Chiddingstone again… with angry clouds

Once again off to Chiddingstone, this time without birding maestro Dave. But saw my first two bullfinches of the year, plus very large slow worm (too fast for me to take pic of however), skylarks and cuckoo. Plus the best variety of dragonflies – some real beasts – I’ve ever seen on a walk, perhaps brought out by the number of winged insects after the huge storm last nght. Some awesome cumulus nimbus forming beyond north London (Channel 4 news’ weatherforecaster Liam Dutton reckons this storm was the one that wrought temporary havoc to Buckinghamshire yesterday evening). The cloud tops of this storm reached 40,000ft so everyone who saw it from Kent and Surrey thought it was much closer than it actually was.

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Glorious meadows and woods of Chiddingstone, but few birds…

Whenever I do the Chiddingstone walk it seems to be fantastic weather. Sunday was a real beauty, clear skies, bright sunshine, a whisper of cool breeze. Our resident anonymous birdwatcher Dave came along and straightaway I heard and saw far more species than usual; cuckoo, song thrush, skylark, goldfinch, and best of all, marsh tit in the swampy woods near the start of the walk. The latter is rare enough to be worth recording with the Kent Ornithological Society, which Dave duly did.

The cuckoo we later saw flying between oaks. For a moment I thought it was a kestrel, with its rapid flap, but Dave pointed out that the wings stayed too low for that to be the case.

Odd though that we didn’t see buzzards or kestrels. And there were only a few swallows, despite the many fantastic meadows left untamed and absolutely buzzing with insect life including mayflies. No swifts at all or house martins. Dave said this was troubling and representative of the mass decline in bird numbers (and, actually, insect numbers) in Europe as a probable result of farms’ use of neonicotinoid insecticides, now being somewhat tardily restricted by the EU.

However, one insect we did see several examples of was the european hornet (Vespa crabro). There’s clearly a nest in the village somewhere, but we also spotted some individuals at the Penshurst side of the walk. These are native hornets and are less troublesome than wasps in many ways; they don’t seem to be such suckers for sweet things for one thing. We certainly enjoyed a swift Larkins at the Castle Inn without being troubled by those we saw zooming around nearby. Of course, when they sting, they hurt. Like hell.

An awesome walk and so much to enjoy.

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Hot bank holiday and Penshurst Place

An unexpectedly superb weekend of weather; it seems to me that late summer and early autumn are now routinely drier and warmer than mid-summer but I’m too lazy to look for figures to back that up. I hope, dear readers, you’ve been able to get out and about. A small component of my family ventured forth by car and bicycle to Penshurst Place (on the Chiddingstone circular walk) yesterday. We parked at Haysden country park a mile or so from Tonbridge station, then cycled the remaining 3.5 miles to Penshurst Place, on lanes at first, then off-road alongside the river Medway.

We passed a good swimming/picnic spot in the river close to the bridge as it passes beneath Ensfield Rd, before ascending the moderate hill at Well Place Farm then freewheeling down the slope to Penshurst Place manor house itself. The gardens are always a joy and so is the cafe by the house in a large courtyard dominated by a lime (I think) tree. I wrote about the house and its interesting history for the Guardian a while back – also got more detail there on how to get there and prices. A great afternoon out if you are fancy free on the bank holiday but best done with a car/bike combination.

There are trains from Victoria (via East Croydon) and London Bridge but Penshurst station is two miles from the house. I haven’t devised a walking route from the station away from the road yet but there must be one. Hmm…

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May soleil and last chance for bluebells

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An amazing weekend for getting outside, to local parks and beyond to the nearby Kent countryside. Just eight days after snow and hail showers, we were bathed in warm sunshine with the Kent countryside in full bloom. On Saturday we tried what turned out to be an excellent new walk between Chiddingstone and Penshurst done from the Ordnance Survey map then nipped round the Ide Hill circular on Sunday as temperatures hit 26C. Emmetts‘ azaleas and tulips were looking great. I hope regular visitors to this site managed to get outside. Pictures above.

The coming weekend (May 14) I reckon will be the last chance for bluebells at somewhere near their best, so hit Ide Hill and Emmetts, One Tree Hill/Wilmot Hill, Meenfield Wood (Shoreham), Petts Wood, and Downe Bank (between Downe and Cudham just off the Downe circular walk at Point 3).