Bishop’s Meadow

hay meadow

hay meadow

horse grazing in adjacent field

horse grazing in adjacent field

willows pollarded

willows pollarded

Some weeks ago in the spring, on a pleasant afternoon in Farnham, I discovered a path that ran out the back of the churchyard in the centre of Farnham. It led alongside a large grassy field.

Today, I fancied going for a walk in the parkland up past Farnham Castle, but far too hot to climb the hill.

As I was sitting in the shade in the churchyard, I decided to take a walk along this path.

To my surprise, the grass field was now a hay meadow.

I saw what I thought was finger boards, one way Bishop’s Meadow, the other way Manor Field. What I did not know, but learnt later, these were boundary markers.

Walking along, I was at first in the shade of a tall hedge, which as it was very hot, was quite pleasant. Occasionally little tracks ran through the hay meadow, but I headed straight on. Then a fork, one went diagonally across the hay meadow, the other straight on, but less defined. I carried straight on. Eventually when I came to the end of the hay meadow the path curled around, another less defined path led into a grazed field.

I followed the less defined path into the grazed field. At the far end a gate. In the field, four very large horses grazing. I was not too sure how friendly they were. They would follow me, then nudge me in the back. I decided maybe they were no so friendly.

Backtracking, I took the curve. It then divided, nether track was well defined. It was as if, people came thus far, then turned back.

A lady with a dog came along. I sought her advice. She said it was a complete circuit. She led me to the river and a bridge across the river. I was quite surprised how small the River Wey was here, even compared with flowing through Gostrey Meadow in the town.

It would be great if from Gostrey Meadow there was a footpath along the side of the river making a pleasant riverside walk, cf the riverside walks through the water meadows at the back of Winchester Cathedral.

She told me the hay cut was quite late this year. We walked together until back to the original path by the hedge. She went one way I returned back to the churchyard. I thanked her for her help.

Bishop’s Meadow is open space, which everyone thought was for public use, as it always had been, until a few years ago when it was learnt it was up for sale and at risk of development (though to build on a flood plain by the river would be lunacy).

Local people raised the money and bought Bishop’s Meadow. It is now owned by a trust, safeguarding it for future generations.

Ancient meadowland is very important for conservation. This has been recognised by Bishop’s Meadow being declared a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).

The Open Space Society granted Bishop’s Meadow their very first Open Space Award.

I was horrified to read on a poster on a gate the Trust intends to spray herbicide. This is an absolute no-no. The value of ancient meadows is their wildflowers and the fact that herbicides have not been used. With the River Wey flowing alongside Bishop’s Meadow, the herbicide is going to wash into the river, especially if the river floods the meadow.

What happens when the hay is cut? Traditionally the meadow would have been grazed, and that is the only way to maintain as a hay meadow. The hoofs of the animals press the seeds into the soil.

I noticed willow was being pollarded. Excellent as pollarding is traditional medieval woodland practice.

Another tradition which is to be followed, is the holding of a traditional country fayre once the hay is cut. This year it will be held on 28 July.

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