Thursday, 2 October 2014

A Walk Off the Beaten Track

If you go along past Les Quennevais Sport centre, past the Pétanque club house, and the playing fields, you reach a rather nice woody path going North. It was on a hot day in August that Katalin and I decided to take this route, and quite a lot of the route is nice and shady, a welcome respite from the noonday sun.

Nothing much grows under the pine trees which make this covered path.Pines trees usually make the soil beneath very acid, and it is also starved of light. The space beneath the tree branches has its own microclimate, and it is one of the most difficult places for plants to grow. So while there are the odd clumps of grass, most often the ground is bare of anything but pine needles.

Further along, and fenced off, is a natural pond, which was at the time rather green and slimy. Not very enticing, unless, of course, you are a duck, in which case there is probably a veritable feast of insects living off the algae and pond weed.

Algae are unattractive, and some kinds are potentially harmful, but despite their being aesthetically unpleasant, they are very important members of a pond ecosystem; they provide food for species at the lower end of the food-chain.

We walked along, and on the left hand side of the track, it opened up into a vista onto the La Moye golf course. The golf course has moved over the years, and thereby hangs a tale.

In 1905, members of the Tabor Chapel congregation had objected to playing golf on a Sunday. They could see the Headmaster of La Moye School, who was also the organist from another Church, frequently playing on the La Moye course as they passed close by. With the support of Captain Le Gallais, the Golf Club acquired land which allowed the holes to be moved to the west of the railway line, thus appeasing the church congregation!

Moving along, we now saw the start of the sand dunes. These go all the way down to St Ouen's Bay, and I remember when I was a teenager that I came here with some friends who wanted to do some surreptitious and illegal smoking, something which never appealed to me. I think one is now a lawyer, and one a hotelier at a major hotel chain. I wonder if they still smoke.

We also had our school cross country on the dunes, and I managed to come fifth in my house, and get a house tie to wear as a result. I've still got it somewhere. It's nice and green, if a little short.

The States website has this to say about the dunes:

"Les Blanches Banques Site of Special Interest is Jersey’s last remaining sand dune system. Measuring approximately 100 hectares, it is a site of international ecological importance due to the exceptionally high floral diversity and rarity of the habitat, and the many species of animals that use the area as a refuge."

I've recently been learning about wild plants and flowers from Jeff Hathaway, so Katalin had to endure me identifying this clump of ragwort, one of the few plants I can now identify pretty accurately. It is poisonous to cattle, but because of its bitter taste, they avoid eating it. So the real problem is more when it is growing in a field, alongside grass, and gets collected in the hay gathering. They don't recognise dried ragwort in hay, so that is a real danger.

We didn't know which side of the path to go, and unfortunately the way we went gradually got more tangled with vegetation, so we came back and went the other path, closer to the sand dunes.

The track moved inland, and Katalin and I were once again in the heat of the sun. There is a lot of gorse here, and bracken, and it is a very different ecology. It is amazing that St Brelade has such a diverse environment - housing estates, shops, and a rather urban landscape, and dunes, and small winding paths in the country side.

A little further along, a side gate takes you to a housing estate, and to the cemetery, but we carried along the main path. We did pop into the cemetery on the way back, but that's another blog.

The path was by now more of a farm track, with the odd house on one side, and a field full of Jersey cows grazing away. Since the lifting of the ban on alien cattle and semen, you can now see black cows in Jersey fields, which seems very strange to me. They are grown for meat, whereas the Jersey cow is mainly prized for its delicious rich and creamy milk. And looks beautiful, just how a cow should look!

As we were feeling the heat, and the path was becoming more roadlike as it progressed, we decided to turn around and head back. On our way, I took this photograph of Katalin, in this canopy of greenery which forms a natural tunnel. There is something very magical about that, and such canopies always remind me of C.S. Lewis and Narnia. You almost expect to see Alsan around the next corner.

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