This week Helen visits one of the most scenic of all English counties - Oxfordshire:- the River Thames runs through the south and centre of the county, the wooded chalk Chiltern Hills run along the south-east and part of the Cotswolds runs into the west.
At Little Wittenham Helen discovers the latest forestry crop - walnut trees, grown for the beautiful wood rather than the nuts. It's ideal for making furniture and highly figured veneers, which are used for cabinet-making, car interiors and even gun stocks. Interest in walnut as a timber waned with the increasing availability of tropical hardwoods from the early 19th century onwards. Walnut trees are a great challenge for Dr Gabriel Hemery from the Northmoor Trust. They are very prone to frost so he's been searching for late-leafing varieties, to get round the problem, and his travels have taken him as far as Kurdistan. There, he has found a unique valley where ten thousand of acres of walnut flourish - and he's trying to get them to do the same in Oxfordshire.
Archaeologist Graham Keevill has been digging up some interesting finds at the Abbey in the little village of Dorchester. Excavations began when it was decided to build a boiler house in the cloister gardens. Finds on the site included rare evidence of glass making from the 8th and 9th centuries, a gold coin minted in AD20, Roman and medieval pottery and tiles from the 13th and 14th century. Some beautifully carved stones that once were on the abbey's walls were also found. Graham says that these finds provide a direct link with the Abbey's past and with the monks who lived and worked there.
Artist Rebecca Hind lives and works in Dorchester, and, as she focuses on sacred sites, the dig gave her an ideal subject matter just on her doorstep. Her work will be exhibited alongside artefacts from this dig at the Oxfordshire Visual Arts Festival in May/June
Oxfordshire Visual Arts Festival
Readers of Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford" will know the tiny Oxfordshire village of Juniper Hill better than they think - it was the village where she lived and on which she based many of her tales of 19th century rural life. Her biographer, Christine Bloxham, takes Helen on a walk though the village and tells how Flora learnt history from field names - there is one mentioned in her book called Racecourse Field even though nothing had raced there for years. Christine is also writing a book on local customs and she compares many that Flora would have known with ones that still take place today.
Information on Flora Thompson
And finally, on an idyllic Springtime walk, Helen learns about the science of phenology - and that it's nothing to do with bumps on the head! It is in fact the science of how living things respond to seasonal and climatic changes to the environment in which they live. Nick Collinson from the Woodland Trust explains that records going back to the 1700s categorically prove that global warming has arrived. And the Trust is still looking for volunteers to help record things like the first signs of Spring. So with her record-card in hand (and with Ken Betteridge from the Cotswold Rare Plant Society to help out), Helen goes looking for the elusive Yellow Star of Bethlehem and the strange Toothwort - which looks just like a disgusting worn toothbrush.
Information on Phenology
Cotswold Rare Plants Group
Next week Helen visits Gloucestershire.
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