Submitted by Rosemary Crumplin: Click on the pictures to enlarge them
AHA Group broke with the normal practice of only having one visit per month and eleven members ventured out for the second time on Thursday 28th February. Once again, we returned to Greenham Common, but this time to visit the National Needlework Archives.
The NNA is a registered charity and relies on volunteers. We were greeted by a cheerful group of ladies and coffee/tea plus cake was quickly prepared for us all. We then began a general tour of the archives admiring some of the handicrafts made by the volunteers to sell to raise funds for their restoration work. Our highlight of the visit was to view ‘The Country Wife’ textile mural, which was designed by Constance Howard and made by her and her students of Goldsmiths College. Much of the craft-work features were made by the Women’s Institutes.
The museum display was small but informative. First learning the history of the site, and back in the day of William of Orange the battle of Newbury took place there. Coming forward to more recent times, the Army was based there from 1939 building the airfield in preparation of the USAF to arrive in 1944 alongside the RAF. During our life time, Greenham Common became a household name, which we came to know, due to the American Air Force being based there along with the Nuclear War Heads. This evoked an all female political demonstration known as “The Role of Protest in Society” against nuclear weapons being based there. These ladies camped out and caused quite a stir for years.
They have a thriving café. We learnt that the actual common is a heaven for wildlife and is now recognised for its nature walks. As we had some spare time, part of our group took a short walk and said that they would be revisiting.
A flock of long-tail tits in the very first tree, flitting with two goldfinches. From the first hide we were able to watch a dozen cormorants drying their wings in the rays of the low autumn sun, accompanied by a mute swan and a couple of herons. The aquatic birds were out on the lake in force. Roger always chuckled as the spotters reeled off their names and he wrote them down in his trusty frayed notepad with his even trustier old stub of a pencil. He cheerfully admitted to never having been able to tell a Gadwall from a Teal from a Shoveler, dismissing them all as ‘Ruddy Ducks’, but he did claim to be able to recognise a Mallard provided it was a male.
We then moved on to the Round Lake hide with its feeders that are set up to attract the more familiar small garden birds. Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Wrens in abundance plus fleeting appearances by Roger’s nemeses – the LBBs or Little Brown Birds. Actually mostly Tree Sparrows and Dunnocks as onto Roger’s list they went.
On to the Great Meadow hide and here we sat transfixed as five Snipe dabbled at the water’s edge. Now the Snipe is a small mottled reed-coloured bird that stands motionless in the mottled reeds. Each was several feet away from the other and only one seemed to bob its head at any one time. Roger was, of course, always looking intently at the spot where the Snipe that could be seen wasn’t. However he made up for his disappointment with the Snipe as he did see the two Water Rails on the near bank. Although they are commonly seen at Anton Lakes this was our first sighting of them at Langford.
Round to the South hide and there to Roger’s undisguised delight were a pair of actual Ruddy Ducks. “I think I’ll have to record those as Ruddy Ruddy Ducks” he chortled. A Little Grebe appeared and the bird count went ever higher. With the inclusion of Feral Pigeons, Magpies, Blackbirds etc it had reached 40 by lunch. The picnic area appeared to be closed but Roger declared it open as we defrosted our fingers. As usual Roger amused us with his tales as he washed down his ham roll and Christmas cake slice with his ‘own label’ mix of coffee powder, dried milk and sugar in to which he poured the murky contents of his thermos. A WWT official appeared and asked brusquely if we had not seen the yellow & black tape and ‘area closed’ signs but he was disarmed by Roger smiling sweetly and saying “Oh yes, I did wonder what they referred to”.
After lunch we strolled through the water meadows to Glebe Walk and then along the stream back to the Long Pond in search of the Little Egrets and Great Crested Grebes that normally shelter there. They were not to be seen but the appearance of a pair of Goldcrests brought Roger’s final bird count for the day to 45. Excitedly thumbing through the years of sightings recorded in his notepad he declared that to be the highest number of different birds ever seen in one day by the Group.
To round off the day, as Roger drove us back to Abbotts Ann he set off to take one of his infamous shortcuts, through Wilton. But instead we showed him an even better route through Berwick St James. “Good heavens” he said “This really is a better shortcut than mine, I must look it up on the map when I get home and come this way next time!”. Sadly there was to be no next time as he passed away peacefully just a few days later. But we will treasure his memory, a true gentleman the like of whom we may not meet again.
The sleet which had threatened all morning finally arrived and the consequent bracing acceleration for the last ten minutes of the walk helped to stoke hearty appetites which were well served by the friendly and hard-working ladies at the Coach & Horses Inn.
After spending millions and years of dedicated work in restoring the house to its former glory and in addition acquiring as much of the original furniture as was possible, it was bequeathed to the NT. The well-proportioned building exterior is in the Palladian style; most of us particularly enjoyed the classical style interior. Many of the elegant plaster reliefs integrated into the room’s décor were stunning, particularly when combined with some quite breath-taking ceilings. However, for the ladies in the group the icing on the cake was to see the rooms so beautifully decorated for Christmas as it would have been in former times
These and the loaves then went in to the ovens and while they were baking 6 more volunteers tried their hand at bread plaits, much to the amusement of the audience. Their efforts may have owed more to the Generation Game than to Craft Bakery, especially when it came to dipping the finished plaits into a mountain of poppy seed, but they did all eventually make it into the oven, together with a batch of bread knots embellished with ground sweetcorn which our hosts somehow produced while keeping up a running commentary on proceedings. While these were all baking, we were treated to an excellent buffet lunch, following which we were able to inspect, and take home, all the finished products. Safely back in Andover by 14:00 all agreed that it had been a fascinating, educational and enjoyable outing.
Anton U3A Group News
Reports and records of Groups' activities.