Selborne Common and The Lythe butterfly walk
Selborne Common has a strong sense of antiquity and spirit of place, as you move from glade to glade.
A good site for high summer butterflies, notably silver-washed fritillary, but also some purple emperor, white admiral, brown argus and purple and brown hairstreak. Speckled wood is common, and orange tip and green-veined white in spring.
Selborne car park, behind Selborne Arms, grid ref: SU742335
From the entrance of the car park behind the Selborne Arms, follow the footpath sign to Selborne Common. Go through the footpath gate to the bottom of the Zig-Zag path, which ascends the scarp slope. This path was cut in 1753 by the brother of 18th-century natural historian and ecologist Gilbert White. It isn't as steep as it looks and there's an iron seat three-quarters of the way up, offering views over Selborne and the Oakhanger woods. There's another seat at the top.
Brown hairstreaks are occasionally seen on the upper reaches of the Zig-Zag during August, and their white eggs can be found there on blackthorn stems in winter. Look out for brimstones and green-veined whites in spring, and purple hairstreaks during July and early August.
At the top, after regaining your breath, bear right, upslope, and go through the gate on to Selborne Common proper. Inside the gate, turn immediate left to follow a broad grassy path, through a glade with ivy-covered dead trunks of beech trees truncated by the great storms of 1987 and 1990. Carry on right down this track, which has shady sections below towering trees and sunny open glades. There are occasional vistas out over Noar Hill and Edward Thomas country to the south east. Eventually, you come to a fingerpost in the far bottom corner of the Common.
During July and August silver-washed fritillaries abound in the glades, feasting on bramble and hemp agrimony flowers. Some 270yd (250m) down the track, from the entrance gate, is a large blackthorn jungle opposite a stand of holly. This is the best area for brown hairstreak: the males gather on ash trees here and the females flit around the blackthorn. Both sexes visit hemp agrimony flowers. Also, look out for purple emperor from late June to late July, soaring high over the tall trees. More easily, brimstones and speckled woods are seen here.
At the fingerpost, turn right and quickly right again by a second fingerpost, up a broad straight track heading back up into the Common.
White admiral corner breed on the abundant honeysuckle trails here. Also look out for purple emperor, especially the huge females flitting around the sallow bushes here.
This track opens out onto The Green, which was used as a cricket ground for about 100 years from the 1790s. A small number of docile cattle now graze here in summer. On entering, bear left and head towards Wood Pond, and then turn right and head north along the mown path, skirting the western edge of the open grassy area.
The grassland supports marbled white, meadow brown and ringlet during July, and gatekeeper and small heath in August. Also look out for brown argus and small copper in August, and a glimpse of a female purple emperor during early to mid July, around the huge old sallows on your left.
At the path junction, where a major path joins from the right, bear left along the broad straight ride known as The Pipeline (for that is what it is). This leads back to the gate at the top of the Zig-Zag.
Look out for brown and purple hairstreaks on ash and oak trees at the start of this section. Many butterflies, sucha as orange tip and brimstone, fly along The Pipeline, especially in spring and early summer. You may also see a white admiral here in late June or early July, and silver-washed fritillaries in July and August.
For the Lythe from Selborne car park, turn left along Selborne High Street (which is very busy). Just past the Gilbert White and Oates Museum, cross the road and head for Selborne churchyard. Gilbert White's grave is signed here, on the north side of the church. Valezina Viscountess Bolingbroke (daughter of the great butterfly artist and expert FW Frohawk) is buried in the graveyard's south-east corner. Take the path that leads out from the graveyard into and across Church Meadow, heading for a wooden bridge across the stream.
Butterflies and wildlife
The famous Selborne yew tree blew down in one of the great storms of January 1990, but a replacement is well established. Look out for brimstones and holly blues in the churchyard in spring, and common blues, meadow browns and small coppers in the meadow. There's a large rookery in the beech hanger opposite.
Cross the wooden footbridge and carry on down the track. Between the Short and Long Lythes (two steep banks of 'hanging' beech and ash woodland on your left) is a small grassy coombe on your left and a small meadow on your right. Past the iron bench, along the Long Lythe, the ground opens out on your right into a long thin and rough meadow, developing where a poplar plantation has been removed. National Trust property ends at the field entrance beyond this linear meadow. The easiest thing to do is retrace your steps, but you can follow the public footpath across the privately-owned field towards Wick Wood, turn right at the junction with another footpath to Priory Farm, turn right again there and follow the footpath system back along the opposite side of the valley (2 miles/3km). It's advisable to take the OS map with you for this.
Butterflies and other wildlife
An excellent place for brimstone, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and especially orange tip and green-veined white in spring. In high summer, the grassland areas abound with marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet and large skipper. The birds are terrific, with a rookery, a jackdaw roost, nuthatches, various tits, chiff-chaff and stock dove. The linear meadow has many common spotted orchids, and much ladies smock.
Selborne car park, behind Selborne Arms, grid ref: SU742335
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