This is an excellent short walk devised by Tony Metcalfe which, having plenty of shade, is ideal for a sunny day in May. At this time it also has the promise of seeing the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly, and also butterfly orchids, on Strawberry Banks nature reserve. The total length is about 5.3 km (about 3 miles) with a modest amount of climbing up to the top of Strawberry Banks.
- Park in the long lay-bye between Old Neighbourhood and the entrance to Chalford High Street.
- Walk towards the "Lavender Bake House" (in the Cirencester direction) until you can pick up the entrance to the canal towpath.
- Follow the towpath for approximately 2km, going under two road bridges.
- After the second bridge, arriving at Baker's Mill cross the bridge over the canal onto the road and turn right (back in the Chalford direction).
- Follow the road back across the canal and keep left in the direction of Chalford.
- Take a rising track into the woodland below Strawberry Banks along a public footpath.
- Explore the two fields of this nature reserve, which are rich in wild flowers and butterflies.
- Descend along the stream and cross over stepping stones. Note the "tufa" on the stream bed.
- Take a rising track to Oldhill Woods (name as marked on the OS map - possibly also know locally as Three Groves Wood). There are numerous tracks through this wood the required route is broad, stays high, runs west.
- Follow the track through woods to Valley Corner, swinging north into Dimmel's Dale.
- Descend back to Chalford and pick up the canal again to return to your car.
This walk passes through Strawberry Banks nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), it is managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and has open access at all times. The fields, surrounded by woodland, are Oolitic Limestone grasslands supporting a stunning variety of flora and fauna. During our brief visit the Early Purple orchid, Greater Butterfly orchid, Common Spotted orchid, Wild Columbine, Common Rockrose, Milkwort and Sainfoin providing vivid splashes of colour throughout the grassland. Strawberry Banks is a local hot spot for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly and judging by the number of photographers there, one of the most photographed. Marsh Fritillaries breed in the same patch year on year. They are found on the wing from mid May to early June with the males emerging first. The male is usually smaller than the female and slightly darker, although the colour of both sexes can vary from bright to dull and pale to dark. This was very evident during our visit. The food plant for the caterpillars is Devil's-bit Scabious and the female prefers those growing in a warm sunny position to lay her eggs on.
Strawberry Banks is the highlight of the walk but the woodlands and the pathway running between the river and canal offer many delights, Dippers skimming over the water or bobbing up and down when perched to the slanting sunlight through the fresh green leaves. Enjoy nature at it's best.
Marsh Fritillary at Strawberry Banks
Sainfoin, Strawberry Banks