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Parsonage Down and the Summer Orchids

This time of year sees many wild orchids come into flower on the slopes of Wiltshire's downland and Parsonage Down is no exception. I've known about this nature reserve for some time, but lacked the inclination to visit because it is not so easy to get to. There is an entrance over by Yarnbury Castle but that was at the opposite end of the reserve to the area with orchids. But inspired by pictures of Parsonage Down orchids that Paul Timlett had put on social media, I agreed to meet him at his house in Shrewton and wander over from there. Paul is a volunteer on the reserve so was an excellent choice of tour guide.

The ramparts of Yarnbury Castle in the distance

The walk from Shrewton was a leisurely one hour stroll from Shrewton, walking along rights of way through the local fields with wide open views across the landscape. As we approached the down, the ramparts of Yarnbury Castle could be spotted in the distance.

As we approached the part of the reserve we were targeting, pyramidal orchids suddenly started to appear in the grass.

Pyramidal Orchid

Before long, we were in the eastern corner of Parsonage Down and the orchids were plentiful. We spotted fragrant, pyramidal, bee and even a solitary common spotted orchid, as well as many other wild flowers. I used an app on my phone called picture this to identify many of the flowers we saw and was impressed at the accuracy !

The only common spotted orchid we could find

Bee Orchid

The down was also awash with butterflies, but I discovered that without a significant amount of patience they are extraordinarily difficult to photograph. Rarely staying put, each posed butterfly resting on a flower would flutter off into the wind as soon as my camera got it into focus. Despite many tries, I only managed to capture this one.

The only butterfly that would pose for me all day

One thing that struck me in the hours we spent on the reserve is the size of it. It will take several visits to explore it end to end; it has a natural beauty that all Wiltshire downland has, but it is also a land that is worked. Much of the grass is grazed by a herd of English Longhorn cattle.

Up on the ridge was a line of hardy trees, some of which has succumbed to age and weather and had toppled to the ground.

Parsonage Down

Parsonage Down

As we finished our time on the down and began the long walk back to Shrewton, there was a sense of deep satisfaction that I often get after spending a day in the Wiltshire countryside. It is a place that restores the spirit and makes me glad to be alive.

As we left, I said a farewell to the bee orchids and spotted a field with the familiar red hue of poppies. June is a wonderful month for finding colour in the wild landscapes of this place.


Farewell dear Bee Orchids


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