the leaves of the chestnuts and limes in the city avenues have turned to shades of gold and started falling, the wood at Hearsall Common is only just beginning to show autumn tones. But the berries are ripening - winter food for the birds - and as the acorns ripen and begin to fall, to the delight of the squirrels, your feet crunch on them as you walk under the trees.

By mid-November, even the oaks are changing colour, and under the trees the grass disappears under a carpet of fallen leaves and acorns.

Molly pauses to greet a friend on her walk in the autumn sunshine

Almost as spectacular as the spring flowers is the wonderful variety of toadstools which spring up under the trees in autumn.


In winter, when there are no leaves on the great oaks to block out the light, the thin winter sunshine can penetrate the woods and they seem very light and open. There is very little undergrowth and you can see from one end of the woods to the other. Whatever the time of year, Molly likes to have her walk and meet her friends.

There is a tiny pond on the common, at the edge of the woods, which has been restored and replanted with water plants. All through the dry spring and summer of 1997 its water level was so low that branches and other debris lying on its bed were exposed (picture on left). The unusually heavy winter rains of 1997-1998 refilled it to the brim. Since then the weather has not been exceptional, and the pond has been in no danger of drying up.

Molly loves to play in the pond, chasing sticks and splashing around. If you click on the picture on the right below, you can see a short video of her enjoying herself at the pond. Some browsers will let you view it from the page, but with others you will need to download it and open it in Media Player.

     

In March, the buds on the flowering bushes around the pond are opening.

Although it will be some weeks before the leaves appear on the oaks, by March there are already signs of spring, as the first leaves, blossoms and catkins appear in the hedgerows.
Under the trees, the daffodils and celandines bloom some weeks before the bluebells reappear to tell us that spring is really here.

These peaceful woods are a favourite place for dog walking. We meet the same people and dogs regularly, and stopping for a chat while the dogs run around adds to the pleasure of the half hour walk from one end of the woods to the other and back.

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