Croxteth Hall is the former seat of the Molyneux family, the Earls of Sefton. After the death of the last Earl in 1972, the estate passed to Liverpool City Council and is now a Country Park. The long carriage drive to the house starts in West Derby Village, now little more than a suburban road junction with a church, a pub and a couple of shops, but it was once a more important place than Liverpool. It was the “capital” of West Derby Hundred, which is roughly equivalent to all of modern Merseyside, reaching as far as Leigh and Ormskirk. It held a court every few weeks for minor offences, and the present little stone courthouse with shuttered windows is from a building which was constructed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Happily, it was a little cooler today. On the right of the main route was a detour into a wildflower meadow. Corn Marigold was on one side, buzzing with bees, and there were a few Poppies and Cornflower.
The wildflower planting on the other side of the path was puzzling. The edge was pink-flowered Redshank while the main mass was a similar but paler plant with white flowers. Was it Bistort or was it Pale Persicaria?
The herd of Highland Cattle were resting in the shade under a clump of trees. We were amused by the sign asking people not to feed them, as they are on a special diet! There were Magpies climbing on them, like African Oxpeckers on zebras, and doing the same job of eating flies I suppose.
Near the great house there is still a Home Farm, some labourers cottages, an old smithy building and an amazing stableyard and carriage stores.
Mull Wood has been opened to the public in the last few years, mainly Beech and Sycamore.
Some trees had shed lots of crunchy beech mast underfoot, while others appeared to be holding on to theirs. Have some been dropping their fruits prematurely in the heat? An old cut trunk of (probably) Lombardy Poplar had some lovely white fungi sprouting from the dead wood. It looked like Oyster Mushrooms, and also reminded me of Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes, but that’s orange/red so it couldn’t have been that.
The woodland path crosses the river Alt, and a passing cyclist said that on quieter days there is often a Kingfisher sitting on an overhanging branch.
On the lawn in font of the hall is a marvellous spreading Copper Beech, making a patch of shade for people to sit under.
We saw very few birds today. One Swallow, one Robin, plus the usual Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons, but not even many of them. There were a few White butterflies, and a fleeting dragonfly but most wildlife must have been hiding in the shade. The sun was very strong as we returned (uphill!) to West Derby Village.
As I arrived home I found a Red Admiral butterfly on my Buddleia. That’s the first one in my garden this year, and very welcome, but where have they all gone?
Some other home news. There is a small colony of Swifts near my house, but I have never found exactly where they nest. Five birds arrived in May, and I’ve seen them flying low most evenings since then. On Thursday evening (22nd July), there were suddenly eleven of them! I assume that means they have fledged two broods of three youngsters. The expert who gave a talk to the MNA some years ago said they fly off to Africa immediately, but there were still six flying past and screaming on Sunday evening (25th). Do the youngsters hang around a few days longer, like young Swallows do?
Public transport details: Bus 13 from Queen Square at 10.07, arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.25. Returned from Mill Lane / Town Row on 13 at 15.02, arriving Queen Square 15.25.
Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.
If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website www.mnapage.info for details of our programme and how to join us.