Chasing the Ghost by Peter Marren

Chasing the Ghost by Peter Marren

Author:Peter Marren
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Random House

The Wettest Place in England

27

Thread Rush

Juncus filiformis

A miniature rush with a pompom head halfway along a thread-like stem

On the shingle shore of Derwentwater, Cumbria

26

Alpine Enchanter’s Nightshade

Circaea alpina

A rock plant with a modest cluster of white flowers and little drumstick fruits above a nest of toothed, heart-shaped leaves

Falcon Crag, Borrowdale, Cumbria

29th June

Helper: Mike Porter

Our destination the next day was Borrowdale, in the heart of the Lakes, the craggiest, cloudiest, rainiest corner of England. We knew we had reached the right place because the road-sign said: ‘Borrowdale Valley’. ‘I hate that sign,’ said Mike. ‘Surely everyone knows that a dale is a valley.’ ‘Would they say “Derwentwater Lake?” Or the “South Down Hills”?’ I suggested, egging him on. ‘Almost certainly.’

There was more of the same when we reached the car park. A noticeboard attached to the spacious toilet block informed us of the many exciting things we could do to ‘go wild’ in the Lakes. For instance, it seemed we were in the middle of ‘Squirrel Awareness Week’. Among the fun-themed activities on offer were ‘story time ’ – readings from squirrel-themed tales – and various ‘worksheets’ and ‘interactive games’, none of which sounded as though they involved the outdoors. There was also a course in owl-hooting. ‘If you are lucky, an owl will answer your call.’ But, reading on, I learned that it works best only in the dead of winter. Otherwise it is a complete waste of time and only annoys the owls. ‘They mean well,’ said a tolerant Mike. ‘It’s better than computer games.’

We had come to Borrowdale to nail the Thread Rush, Juncus filiformis. I thought Few-flowered Sedge was a minimalist plant but, compared to the Thread Rush, it is a rose. Imagine a sliver of rush just four inches high, consisting of a stem literally no broader than a bristle, with a tiny pompom of reddish-green florets about two-thirds of the way up. And nothing else. If Thread Rush grew among grass, it would be invisible. Fortunately it grows on bare ground, among pebbles on the edge of lakes where the water draws down in summer. And, despite appearances, it is a tough little plant. When they turned Thirlmere into a reservoir years ago, local botanists thought that would be the end of its colony of Thread Rushes. But they came bouncing back at the water’s edge, as before, just several yards further upslope. It is one of the few rare native plants that seem to be increasing.

What I noticed first were the little pompoms, seemingly suspended in the air. It was only when the plant was right under my nose that I could make out the ‘thread’ stem. What it lacks in glamour, the little rush makes up for by its setting. Across Derwentwater, dark blue beneath the sky, marched the hills of Borrowdale: High Spy, Maiden Moor, Cat Bields, Causey Pike, Sail Fell, Eel Crag, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head. Washed by wavelets, thrashed by a yearly twelve feet of rain, the little rush clings to its patch of stony lakeshore, year on year.



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