A very memorable walk on Easter Sunday. It was after 6pm when we set off for Downe, having waved friends off. We took the normal route, veering off at point 3 to see the bluebells. There was an extraordinary silence. No Heathrow or Gatwick aircraft in the stack and precious little activity at Biggin Hill; just one executive jet took off in the course of the hour.
For some reason there was no traffic at all, although the pubs in the village were reasonably busy. I don’t think I’ve ever walked in this corner of the world with so little background sound, just birdsong. On that subject we distinctly heard the call of stonechats at point 5-6 from nearby undergrowth (a sound like two stones being knocked together). This was odd because stonechats are usually a bird of heathland. Anyway, a lovely sunset added to the tranquil, timeless scene and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Fishermen often land cod, plaice, bass and mackerel off the shingle close to the power station and twitchers delight in the migrant species that drop by. Historic structures abound and very trendy modern architecture peppers the shoreline among the fishing hulks, converted old railway wagons, coast guard and lifeboat buildings, nuclear power station and two-and-a-bit lighthouses. Local residents probably get a bit hacked off at the sightseers trampling noisily in the shingle around their homes (especially whoever lives in Derek Jarman’s old gaff these days) but that’s the price of living in a nice place.
Well, ‘nice’ isn’t really the right word. It’s ‘different’, not nice.
We went hoping for some sun but got little last Thursday. We were really taken by the fish’n’chips at The Britannia pub though, and the cool nautical decor (best pub loos ever). The Brexit Phonebox installation was quite striking too. I forgot my binoculars so relied only on mk1 eyeball to spot marsh harrier, a curlew, a hobby (I think) and a few wheatears. Probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway; my binox are rubbish. We popped in at the RSPB reserve later where there was a plethora of digging bees; an apparently rare sub species (More on Dungeness at North Downs and Beyond.)
One thing, if driving down (not the only way; you could get a train/bus/Dymchurch Railway combination from London) I’d avoid the M20… because of well publicised reasons (too depressing/boring to go into here), but also the lorry-up-your-arse thing. Instead, leave early take a leisurely and really scenic drive down the A21, turn off to Hawkhurst, Northiam then past Rye and Camber.
The countryside has truly woken up. I saw my first peacock butterfly of the year at Ide Hill on Sunday (the more observant among you will be wondering what took me so long I’m sure, they’ve been around for a couple of weeks now) although oddly I haven’t seen a brimstone yet. Maybe I’m just walking along, daydreaming, not really taking stuff in. Anyway, I have noticed the woods developing a healthy green sheen, patches of primroses, and even the odd impatient bluebell bursting into flower. In Scord’s Wood, below Emmetts Garden, I came across clusters of cardamine pratensis – cuckoo flower, a somewhat overlooked spring flower (it’s pretty but not vividly colourful). My camera ran out of juice though, so no pix.
Birdsong has gone up several notches, with chiff chaffs arriving from African and great tits getting particularly busy, blackbirds clearing their throats and robins getting very territorial about everything. Out running recently I surprised a couple of fieldfare picking out worms at Beckenham Cricket Club, no doubt soon to head east to their breeding grounds in continental Europe and further afield. They might have been mistle thrushes, when I come to think of it. Up close very beautiful.
If the abysmal weather puts you off travelling out of town for a walk, but the local park bores you rigid, I suggest Beckenham Place Park and Petts Wood for a stroll this Easter. Plenty of great woodland, only a few minutes’ drive from Forest Hill/Lewisham; a great chance for some fresh-ish air close at hand. Beckenham has a good cafe in the mansion; Petts Wood (a bit further out) has ample pubs dotted around it. Below are two pictures from yesterday late afternoon in Beckenham.
Beckenham Place Park mansion with a bunker from the rapidly disappearing old golf course
Sunshine at last … A view down a former golf fairway at Beckenham Place Park
There’s going to be another blast of cold air this weekend but otherwise we’re in that period of great change now as the first blossoms – usually blackthorn – starts to appear, and you begin to encounter wood anenome, celandine, violets and primrose on the ground. Wild garlic will soon be everywhere and, after, bluebells from mid-April. It’s an interesting time to be walking – still a bit muddy, yes, but with the consolation of lots of wildlife to look out for, flowers, trees coming into leaf, often drama in the skies with showers and rapidly moving fronts. Swallows will start arriving I’d guess in about two weeks, with house martins and swifts. Another arrival from Africa, the chiff chaff, will be heard with its hypnotic song particularly evident in Scords wood on the Ide Hill walk. But first, according to today’s forecast, there could be more snow for the weekend. Anyway, some early spring pix for you from the walks:
It’s that astonishing time of year when woods turn blue. I think from Easter to early May the bluebells will be great – there are some patches already in full bloom. The best of my walks for bluebells are Ide Hill and One Tree Hill(see below).
Bluebells on the Ide Hill walk
Here are the best places on my walks:
Shoreham circular: take the high path through Meenfield woods, the one that goes along the top of the hill. It’s marked on my digital mapwith a blue line. It just means continuing to the top of the hill after point 7 and turning right (north) at the top rather than two-thirds of the way up. The parallel paths meet later, by Shacklands Rd. There are not many bluebells on the regular route, so as I say, take the high Meenfield woods path.
Ide Hill: the best walk for continuous bluebells. There are great bluebells straightaway once you enter the Ide Hill NT woods behind the church, and even better in Scords wood just below Emmetts Garden. (Picture.) Amazing bluebells at Emmetts of course, but it’s best to pay the fee (or at least buy some cake!) if you linger in the gardens.
One Tree Hill walks: Good bluebells throughout these NT woods and also at the top of Wilmots Hill (on the ‘figure of eight‘ walk). Some lovely pockets of mixed bluebells and wild garlic (picture) off to the side of the path as you near Ightam Mote too (including a kind of garlic ‘jungle’ at one point). Some in the woodland between Shipbourne and Underriver too.
Downe: like the Shoreham circular you just have to make a small diversion to get the best bluebells, which are to be found in the hillside woods between Downe and Cudham (picture). Just turn left instead of right at point 3 and walk down to the woods. The hillside is called Downe Bank – a favourite place of study for Charles Darwin and John Lubbock (these great scientists’ names still make infuse this area with greatness and give it a special atmosphere). There aren’t many bluebells to be seen without the diversion.
There are good stretches of the blue stuff on the Hever walk, but perhaps less so on the Chiddingstone walk except in the woods above the river Eden (picture) on the return leg of the walk. There are excellent areas of the flowers on the Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk in the lower part of the wood, amid the chestnut groves just east of point 7 close to the railway tracks, stretching north towards the central fields. Knole Park is not great for bluebells compared with the other walks – but then One Tree Hill is just round the corner to sate your blues. However, back to Shoreham, the two Romney St/Shoreham eastern valley walks (5 and 14) have fantastic patches of bluebells in most of the woods the paths pass through.
The weather forecasters were spot on: sunny Good Friday, dreary Saturday, all over the place Sunday and Monday (with a dose of tropical storm bringing down branches and fences on Sunday night). A lot of the paths returned to peak mud status and the magnolias at Emmetts, usually so beautiful at this time of year, were looking a bit windblown and fed up. Looking at the pictures I put up below, on my previous post, I realise they must have been taken in mid-April last year – certainly the tulips at Emmetts were some way off flowering this weekend. So apologies to anyone I mis-sold on that! In the meantime, above are some pictures from Sunday and Monday at Knole and Ide Hill.