23 members met on a glorious autumn morning near Gatcombe church, for a circular walk south to Sheat, and then back across to New Barn, and the road through Gatcombe village. We began at the church, enjoying the medieval and Pre-Raphaelite glass, the “crusader” effigy, some of the carvings on the exterior, as well as more modern features such as the attractive range of kneelers, and the tomb to Charles Seely who died in Gaza in the First World War.
After admiring the view of the early 18th century Rectory from the churchyard, we moved through the woods behind Gatcombe House, a former Red Cross Hospital a hundred years ago. We looked at harts tongue fern, a harlequin ladybird, and a number of examples of red campion still in bloom. Descending towards Sheat, we saw where the original line of the road from Chillerton to Sheat had run, before it had been pushed further east by the Campbells. They were living at Gatcombe House in 1822, and moved the road to gain extra privacy. We went on a short diversion to see Sheat Manor from the north, and discuss its tradition as a home of families sympathetic to Roman Catholicism on the Island: both the Urrys and then the Heneages who built early Roman Catholic churches in Cowes and Newport lived here. Nearby we saw where the local stained glass workshop is sited.
We then walked over the hill towards Tolt Copse and New Barn. We saw four species of butterfly, including some particularly good views of comma. Birds included buzzards, a grey heron at the field edge, yellowhammer and no fewer than four bullfinches in one bush. From the top of the rise we could enjoy the panorama, and learn how in the 19th century the landscape in front of us had not been part of Gatcombe parish, but divided between detached portions of Wootton and Carisbrooke. Descending towards New Barn we looked across to one of the last sights for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly on the Island.
Once we regained the tarmac road through the village we picked up speed, stopping to admire Little Gatcombe where Dame Elizabeth Worsley had lived in the late 18th century, which at that time had a grove of walnut and beech trees at the side of the kitchen garden. As the walk came to an end buzzards circled low overhead and a flock of linnets rose up from the side of the stream. This was the last warm fine day in a settled spell of weather, and it was wonderful to be able to take full advantage of it.