One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. This year it’s kicking off a bit later than normal because of the frankly disgraceful weather between February and mid-April. But thanks to the sudden switch to summer – bypassing spring completely it seems – there should be a profusion of bluebells from now until the third week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods (update: as I write, now May 6 the bluebells are already fading somewhat). The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill, Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Shoreham Circular (take the high Meenfield Woods diversion), Otford and Romney Street, and Downe (if you do a brief diversion down into the woods at Point 3 – marked on the map and the pdf). Pretty much all of them then! See below or the menu above for details of these walks.
Meenfield Woods bluebells, above Shoreham
We walked at One Tree Hill last Saturday (14 April) and very few bluebells were out but there was a pervasive aroma of wild garlic and plenty of cheeky little wild flowers popping up – primroses and the like. The bluebells that were blooming were on south-facing slopes.
There was a lot of mud in places, but beginning to dry up on this, by far, the best day for walking in about five months! Three highlights were the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote, the sight of buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and brimstone butterflies floating around the meadows (but never close enough to photograph).
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:
All of these walks are great for autumn colour but Ide Hill’s panoramas, valley mists and tree varieties are a bit special. Even though the red/orange thing hadn’t really got going last week these pictures give a flavour of the season’s changes (see the walk’s page for more great autumnal shots). At Emmetts last week I really liked the weird bush with pink ‘berries’ – it loves it down in Patagonia where it lives above the tree line and it’s called gaultheria mucronata. The berries are apparently edible.
Anyone doing the Hever walk this weekend will be in for a (hopefully pleasant) surprise. At Wilderness Farm, in the south-east corner of the walk, the Neverland Festival is in full swing and the footpath between Stock Wood and Newtye Hurst Wood goes right through it (stewards are on the gate to check wristbands). Expect to see a lot of pirates, mermaids and lost boys, and hear some great bands. As festivals go it’s small scale and in a beautiful setting – definitely one for the diary next year. There are more festivals coming up at the site. I personally think they add to the walk in a funny kind of way.
Meanwhile, further down the path there are some great unpicked blackberries (well, not any more) lining both sides of the path for 300 metres. In these days of foraging (presumably the whole population will be at it after Brexit!) it’s rare to find so many. Now I just need to freeze them.
Yep, crisp winters’ days are great; mellow autumn walks can be lovely; and spring fills you with hope. But can you really beat heat? Humid, sultry but not too hot today. Clear enough for views stretching for miles too. With my younger son I did the Hever walk in reverse (yes I’ve got the nagging feeling it’s better than the way round I’ve suggested in the description – you get the half-mile road bit out of the way early, for starters). The insect world was happily whirring away; flotillas of butterflies arose from the buttercup-rich meadows. A sparrowhawk glided past us silently in one glade. And in a field by Stock wood we came across some friendly older guys flying large radio-controlled aircraft, including aerobatics, next to a little grass runway cut out of the meadow. They were the only people we met on the 5 mile route; remarkable really when you consider that Hever Castle was, well, heaving. Some pix…
I love to do this walk several times over the spring, catching the various colours as they flare up and die down at Emmetts and in the woods and fields. The bluebell clouds are starting to fade now; by next weekend they’ll be well past their best (although the wild garlic is still vibrant), but soon the foxglove ‘forests’ of the Ide Hill/Toys Hill valley will spire up to replace them. I wonder if the bluebells have been a bit short-lived this year because of the cold, dry weather, which followed a very warm early spring. Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green. Emmetts of course is always a kaleidoscope of colour and right now is peak azalea. And those tulips… weird and so photogenic. This year’s black, red and white scheme is the best I’ve seen – check out the pictures below. Here are a few pix from the past two years in Emmetts and on the Ide Hill walk.
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.