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.
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.
It has been said that the longish hot summer this year will lead to particularly vibrant colours from later this month and up until December. Could be hype I suppose, but let’s entertain the notion that it’s true. Even if it isn’t, every autumn is colourful and fascinating given the migrating birds, transforming hedgerows and trees. All the walks on this site are great for classic fall colours because there a lot of trees in Kent! And I can’t think of a walk here without a great view. But if push comes to shove I’d say the One Tree Hill walks (6 and 7), the Chiddingstone walk and the Westerham walk are the top three, closely followed by Ide Hill and Shoreham Mk2. Anyway, we’re not there yet… still warm enough to pretend it’s summer (well, it was if you were reading this on Friday – no longer!), even if the wind is gusting noisily as I write and talk of storms is darkening the bright smiles of the TV weatherforecasters.
A beautiful stroll on Sunday in 32C sunshine at One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks. We did a version of the figure-of-eight walk, past Ightam Mote, skirting Shipbourne then on to the hamlet of Budds before climbing back up the green sandstone ridge at Wilmots Hill. We passed hardly a soul but nor did we see many birds. Everything was still, waiting for evening coolness as the last of the daytrippers sidled contentedly away from Ightam Mote, smiling and clutching bags containing goodies from the National Trust shop. The hushed reverential mood of the day was only heightened by the sudden appearance of one of the Biggin Hill Spitfires glistening in the sun, banking hard towards Plaxtol and briefly getting into formation with a slow twin-engine passenger plane (maybe a photo sortie?) before dashing off west. A thrilling sight.
Some of this winter’s coldest weather has breezed in from the north east. It’s brought snow flurries, few of which have penetrated as far west as London but have deposited a few centimetres on the Greensand Ridge south of Sevenoaks, and along the North Downs towards Maidstone.
I was rather taken by the scene yesterday morning at 9am while cycling from my home in Lower Sydenham to the railway station. As I crossed Perry Hill in bright sunshine, flakes of snow suddenly intensified into a bit of a mini-blizzard, seemingly out of a blue sky. I looked around and saw it was being blown in from a dark cloud to the north. Just at that moment I heard the ‘cawing’ of a crow and saw to my astonishment a peregrine falcon clutching a small bird in its talons wheel away to the south, beating its wings rapidly, as two irate crows followed in lukewarm pursuit. An unusual thing to see in Sydenham, while it snowed – from a blue sky.
Rosebay willowherb is now in full bloom in glades, on verges, and by railway tracks throughout Kent. One of the factors causing the plant to spread so much in the past 70 odd years was the second world war when clearings were made in woods, aerodromes were built all over the south east and bombs were dropped across the region. Why this should be I don’t know… anyway honey bees love ’em and when you see clusters it’s quite a spectacular sight. One such spectacle is in the clearing in the woods at the top ofOne Tree Hill. Keep quiet here and just listen to the hum of the bees. On Sunday we did the ‘hidden valley’ walk from One Tree Hill; I haven’t put it on this site yet, but will do. The walk ends up as another Ightam Mote circular but takes in a fabulous secluded valley behind Wilmots Hill which brings you out at the Mote after passing somewhat sinister-looking accommodation for early 20th century hop pickers. I’ll write up the walk soon… can’t believe I haven’t done it before.
This weekend is bound to be a big one for walking; I’m just hoping the mud has subsided a bit now it’s been dry for a while. The early weather forecasts are suggesting that Good Friday will be best on the meteorological front; after that it’s downhill with a drizzly Saturday and showery Sunday in store. Check the Met Office here. Spring proper is just round the corner and the countryside is waking up. I’ve seen my first queen bumblebee of the year; ponds are full of frog and toad spawn; birdsong is taking off (though I’m yet to hear signs of chiffchaff arrivals from Africa – Ide Hill walk great for them); wood anenomes, hawthorn, and wild garlic are flowering; and the carpet of green in the woods will be turning blue by mid-April from the looks of it, although I spotted my first flowering bluebell in early February this year – see previous blog post.
It’s a good time to visit National Trust and other interesting places, which usually offer nature walks and children’s activities in the coming days. Here are some of my favourites, either on or close to the walks listed here:
• Penshurst Place(nr Tonbridge): crafts, storytelling and, for adults, a spring guided stroll including lunch (£28 including admission) • High Elms nature reserve (nr Bromley): excellent nature centre with orchards, ponds, cafe, wildlife information plus gardens (free) • Hever Castle (nr Edenbridge): an array of easter stuff including a Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt (free after paying admission) • Emmett’s Gardens: (nr Ide Hill/Brasted): Cadbury’s (or should that be Kraft?) easter egg hunt (free after paying admission) • Knole: (Sevenoaks) guided walks, easter egg hunt (free after admission) • Lullingstone Country Park (Eynsford): activity trail and easter egg hunt
• Down House (Downe/Bromley): something interactive and historical for kids involving people in costumes (basically I’m not quite sure, but chocolate will happen). Very close to High Elms though, so could tie in.
And here are those walks again. They work for me at all times but in the spring I’ve always favoured the Otford circular via Romney St and the Ide Hill walks for some reason.