All Hail The Great Beech

The Great Beech in St. Catherine's Park.
The Great Beech in St. Catherine’s Park.

I hadn’t thought to post again before the race, which all happens this Sunday. The nerves are starting to tingle, and the training has dwindled down to basic maintenance. It’s too late now anyway. It’s either in there, or it isn’t, and we’ll know by the time Ireland kicks off their next match against Romania at 16.45pm.

So even though there has been a steady swim and a run already this week, with probably a short spell on the bike and maybe another dip in the pool to come, it was a morning walk with Holly the Wonder Hound that gave me food for thought this week.

We took a wander down our normal haunt; the Black Avenue, and St. Catherine’s Park. As we strolled along the lane, I could hear the now familiar cries of the buzzard. It turned out to be a quintet in all, which is quite a sight. And a pair of Mute Swans flew past by way of contrast.

Beauties and the beasts.

Dead shrew.
Dead shrew.

Further along, just past the Francis Johnston-designed gateway, we found a poor little shrew. No obvious, visible cause of his demise, but we put him into the hedgerow anyway. Nature will recycle the body.

Just past this point is the Great Beech. It does not officially bear this title, but it should. It is the most outstanding tree in the whole Park (no pun intended).

I have no idea how old it is, but other beeches of lesser stature came down this year along the Avenue, and they were in and around 170 years old, dating them back to the Great Famine. The Great Beech must be older. Its bark is marked with the initials of many young sweethearts, and I suspect the tree has outlived most of these.

Bracket fungi on the beech.
Bracket fungi on the beech.

As is the case with many old beeches, they carry bracket fungi around like big sharks carry remoras. Old beeches also have rot pools at their bases, amongst the roots. And they also tend to die from the inside-out, and this old dame is sadly no different. They can live on a long time with a hollow trunk, but inevitably a big winter storm claims them. And this tree is standing on its own, so has no protection from its fellow trees in the wood across the path.

The beech has lost its crown in recent years, and a few months ago, a decent size branch fell to the ground. It all points to the one conclusion, but who knows? She may outlive us all.

Rot pools at the base of the tree.
Rot pools at the base of the tree.

We went on past the beech and up into the woods proper. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, but the woods here are mature with plenty of beech, sycamore and hazel, and the leaf cover created that classic ‘sylvan shade’.

The paths here are fringed with ferns. Holly set off exploring as we doubled-back towards the pine plantation.

The way home is back along the Black Avenue, and where some of the 170 year old beech had been removed, honey fungus has started to sprout through.

Eruptions of glossy fungi are creepy, without doubt. They look fascinating, and make great photographic subjects, but you don’t feel like getting too close.

On a completely different topic, Coach TC (who isn’t my coach… a running gag. And yes, pun intended!) has given Old Bessie the once-over and the TC gold seal of approval for the 90kms cycle.

The back wheel needed some tweaking, so Terry whipped it off and had it re-aligned in jig time. Watching him spin a wheel and adjust the spokes is like watching a master musician playing the harp. He has also convinced me to invest in some clip-less pedals in the future. That will mean ditching the toe-clips I am currently using. No harm. Any advantage should be taken (though I may have to draw the line at those very dodgy-looking ‘spermy’ time-trial helmets…)

Whilst I’m on the subject, Terry won four medals at the Master Track Nationals this month; three golds and a bronze. The guy’s a legend.

Next time I chat to you, I hope to be a half-ironman.

A fern deep in the woods.
A fern deep in the woods.
Another view of the Great Beech.
Another view of the Great Beech.
The strong muscular bole of the Great Beech.
The strong muscular bole of the Great Beech.
Honey fungus along the Black Avenue.
Honey fungus along the Black Avenue.
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