The view from Sharpenhoe Clappers
Sharpenhoe Clappers near Streatley Village in Bedfordshire is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
A journey through the landscape and nature of Beds, Herts and Bucks.
Owned by The National Trust, Sharpenhoe Clappers near Streatley Village in Bedfordshire, is a classic chalk escarpment standing out like the prow of an ocean liner from the surrounding flatter land.
Crowned with traces of an Iron Age fort and an impressive stand of graceful beech trees it is part of the “Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” It is open all year and admission is free.
It’s easy to see why the early Iron Age people chose this dominating site to build a defensive position of banks and ditches topped by wooden walls and a huge wooden gateway; and it must have been an impressive sight in its heyday with the steep banks of white chalk reflecting the sunlight… But 3,000 to 5,000 years ago Iron Age Britons were not skilled in siege warfare, preferring fast chariots and individual combat; consequently the better organised Roman Legions attacked and destroyed the Hill Forts in a series of campaigns, though it took several invasions and 50 years or so to subdue and “Romanise” the Celtic tribes of Britain.
Martyn Coote and local wildlife expert Dennis Furnell went to Sharpenhoe Clappers in April and began their walk from the car park starting out along a footpath system (part of which is wheelchair-friendly) that runs all around the escarpment and into the valley to the village of Streatley.
A harsh wind was blowing but, being early spring, the hill sides were bright and cheerful with new hawthorn leaves. No sooner had they set out than a blackbird, singing from a hawthorn bush beside the path, was ambushed by a male sparrowhawk flying low along the hedge. The hawk, put off by our presence, made a poor job of holding the blackbird, which flew off in a shower of feathers and alarm calls. The hawk followed, but failed to catch up with it.
At this time of year male great tits sing their spring song and the “teecher teecher” call is loud among the leafless beeches. Song thrushes and wrens add their voices to the bird song chorus, which is still a little thin. The main songsters have yet to arrive from their wintering grounds, but the native species do their bit to signal the beginning of spring.
The small green flowers of Dogs Mercury push up through the leaf litter to take advantage of the weak spring sun - flowering before the dense canopy of beech leaves cuts out the bulk of the light. Dog’s mercury, a slightly poisonous plant, looks dangerously similar to a plant called Good King Henry (Good Mercury) a member of the spinach family favoured as a vegetable since prehistoric times. Nevertheless, dog’s mercury is valuable to naturalists and walkers as an indicator of ancient woodland. It grows on chalk, but is often found near bluebells and oak trees that grow on acid soil.
Martyn and Dennis walked all the way around the periphery of the hill to look over the plain stretching away to the outskirts of Milton Keynes. A Kestrel hovered, almost in front of them, scanning the ground for prey with eyes at least ten times as sharp as ours.
Walking back to the car park a chiff chaff began to sing; a small migrant warbler it had come all the way from Africa to breed here; its two note call a lovely harbinger of spring.
last updated: 28/02/2008 at 12:40