In the depths of springter

In the depths of springter

Of all the seasons-within-seasons, the end of winter, or springter, is one of the least enjoyable for walking I find. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy getting out into the countryside; it just means that when I do, I look around and think “meh” quite a bit. There’s still a lot to look out for in early March: old man’s beard (clematis vitalba), hazel and alder catkins, blossoming blackthorn, the vigorous growth of bluebell shoots, redwings and fieldfares flocking to migrate east, small birds breaking into song, the passage of gulls at high level etc, but the predominant colours are grey and brown, the air is still harsh and raw, mud clings to your boots and you slip on steep paths.

On recent walks to Hosey, Fackenden Down, Bough Beech and Downe, I found plenty to like but not much to inspire. This was partly because, apart from at Fackenden where there was an eyecatching sunset, the sky was unyielding and grey. Drama is needed in the sky at times like these, and springter often provides it as great air masses come into conflict, showering us with rain, hail, snow and sleet and producing fascinating aerial vistas. But at Hosey, all was monotone, at Bough Beech a thin Sunday drizzle dampened down any sense of vitality and at Downe, the morning brightness was consumed by a blanket of altostratus – the precursor to an approaching front – which had stealthily taken over the day as I was en route. But everyday is different if you look closely enough and the sun, a white ball behind the veil, did its best to make the stroll memorable.

  • View over Chartwell, Hosey walk
  • Bough Beech nature reserve
  • View over Bough Beech reservoir from the Bore Place chair
  • Downe walk under altostratus cloud
  • View from Fackenden Down

That terrific birder Dave accompanied me at Bough Beech, educating me as we went on the courtships of goldcrests, the behaviour of gadwall – a much underappreciated duck, he said – West Ham’s unsatisfactory season, the calls of marsh tit and treecreeper (I’d forgotten, again), and the distribution of local chaffinch populations. Although we made it to 39 species we saw no snipe, barn owl, brambling, kestrel or even buzzard as we hoped. The bird of prey fraternity was represented only by a solo red kite who lazily loitered above the low weald landscape for nearly half the walk, sometimes close, sometimes distant – an almost spectral presence so unfettered was it by the subdued, squelchy land below.

Thinking back to that red kite (which by the way would have been an extraordinarily rare sight in this part of the world until about 10 years ago) my springter moans and groans appear misplaced; these grey walks were brilliant.

Photographs by AMcCulloch

Farewell winter woods

Farewell winter woods

Before we start waxing lyrical about spring, wildflowers, birds and bees etc etc let’s salute the beauty of woods in late winter, particularly in March, which tends to be sunnier than February and reflects all kinds of subtle auburn nuances in the leafless trees. Around Bough Beech reservoir near Ide Hill the woods have been partially flooded by high water levels making for scenes somewhat reminiscent of the opening parts of that excellent film The Revenant. On the final Saturday in March the first bluebells, generally those in sunny spots in hedgerows, were showing, along with primroses, cuckooflower and so on but those trees around the north lake at Bough Beech in the late afternoon sun in their best end-of-winter finery stole the show. What a superb place that is to watch the sun go down. Pictured below: swamped woods at Bough Beech, silver birches in Stock Wood on the Hever walk, a stream though light woods at Bore Place, and a view back to the Greensand Ridge and Ide Hill across fallow fields from near Bough Beech on a perfectly serene late March day – winter’s last knockings. Finally, an iPhone pic of Shoreham and the Darent Valley on the Polhill/Shoreham Circular walk on Sunday 27 March… a rare day of low misty cloud and sunny patches.

Bough Beech – the lake you can’t quite get to

Bough Beech – the lake you can’t quite get to

From the heights of Emmetts Gardens, perched on the Greensand Ridge by Ide Hill, the reservoir at Bough Beech off to the south looks so inviting on a hot summer’s day – a cool dash of blue among shades of green, dotted with the white of small sailing dinghies breezily tacking this way and that.

On a hot day you might even think: “Cor, let’s get down there, hire a boat, a pedalo, splash about, perhaps a bit of waterskiing, finish off with a swim followed up by a nifty little sundowner in a trendy bar surrounded by people almost as slick as me.”

Crushing disappointment awaits you; none of these things are possible. The clue is in the name: look how they spell Beech – there’s no ‘a’.  True, there is a sailing club and it does have a bar (at the weekends at least) but its home page proclaims it is “run by the members for the members”. Which is lovely … for the members. Fair enough. All good.

Oh well, we can’t get on the lake to cool us off on a summer’s day, so how about a picnic in a delightful meadow with a spot of paddling in the softly lapping water?

Bough Beech reservoir – don’t even think about it.


Er… absolutely not! Much of the lake’s boundary is a nature reserve and you can’t get close to the water. Again … OK, fine. Nature is good, we love nature, even if we can’t touch it  – in fact it’s best if we don’t touch it.

Right, we can’t go in it or stop next to it. We’ll just have to walk or cycle round it while enjoying views across it, in the same way as you can at Bewl Water, an even larger reservoir not that far away. I suspect you may by now have worked out the format of this post and are anticipating me writing “Sorry, but you can’t walk round it”.

Sorry, but you can’t walk round it. I did try a couple of times with no real luck. Although there is a nice walk nearby that goes to Bore Place organic farm and takes in some nice little meadows and woods. You can even glimpse the reservoir if you crane your neck.

Where you can almost see the lake

Ah, here’s the Kent Wildlife Trust to the rescue. I read the KWT has a visitor centre in an oast house, a habitat reserve, nature trail and bird hides. There are picnic tables, and a car park. Big whoop! We’ve got our beautiful lakeside view after all, co-existing nicely with nature. Haven’t we?

Don’t be so naive, joker. It’s closed down. Now it’s an educational facility for some school or other. Anyway, even when KWT ran it you could barely see the lake from the visitors’ centre. And the nature trail went for about a third of a mile close to the reservoir’s western edge without quite giving you a view of it. Well, it did at one point, but there’s a huge fence in the way to prevent people from messing with nature. Then you had to walk back on a country lane down which vast 4WD vehicles hurtle along at colossal speeds, often driven by morons.

I’m told the ex-KWT site is still a great spot for birdwatching (even us dullards spotted greylag geese and great crested grebe) and you can indeed still use the bird hides and unleash your binocular power. Don’t expect any riveting conversation. It’ll most likely be “Seen the osprey?” Suspicious look, “who’s asking?”. Birdwatchers aren’t always the most communicative. (Not my mate Dave though, he’s brilliant.) Bough Beech does in fact have ospreys from time to time – not a beast fond of beautiful natural areas being opened up to the masses for frolicking.

Damn it. We’ll have to just drive around the lake on the adjacent country lanes, admiring it from various viewpoints. Off we go. We pass a sign that seems to be warning us about frogs. Oh I see, they cross the road here.

Glimpse of Bough Beech near end of Walk 17

Ah, hmmm, the lake should be over there … no – there’s woods, there’s fields… it’s over there somewhere, but now there’s a shallow hill in the way. Bloody hell, I give up – you can see it from Emmett’s but I’m beginning to think it was a mirage, it doesn’t exist. I’ll have to join the yacht people.

There it is!

Hold on though, what’s that? Suddenly there it is; a roadside vista of Bough Beech lake. And you can park up. In the north-east corner of the lake, close to the KWT reserve, there’s a causeway traversed by a lane; handily there’s a pavement so it’s a good spot to get out of the car and have a gaze and a twitch maybe. The photos here were taken from there.

I suppose Bough Beech lake might be ruined if we were able to do what we want on it and around it. So really I’m glad I can’t organise a barbecue on a summer’s evening on the shoreline, and that there’s not a kiosk charging £7 to plonk one’s jam jar there with an ice cream van for company. I’m delighted not to be able to pedalo on it – disturbing the geese – or cycle round it – and risk squashing toads.

I rest easy at night knowing I haven’t had a snifter while watching the sun go down over this elusive but idyllic spot. But suddenly my sleep is broken; I jolt upright – did I just run over a frog?

June 2020 update! In a barely credible incident totally in tune with these disturbing times, a young couple climbed over a fence at Bough Beech early in June and sat by the lake in the heat, dangling their feet in the water and eating Doritos (chili flavour). This endearing but incendiary scene lasted for about 7 minutes before irate birdwatchers rounded on them and ordered them out. I witnessed these events unfolding in real time; it was all so shocking that I forgot to film it and put it on social media.

Bough Beech/Bore Place walk

Lake, fields, woods, birds – the 2.5 mile Bough Beech walk

Another ‘new’ walk, the 17th for this website. This is a quiet one-hour stroll without any strenuous bits, not good for dogs (because of farms and potential livestock) or pushchairs (unless very dry). It requires a car, there not being any rail stations or bus services realistically within reach. The Kent Wildlife Trust centre was supposed to be a feature, but this is closing (bird hides will remain open) and being converted into an educational centre, and visitors can no longer use its car park.

But now the good news: it’s a charming little stroll, with good views of the reservoir and its often spectacular bird life, a pocket or two of very bird-rich woods and the interesting Bore Place with its lovely old house, used as an organic farm, events venue and educational centre. It’s close to the Ide Hill (two miles) and Hever/Chiddingstone (four miles) walks and not that far from Knole Park/One Tree Hill (five miles) so can be done as part of a big day out. It ends with a stretch along the reservoir next to the very quiet lane on its north-eastern side. Anyway, here it is. Also, here’s my blog post about the frustration of trying to find a route around the lake – one of the things that prompted me to find this walk.

Bough Beech reservoir