The Little Avon River is formed from many small tributaries, most of which rise on the edge of the Cotswold scarp, at the heads of the many combes which characterise the south western edge of these hills. Flowing in a westerly direction, it passes near Charfield and then has cut a valley for itself which, between Avening Green in the east and the M5 to the west, has been carved into a deep, narrow channel. The river has, no doubt, been restricted by the hard volcanic rocks called “trap” which are exposed in the area. In the middle is Damery. The valley is narrow, about one mile long, with steep wooded sides, mixed conifer and deciduous on its northern slope and conifer and open field on the southern side, all looking down on the quiet river meandering through green fields and woods. The lane and bridge seem lost in the quietness.

Damery Valley is interesting geologically because it is the type locality of the Damery Beds, a division of the Llandovery Series of the Silurian period which outcrops as part of the Tortworth Inlier, in this area. The volcanic rocks can be found in many places as can the Damery beds which are characterised by fine-grained sandstones, mudstones and silt, with bands of highly fossiliferous limestones all of which are poorly exposed.

It is here that “deep in the countryside” comes to me with great force. In the early spring, the slopes are bright with primroses and celandines, pussy-willow and hazel catkins are in profusion, while a little later, bluebells cover the wood floor on the northern side giving way in places to carpets of wild garlic. Clumps of wild daffodils push up through the dead sticks of last year’s summer. Later, red campion, dead nettle, cow parsley and other flowers of summer take over. The trees, having shown off their delicate spring tints, come back into their own with early autumn colours, accentuated by the low golden sunlight. Early morning and evening are the best times in this quiet little corner.

Morning is also the best time for the birds. I have heard the first chiffchaff of spring here in more than one year. Bluetits, long-tailed tits and goldcrests love the low conifer cover while the warm valley attracts other warblers like the blackcap and willow warbler and on one exceptional spring day, a wood warbler. Grey wagtails flit and bob along the riverside, Piatant mating, can reward one with the bubbling song, and even sight of a dipper a pair nested here in spring 1983. Overhead one can hear and hopefully see the pair of buzzards that have the valley as part of their territory. Kestrels hover on the hillside, enjoying the protection of their habitat by the M5, while skimming low over the alder trees one can see a marauding sparrow-hawk, Rooks make a dreadful din from the trees on the southern slope while their cousins the jays answer from the northern woods and magpies scavenge in the fields along the river. Look carefully in the trees - tree creeper and nuthatch investigate the barks for insects.

A quarter of a mile upriver from Damery Bridge is the hamlet of Alder Green, where the volcanic rock, the Upper Tap, is well exposed and, if one is in luck, small pieces of agate can be found. One May day in 1983, I was cycling slowly down the lane into the hamlet paying much attention to the blocks of stone lying beside the road when a particularly interesting block prompted me to dismount. I parked my bicycle in the hedge along- side the wood on the southern side. Before I could turn, a loud buzzing came at me and I had been stung on the eyebrow. I moved away, rather surprised, only to be stung on the same side, just below my eye. I decided “time to get out” and I ran up the lane away from my bike. Before I had got out of range I had been stung twice more on my head. It transpired that I had parked my bike over the hedge from where a beekeeper was examining his hives. As he explained later, due to the cold, wet 1983 spring causing a severe shortage of flowers and nectar, the bees were highly aggressive, and a bald the shortage on anything pollenate and so had a go at me. Fortunately, except for a rather swollen eye for a few days there was no other reaction. I also had the satisfaction of knowing I had joined the ranks of intrepid naturalists who have suffered at the hands of wild animals, poisonous snakes and angry natives!

My most memorable occasion was a fine day in June 1982. I was examining one of the small exposures of the Damery Beds when I found a specimen of particularly interesting shape. It was 3 cm in diameter, 1.8 cm in depth with the striking feature that the circumference was indented by twelve equidistant notches, each notch forming a pillowy section and running up towards the top centre as radial depressions. On the underside, it gave the appearance of having been anchored by a stalk. The specimen, now in the British Museum collections has been identified as a Palaeoscenasteroma specie - a form of Scyphomedusa or jellyfish only previously described from the Lower Lias of Lower Saxony. So the Damery jellyfish, although morphologically somewhat different from its Liassic versions, is, nevertheless, a rare example of a form not easily fossilized at any time in geological history, and also is 200 million years older than its Jurassic counterparts.

Walking, cycling or just sitting in the valley of the Little Avon River, enjoying the flowers and birds (but not the bees!) and examining the varied geology, with the bonus of finding a rare specimen, is a most enjoyable experience - my own idea of “being lost in the depths of the countryside”.