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I dreamed a thousand new paths. I woke and walked my old one.
-Chinese proverb

Trip the Light Fantastic

wildflower walk High Peak trail

along the "High Peak" trail

Following the contours of the Derbyshire dale, the 15 mile trackbed of a disused railway cuts a picturesque swathe through limestone meadow and sheep pasturage. Drystone walls keep grazers at bay allowing native flora to thrive in undisturbed abundance all along the ‘High Peak’ trail.

Wildflowers grow in semi-uniform tiers as well as dense swathes of species planting; a design template we ornamental gardeners attempt to emulate. Pastels are the dominant palette with towering willowherb and grasses forming a backdrop of rose and oatmeal hues whilst vetch, vetchlings and clover scrabble together at the wayside fringes. In between are the blue-purple midlanders of Meadow geranium, Scabious and Knapweed although so diverse is the flora here that it would take a highly knowledgeable field specialist to identify them all.

Rosebay Willowherb or Fireweed  takes a foothold on disturbed ground or scorched earth, hence it probably arrived here after the builing of the railway in the mid 1800′s. Occasional embankment fires from steam engine sparks would have provided the perfect conditions for its continuance.
tiers of mixed wildflowersKnapweed (Centaurea nigra) wildflowers
Growing alongside is the less showy and hence somewhat contradictory Great Willowherb whilst gangly Everlasting pea scrambles further on up the  inclines.  Their identical rose pink colouration, that gardeners are wont to turn their nose up at, is evidently one of nature’s preferred hues.

Rosebay willowherb, Great willowherb and Everlasting pea

clockwise left: Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium); Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), Narrow-leaved Everlasting-pea (Lathyrus sylvestris)

Two types of scabious abide side-by-side, classified as separate sub-species and visually differentiated by their leaves and flowerheads; Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) open with obvious pink ‘pin’ inflorescences inserted into lilac cushions which the pom-poms of Devil’s-bit scabious overtly lack.
field scabious wildflowersHarebell wildflowersGathering round the rocky outcrops, crowds of Harebell hold aloft their papery blue flowers on such thin wiry stems that the bells seems to float in the air.

Devil's scabious, harebell flowerhead, birds foot trefoil

clockwise left: Devil's-bit scabious(Succisa pratensis); Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia); Bird's foot trefloil (Lotus corniculatus)

Aside from their necatary allure, wildflowers are essentially larders for numerous moth and butterfly caterpillars, miraculously surviving and even thriving on such depredations. The six-spot Burnet moth larvae exist almost exclusively on Bird’s Foor trefoil whilst the ubiquitous Nettle (Urtica Dioica) is the choice food plant for the Nymphalidae young of Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral.

bees, butterflies and hoverflies on field scabiousAs the late summer advances torn wings signify the end of days for most of the insect visitors here although there is no let up in the feeding frenzy, with Scabious and Knapweed competing for popularity in the pollination stakes.

bees, butterflies & hoverflies on Knapweed“Sport that wrinkled Care derives,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe” 1

my bubbly Grandson Oliver tripping the light fantasticThe sheer magnitude of native flowers  in this alkaline, sunny setting is enough to make the heart sing and the feet dance and so I’m joining Gail’ at ‘Clay and Limestone’ to share the joy of another Wildflower Wednesday.

1. John Milton “L’Allegro”

Useful Links:

Explore the High Peak Trail
BSBI: Identify UK wildflowers online

Further Reading:
Nationally 97 per cent of meadows present in the 1940s have disappeared. Kew’s  UK Native Seed Hub aims to grow plants which have proved difficult to cultivate in restoration programmes
©Copyright 2011 Laura Thomas.
All rights reserved. Content created by Laura Thomas @PatioPatch

29 comments to Trip the Light Fantastic

  • These wildflower fields are wonderful places for all of us both big and small. So many are merely places forgotten in the respect that somebody did not mow them, often amongst the worst conditions along the side of a road. But the life to be found there is always wonderful. A community of critters we can only hope our gardens can support, and no person planted them, just forgot them.
    Donna read my post..Diaphanous – A Word for WednesdayMy Profile

  • Good to see so much insect life on your walk, Laura.Everything seems very late this year.the butterflies have just put in an appearance. Have you noticed anything feeding on the Rosebay Willow Herb? It’s here in abundance but doesn’t seem to attract many insects other than bees and hoverflies.
    Janet at Planticru Notes read my post..Hoverfly on Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • Bees and butterflies seemed to prefer the other flowers but apparently it’s the food source of several moth caterpillars including Elephant Hawk moth. I noticed flies liked it too!

  • Sweet post Laura and I really like your photo collages with the highlighted pollinator. But the cutie pie in your last photo is adorable. Love Rosebay Wilow Herb, it’s a pretty pin k and it’s good to know that it also is a host plant for moths~happy WW! gail
    Gail read my post..Wildflower Wednesday: Partridge PeaMy Profile

  • What a variety of riches Laura :) As you no doubt know wildflowers are often abundant on used railway banks too . I think that some owe their widespread existence to the trains that speed along dispersing seed. Hope that the little fellow in your photo is able to skip through scenes like that for the rest of his lifetime.
    Anna read my post..Simply ScentsationalMy Profile

  • Derbyshire looks amazing. As for the wildflowers? Hehe… I recognise several of them as perennials in my garden. Weeds? Not one bit!
    Flâneur Gardener read my post..F is for… You guessed it: Flâneur!My Profile

  • I thought my campanula would grow easily as it’s supposed to be native, but its struggling. I can only dream that it will look like your photo one day.
    You didn’t miss much in London – it just rained a lot.
    b-a-g read my post..Apple (19 AUG 2011)My Profile

  • A lovely wildflower wednesday post. I must admit, the six-spot burnet moth is stunning, I haven’t seen one before.
    Curbstone Valley Farm read my post..Zucchini FrittersMy Profile

  • Lovely, lovely, lovely. I don’t need a garden when I can see these native beauties and their insects. (Although I do love my garden really). It was a cloud of Common Blues that was our walk highlight this week, also crazy for bird’s foot trefoil.
    judith read my post..walking empty hillsMy Profile

  • That verse was written for your little person to dance thru!!
    Elephant’s Eye read my post..For Wildflower WednesdayMy Profile

  • Gorgeous pics! I too love the wildflowers, Rosebay Willowherb being one of my favourites.

  • Love the pinks. I have found scabiosa to be a real butterfly/bee magnet here, too. The picture of the child running through the wildflowers is fabulous, and depicts such joy.
    Holley read my post..Best Perennial, August 2011My Profile

  • Dear Laura, An important post, beautifully penned and illustrated. It is so tragic that only 3% of English meadows remain — this decline occurred in my lifetime, so I remember how it once was. I am so glad you captured the essence. P. x
    Pam’s English Garden read my post..My August Blooms: The Big PictureMy Profile

  • Cat

    Laura, your last photo brings such joy! It’s so nice to see the next generation enjoy the beauty and freedom of a meadow of wildflowers!
    Cat read my post..Light of Foot ~ Light of SpiritMy Profile

  • - and thanks for hosting Gail. The collages help impress how much wildlife there is here
    - true Anna, railway embankments are havens and make a great garden theme (as my daughter calls hers)
    - Hi and welcome FG -no such thing as a weed!
    - we had good weather b-a-g. Is yours the same Campanula? Here’s how to grow Harebell
    - spotted it for the 1st time this year too Clare!
    - after this, can’t say the same for my garden Judith. A cloud of blues sounds heavenly.
    - Diana, my grandson, Oli expressing what I was feeling but too dignified to emulate!
    - apparently, Bridget, there’s a white version that would look good in the garden too
    - never sure about that shade of pink Holley but at least it’s natural
    - under threat of losing so much more Pam as the government is lifting planning restrictions on green belt land
    - hoping it will still be there when young Oli is my age, Cat

  • So lovely to know that there are still places where wildflowers abound. And how nice to be able to enjoy Willowherb en masse in the wild rather than fight it in the garden!
    Janet/Plantaliscious read my post..In praise of TNGMy Profile

  • Hi Laura,

    I love dry stone walls. When we visit Cornwall each year, I like to walk the country lanes and study the walls and their plantings.
    It never ceases to amaze me just how much lives and grows well in these old walls.

    I love rosebay willowherb…I even have some in the garden. I do keep and eye on it as it is very invasive (I know you know that :)

    Pleasure to see so many wildflowers, and the dear little chap at the end made me smile……

  • I love the colours especially the blues which are really fairly rare in wildflowers here anyway. The Willowherb reminds me of the landscape I live in, and it is everywhere at the moment. Your insect photographs are really wonderful and your collage format is cool:~) Lovely
    Foxglove Lane read my post..Just a few seconds of listening to lakeside grasses, birds and art…..My Profile

  • Most previous comments have said what I was going to say. It looks lovely! Your collages are so clever and really accentuate the beauty of wildflowers
    Ronnie Tyler read my post..Farewell Sweet PeaMy Profile

  • Oh so lovely! I took a wildflower walk myself today, and will post about it soon. It’s fun to compare notes on your native flowers versus ours.
    RobinL read my post..Things I LoveMy Profile

  • - only the occasional Greater Willowherb pops up here Janet. Invasion suggests ideal conditions!
    - so pretty are the wildflowers Cheryl, I wonder why we tame it all in gardens
    - me too Foxglove, summer blues reflect the skies though not at the moment
    - thanks Ronnie, enjoy making collages
    - some of ours are the same though Robin e.g. Fireweed

  • Your wildflowers are beautiful, and i want to do what the kid at the last photo is doing. It is good he has long sleeves and pants or else it will be too itchy for him. That photo is so cute.
    Andrea read my post..Simple garden nooks in the tropicsMy Profile

  • I wish Max and I could take that walk along the old rail path! Such lovely wildflowers– I especially enjoyed seeing the Harebells which I cultivate in my garden. And you were lucky to catch that rare shot of the beautiful Wild Child too in its native flowery habitat!
    Linniew read my post..The garden cannonMy Profile

  • I look forward to creating a field of wildflowers to shine as these do…so beautiful!
    The Sage Butterfly read my post..Searching for the Tranquil GardenMy Profile

  • how wonderful. brings so many childhood memories! Thanks!!!

  • The English meadow is so beautiful Laura, my artificial attempts which I have tried in the past could never compare.
    Alistair read my post..Rose Adam MesserichMy Profile

  • Laura,The end of summer is always such a great time for bold and beautiful wildflowers. Thanks for sharing yours. Carolyn
    Carolyn @ Carolyn’s ShadeGardens read my post..Colorful Annuals for ShadeMy Profile

  • Great post Laura! Your photos, text and adorable child as wild as the natives. Lovely!!
    Carolflowerhill read my post..Wild Skies, Plants and Butterflies Inside and OutMy Profile