Butterflies and balance bikes: on the track of the deep dark wood

I decided to take my three-year-old, Mungo, down to the deep dark wood for the day – well, Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve, to be precise, just outside Gloucester. Or the “Deedar Wood”, as he called it last year when we went looking for dormice.

But when we arrived at the carpark, we were greeted by this rather dismal notice.



“Where we going?” he chimed from the back, as I turned the car round. “I’m not really sure,” I replied, as I took the first turning off the main road, down a small B road that looked as if it might lead us round the back of the reserve. And, sure enough, we soon found a nice track heading in the direction of Highnam Woods that was just perfect for Mungo’s new passion – his balance bike.



I wasn’t sure why, but the path was littered with small tortoiseshell butterflies that scattered like confetti as we made our slow but steady progress along it. Getting onto my hands and knees, I crawled along the track to try and get some photos of the butterflies before they flew off. Say what you like about the picture below, but I bet David Bailey – or Don McCullin for that matter – never had to put up with a small child launching themselves onto their prostrate bodies as they took award-winning fashion or war photos. Or sticking pieces of grass in their ears, for that matter, while giggling uproariously.



Further up, I found some rosebay willow herb in full bloom, and the dried seedheads of something that might have been cow parsley, but I couldn’t be sure. At least I could take these pictures standing up, though I still had to endure a small boy on his balance bike butting me like a mountain goat.





We’d made reasonable progress in our quest to reach Highnam Woods, even though Mungo at some point abandoned the balance bike in favour of his own two legs. There was the occasional sit-down protest, the odd plea of “Carree” and an impromptu lunch (peanut butter sandwiches and milk for him, a small dribble of water for me).



Further up, we found these poppies and what I decided was ragwort, though I wasn’t quite sure of the latter identification.





We were just outside the woods now, where I found some log piles which I carefully sifted through in search of slow worms, snakes or even Little Brown Mouse. But we found nothing, apart from some wood lice and the odd snail. In any case, it was time to turn back – it had taken us long enough just to get here, and the skies were starting to turn a dark, leaden colour – if there was rain on the way, I was foolishly unprepared for it. And besides, now my tummy was beginning to rumble…

I  did at least get some more photos of the small tortoiseshell butterflies on the way back, this one appearing to feed from a bramble.




“Torshell, Daddy, torshell,” Mungo chirruped happily. And he was even happier when he saw the end of the track and the car in sight.




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