With such gentle southern breezes up from Spain and a cobalt February sky we joined hundreds of others in getting out into the nearby Kent countryside today. Once again we chose the Shoreham Fackenden Down route, but this time in reverse: up the steps in the ancient Dunstall woods, across the muddy eponymous farm and down into the steep Austin Lodge valley then the climb to Romney Street. By the time we reached superb Magpie Bottom low clouds had drifted in and a strange quiet had descended, rendering that solitary place strangely eerie. Great! Our only notable bird sightings were both in the fallow fields at Romney Street: a female kestrel hunting exactly where we’d seen the short eared owl a few weeks ago and a huge buzzard lazily enjoying the mild weather. We’d expected to see more. Among the pictures, note the trees growing out of the obvious bomb crater.
Thanks to those who donated to the site today.
I’m often accused of being Kentist or Kentcentric. Maybe north-west-kentcentric. So in the interests of clearing my parochial name, I recommend this magnificent blog on local flora and fauna a bit further west along the North Downs. It’s called ND&B the author of which, Steve Gale, has dedicated years to observing what goes on in his ‘uber-patch’ in north-east Surrey and has racked up an astonishing list of species. On a sombre note, however, he is somewhat downcast about the future of wildlife and has documented a steep decline in bird, plant and invertebrate numbers over recent years. Gale’s writing and photography is of the highest order, and his work is an education for anyone interested in life outside.
Walks this weekend (October 7-8) in Downe and Darent Valley revealed shades of green rather than oranges and reds. Is it because of the relative warmth at the moment? Just feels as if the countryside just wants to hang on to summer and its leaves at the moment. Look a bit closer though and there’s plenty of scarlet in the form of rose hips. Apparently they are very edible and full of vitamin C.
One of the largest kestrels I’ve ever seen is currently hunting around the north-western (Eynsford end) of Lullingstone – a spectacular, silent bird. It must have been a female – they are noticeably bigger than the males. But even so, a real whopper. And on the Downe cycle yesterday we came across a red kite floating and flopping low down. It had probably spotted a dead thing.
Meanwhile, the Biggin Hill two-seater Spitfire was incredibly busy on joy flights. During our two-hour cycle it made three sorties, heading out to east Kent over Toys Hill and back over Shoreham. A great sight and sound. Few other aircraft up, probably due to the stiff breeze. Some pictures from Lullingstone/Eynsford today…
After the verdant delights of Penshurst I headed to the coast on Monday – I knew there’d be terrible traffic but the chance to enjoy Camber Sands on a genuinely hot day was too good to pass up. I took my bike and before hitting the sands cycled 7 miles to Dungeness RSPB reserve and back, via Lydd. The area truly is unique… I think it qualifies as a desert, though not one of sand; after you leave Lydd heading east, shingle and strange scrubby flora take over – nothing to do with the nuclear power station I’m sure. Dunge is a mecca for birders, though it was very quiet when I was there, despite fresh reports of a merlin, marsh harriers, exotic sounding warblers and yellow wagtails all being active and visible. The area is very elemental… little softens the border between land and sky and I wondered what it must be like in winter with an easterly wind. Lydd looks a good village in some ways but quite cut off feeling. Not sure how the ambitious plans for Lydd airport will pan out… seems absurd to expand an airport here, when Manston up at Margate with its huge runway, failed to become a sustainable proposition. Great area though, a wonderful day out. Enjoy the pictures.
Sadly for us south-east London golfers the 18-hole Beckenham course – once the UK’s busiest – has gone; happily for us south-east London walkers the space now opened up is superb! There are expansive grass areas, a mildly hilly terrain, footpaths through woods adorned with bluebells just now, plus excellent birdwatching and a no-nonsense cafe in the striking, though decaying, 18th-century mansion (where there are also yoga classes and an artist’s studio). If you can’t make it out to the countryside or to Chislehurst/Petts Wood, the park is a great place to get some exercise locally: it’s possible to do a three-mile walk within and around it.
Beckenham Place Park mansion
You can enter it from opposite Ravensbourne Station or from several points on Beckenham Hill Rd and from Westgate Rd. If you get off the train at Beckenham Junction or New Beckenham, just walk up to Foxgrove Rd and take the lane off to the left with rather grandiose houses on it called Beckenham Place Park. It’s also a short walk from Beckenham Hill station on the Thameslink (like Ravensbourne).
There are no plans to build on the park yet thankfully – but maximum vigilance is urged on that score. The only development at present will be flood defences (the Ravensbourne, Quaggy, Pool and Honor Oak rivers have been known to flood houses in the past), so bore holes and the creation of a water meadow kind of thing are on the cards. There has also been a lot of tree planting (native species).
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park website provides more details on events, development plans and amenities in the park. It’s possible to do a good urban walk linking Beckenham Place with the excellent Kelsey Park and South Norwood Country Park without too much pavement stomping. Oh, and there are kingfishers regularly seen on the Ravensbourne river.
One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.
Steve Gale’s North Downs and Beyond blog is a great place to learn more about the wild flowers, bird life and other fauna of the downs. He’s got a relaxed writing style and a depth of knowledge that can only come from getting out there and observing, measuring, chronicling. Give it a read.