In which I climb a hill, see a view and hear a Greenfinch
The land climbs steadily from the stream’s banks to Mogshade Hill, a mellow tapestry of greens, browns, and purples in spring, and of every variety of green in summer.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, published 1934
I have been away for a few days with family in London, so today’s post is briefer than usual. As it happens, I went on a walk at the end of February to explore Bratley Wood to find the “lovely old beeches” mentioned by Joan on one of her walks. However, before setting off for the woods, I did a short detour to the top of Mogshade Hill, and that’s where we are taking you today. Next week, we’ll head for the delights of Bratley Wood and its Beeches.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am following walks, or parts of walks, described by Joan Begbie in her entertaining and delightful 1934 book Walking in the New Forest. I’m interested to discover what has changed and what has not in the Forest, as I walk alongside Joan and her two characterful dogs, Bill, a white bull terrier who loves to charge out of sight across the heaths, and Mr. Bundy, “a rough-haired brindled griffon of diminutive size and choleric disposition”.
There’s a small car park – Bratley View (SU237095; see this link to a map) – on the other side of the road from Mogshade Hill. It’s a crisp, cold-ish late winter morning, with glimpses of blue sky behind scudding clouds, but signs of early spring are everywhere. Buds are readying themselves to break on the trees, and the birdsong is joyous. I pause to look southwards towards the Beeches of Bratley Wood, but then turn towards Mogshade Hill.
I cross the minor road, and make my way up a long and straight grassy ride between Gorse bushes, already in coconut-scented, butter-coloured bloom. Here, the birds – Chaffinches, mainly – are squabbling and chasing each other through the bushes, alarm-calling and sometimes opening their throats to song. They are more concerned with each other than with me as I continue uphill and they continue the important business of establishing breeding territories and finding partners.
The top of the hill isn’t far from the road, and at first I am disappointed. Where is the promised view? Then, I spy a small pool to my left, head that way, and the view opens up before me.
The noise of the A31 is ever-present, but its route is hidden in the landscape, although I catch glints of sun on speeding metal in the distance. Here on the hill, it is peaceful, with birds, ponies and a few, as yet leafless, trees for company.
The name Mogshade is an old English word meaning the shadow of trees. It seems something of a misnomer for this high place of open skies and only a few scattered trees and bushes. It wasn’t always so. Mogshade Hill used to be crowned with groves of Holly.
Mogshade Hill used to be covered with beautiful old thickets of holly trees, now, alas, badly burned by a recent (1918) fire…Heywood Sumner, Guide to the New Forest, 1923, quoted in Colin R. Tubbs, the New Forest: An Ecological History, 1968 (online PDF)
Joan, walking in the 1930s, would also have missed the Holly thickets, but I wonder if she would have seen the burned remains of the groves, or if they would have already decayed and disappeared.
Then, I am brought right back into the present by the sound of a bird. It seems to be an alarm call, made by a bird in distress. It’s a harsh, drawn out and grating wheeze. I search for the source, eventually tracking it to the branches of the Oak shown in the above image. Try as I might, even peering through binoculars, I cannot see the bird. I turn away for a second, and the bird flies away – I see it out of the corner of my eye, silhouetted against the clouds, but too late and flying too fast to identify it. At least I know it’s not in trouble.
As I head back downhill, leaving Mogshade behind me, I hear the same bird’s call again, but this time I see it. A Greenfinch! A tick in my quest to learn more birdsong, as I’ll never forget that strange harsh cry. I didn’t manage a photo, but here’s one I found online.
As I regain the car park, I am surrounded by Greenfinch calls, first from that bush, then another, then in the distance away down the hill. I fancy they are calling me to follow downhill, across the heath and into the eaves of Bratley Wood.
Join us next week as Joan, Bill, Mr. Bundy and I head downhill, away from Mogshade and towards the shallow crossing of Bratley Water and then into Bratley Wood, before heading back via Bolderwood.