When autumn gets it right these walks can be rather picturesque. Golden light, a fresh breeze, vibrant colours under a cobalt sky. And a pint of Harvey’s in the pub. But such days have been scarce for most of October and November I think we can agree. Autumn is great for cliches too (golden light, vibrant colours), which I am too readily resorting to. So I’ll shut up.
I love how Bill Bryson always homes in on the essentials: he’s a writer who’s really connected to what’s best about people and our environment and he doesn’t bother too much with noise. These are troubling times in the UK, certainly relative to the past 25 years or so. But here’s Bill, helpfully retweeted by broadcaster John Simpson:
This is still the best place in the world for most things – to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in the view.
I read that and immediately felt better about the currency crashing, the divisions stoked up by the B word, the erratic leadership of the current prime minister, the inadequacy of the official opposition, the possibility of a national crisis. It’s a great quote and I like to think it kind of sums up why I put this website together. And here’s a picture from a recent stroll at Knole Park of nothing much – just late afternoon autumnal light. (Top picture is of Knole House, of course, catching the rays as it does so beautifully at this time of year.)
It’s the time of year when birdwatchers start getting itchy feet… the autumn migration is revving up. Swifts, swallows and martins will be heading back to Africa along with yellow wagtails, chiffchaffs and the like. Some birds travel, some stay. Some species are split between resident populations and visitors; even blackbirds that hop on your lawn can be either from your hedge, or Belorussia. Soon redwing and fieldfare will begin to arrive from the east, maybe, later, waxwing too. I find it all a bit confusing to be honest and hard to remember the whys and wherefores. My friends Dave and Steve (check out the extraordinary North Downs and Beyond blog) are supremely accomplished in this area and languidly reel off reports such as ‘Box Hill 7am: 40 sand martins, 13 flycatchers, a honey buzzard, two cuckoos, 12 common buzzards and a female goshawk.’ Apparently, these birds, rarely seen by the layman, are all there just waiting to be spotted if you bother to wait and look.
Migrating birds can crop up anywhere but some maintain there are certain routes that are followed more than others. River valleys cutting through the downs make sense as a visual guide to birds but also as a way of keeping out of low cloud. You might imagine a warbler saying to another… you just head down the Darent Valley, then when you get past Fackenden Down chuck a left and you’ll eventually hit the Medway. When that gets wide you hit the Thames then spin right and soon you’ll be in Belgium, God’s own. So my tip for birds on the wing would be Shoreham, Lullingstone, Polhill and Fackenden walks. The Darent is, like the Mole and Wey further west in Surrey, a fine cut through.
This weekend will be a glorious opportunity to walk and get the binoculars out. The weather looks great, although the cricket and football’s on…
I’m not great at observing birds although I’m always seeing kingfishers out of the corner of my eye when near water. However, I did see a red kite last week on the chalk escarpment south of Cudham on my regular cycle route. It glided right over me at a height of no more than 50 feet. A sight like is not something you can forget easily.
The diversion to Fackenden Down is a great variation to the Shoreham circular walks. If you walk over the top of the hill and continue to Magpie Bottom you join the Romney Street walk, shortening it slightly. Fackenden Down and Magpie Bottom are both sites of special scientific interest and are examples of chalk upland being rewilded. Both have great biodiversity with rare plants, insects, birds and reptiles. See details (Walk 19). The other walk that can be altered to take in Fackenden Down is the ‘eastern valleys’ walk. Here are some pictures:
Here’s a map of the near-four-mile route; description here
The Greensand Way route between Ightham Mote, One Tree Hill and its Wilmot Hill derivatives are great for winter light after about 2.30pm at the moment. Picture below is from yesterday about 3.45pm. Love how the sheep reflect the light. It looks darker in the picture than it actually was… trying to get the exposure right for land and sky always a challenge.
A walk with added poignancy today. Mariner’s Hill (Walk 15) has great views over Winston Churchill’s house at Chartwell to the Weald. The autumn colours here are particularly vibrant although I don’t think the hot summer and ridiculously mild autumn has led to more vibrancy than normal – as was advertised by some sources.
The clocks have gone back. For me that means rushed late afternoon walks as dusk gathers. Today’s speedy stroll was at Ide Hill, ending in complete darkness. Was hoping for an owl, but didn’t even see a bat. Some beautiful autumnal scenes though, across the Low Weald of Kent.