Thanks and best wishes to all readers… let’s get walking again

Thanks and best wishes to all readers… let’s get walking again

First of all, I wish all the best to Kent Walks near London readers as we all try to get through this period unscathed in terms of our health, your livelihoods and sense of wellbeing. To those who have had or still have Covid-19, many sympathies – it sounds horrendous in many cases. The countryside is slowly opening up, but we should all be mindful of social distancing and try to make way for each other on narrow paths. Let’s avoid overcrowding in good weather and take wipes for handling gates and stiles if possible.

Second thing, thanks to all those who have donated to this website… entirely voluntary so a heartfelt thanks from me. It’s only a small amount of course but it will help me produce more walks, better mapping and information and some will be going to charities too. There are adverts on the site too, you’ll see, but a niche page like this is never going to pull in the big bucks from the AdWords model so it’s little more than a token gesture towards commerciality. Maybe display ads from dedicated sources – outdoor retailers, pubs, or as you are about to read, apps – may be the way forward.

Oh, and please check out the Kent Wildlife Trust website. KWT manages some of the woods and sites on here (as does the Woodland Trust), helping maintain the paths and creating brilliant areas for flora and fauna. It deserves our full support (and donations right now).

’appy days with wildflower apps

Out and about for the first time in a while at the weekend made me reflect that May, June and July are probably the best times of year for trying to work out what kinds of wildflowers you hopefully aren’t trampling over.

Many wildflowers aren’t that spectacular compared with cultivated garden plants and we sort of take them for granted. But notice how, unlike some of our garden species, they don’t seem to suffer from the dry conditions so much.

Until recently I only knew obvious ones: cow parsley, buttercup, ox-eye daisy, buttercup, pyramidal orchid, etc. I was a blooming ignoramus you might say. But I started adding to my list by asking friends, looking at my dear departed mama’s old, faded book of illustrations (complete with samples turning to dust) and looking at websites. I half remembered things my mum told me as a kid, so pretty soon I could identify scabious, red campion and the like. And the more you keep an eye out and record, the more interesting the whole caboodle becomes. You start to appreciate the shy little flowers of the woods, meadows and margins, their colour and what they give to various creatures.

Common spotted orchid and trefoil, White Hill, Shoreham, on the Fackenden Down walk (in June 2019)

But by downloading the Picture This app on my phone (there are other similar tools too in the App Store, such as the excellent iNaturalist which I’ve also used) I’ve revolutionised my learning. The app compares your photos with its database pictures in seconds to tell you what you’re looking at. This has helped me identify stitchwort, bugle, white helleborine, yellow pimpernel, archangel, ground ivy, vetch, sainfoin, trefoil and milkwort, among others. It does tree leaves too. I’ve been quite oblivious to all this stuff for a long time, so please forgive my excitement.

Soon, an abundance of orchids will appear in places like Polhill Bank, Fackenden Down, Lullingstone, Magpie Bottom (see Walks on the menu above) and I can’t wait to get stuck into working out what’s what. The walks on this site are excellent for flora with chalky soils predominating on the North Downs; sandy soils on the Greensand Ridge and Weald routes.

I suppose flowery stuff is not the most useful information you’ll pick up in life but I find being able to identify wildflowers really does pique my interest and triggers curiosity about other things too… insects, birds and how our ancestors used these plants. It also makes up for the fact I am a pretty useless gardener.


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The first bluebell of 2016 is out!

The first bluebell of 2016 is out!

If you look hard there are probably quite a few around but I wonder if February 20 is some kind of record for bluebells.  Daffodils in December is one thing but bluebells in February is a new one for me. This i-Phone picture of a rather under-developed looking flower (looks as if it knows it’s early) was taken on Saturday Feb 20, 2016, in Meenfield woods above Shoreham, Kent.

Buzzards, aeroplanes and wild flowers

Buzzards, aeroplanes and wild flowers

The bluebells are well and truly finished now we’re into June, but the meadows in this little pocket of near-idyll from Westerham to Eynsford are alive with wild flowers. The field adjacent to Down House is particularly spectacular as are the open grass sweeps of Lullingstone. I’m no expert on variety identification but there’s more to see than just daisies and buttercups – there’s pyramidal orchids, abundant cow parsley, cowslips, chalk milkwort, speedwell…

Pyramidal orchid

Pyramidal orchid. Photo: Durlston Country Park, Dorset, flickr Creative Commons

Cycling near Cudham recently I disturbed a large buzzard. Close up, the scale of this bird of prey is decidedly impressive, but what suddenly occurred to me is that, when growing up, it was unheard of to see buzzards so close to London. They were definitely considered birds of the upland wilds, not the suburban fringe. There’s clearly been a sharp rise in their population in recent years in these parts … I wonder if there’s a breeding programme nearby, or perhaps it’s that their persecution by landowners has stopped. Soon after this I saw two buzzards soaring over the valley between Downe and Cudham, closely followed by a red kite gliding at height from north to south. Again, sightings that would have been almost unthinkable up until 10 years ago.

At Downe Bank, on another cycle on a recent coldish evening, I saw my first ever badger in the wild, hurrying across Cudham Road ahead of me as I laboriously ascended that steep hill.

Red Arrows

Red Arrows pictured near Biggin Hill by Adam McCulloch

On June 13 walkers in the area will be treated to the sights and sounds of Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Red Arrows, all flying at the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight. The air show marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and while a more modest affair than the airfield’s major International Air Fairs (until 2010), the event should prove a fitting tribute to those who fought against the Nazis from Biggin Hill. And walkers and cyclists in the area that day will get some unusual and exciting views of the planes as they manoeuvre for passes over the airfield.