A glimpse into the amazing world of lichen


The weather forecast for last Saturday indicated that low cloud and mist would hang about all day, so before setting out for my weekly “big walk”, I jettisoned my binoculars to lighten the load.

Treacle – our black curly canine – and I set out to walk the Duchess’s Drive, which is a six-mile circular track starting at Bowhill House, near Selkirk.

It was pea soup fog as we covered the first section of mixed woodland. Everything was dripping wet and the silence was overpowering. Everywhere, like tiny hammocks, were countless spiders’ webs, normally invisible, but coated in tiny droplets of moisture from the cloying mist. With no birds to see or hear and visibility down to a few yards ahead, I began to take notice of things closer at hand.

On the damp woodland floor, by the track side, were old tree stumps from a previous felling and they were covered in moss and lichen.

Some were like tiny grey/green cups on stalks, while others were much more colourful. The most obvious were the fruiting bodies of a lichen called British Soldiers, which were like minute matchsticks with bright red tips. Also to the fore in the colour stakes were the tiny clumps of vivid yellow stags horn fungus. Each clump was no bigger than my thumbnail, but looked at really close, a truly beautiful structure, resembling the antlers of the red deer, but much more colourful.

After taking several pictures of this amazing micro world, it was time to leave the woods and head out onto the open, heather-clad hill known as Black Andrew. Here the mist was even thicker and if I hadn’t done the walk many times before, I would have been truly lost. Gone were the usual vistas up the Yarrow Valley towards St Mary’s Loch and even the red grouse which usually frequent the area were silent and keeping their heads down. The only birds I saw were a flock of around 50 fieldfares which flew overhead, in sight for only a few seconds. I only managed to identify them from their chattering calls.

By the time we dropped into the Yarrow Valley close to Newark Tower, the mist had lifted, but by then my four-legged friend was dripping wet and shivering, so we headed straight to the car.

It’s amazing that even in such uninspiring weather conditions, there’s always something interesting to find in the countryside, if you just take your time and look.