Camber Sands and Romney Marsh on a hot holiday Monday

After the verdant delights of Penshurst I headed to the coast on Monday – I knew there’d be terrible traffic but the chance to enjoy Camber Sands on a genuinely hot day was too good to pass up. I took my bike and before hitting the sands cycled 7 miles to Dungeness RSPB reserve and back, via Lydd. The area truly is unique… I think it qualifies as a desert, though not one of sand; after you leave Lydd heading east, shingle and strange scrubby flora take over – nothing to do with the nuclear power station I’m sure. Dunge is a mecca for birders, though it was very quiet when I was there, despite fresh reports of a merlin, marsh harriers, exotic sounding warblers and yellow wagtails all being active and visible. The area is very elemental… little softens the border between land and sky and I wondered what it must be like in winter with an easterly wind. Lydd looks a good village in some ways but quite cut off feeling. Not sure how the ambitious plans for Lydd airport will pan out… seems absurd to expand an airport here, when Manston up at Margate with its huge runway, failed to become a sustainable proposition. Great area though, a wonderful day out. Enjoy the pictures.

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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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Metropole Orchestra’s Charles Mingus tribute at the Proms

Metropole Orchestra’s Charles Mingus tribute at the Proms

A bit off the beaten track here, but I ventured to the Proms for the first time in my life this week and caught a truly magnificent concert by the Dutch Metropole Orkest. Joined by brilliant soloists and a great vocalist from the UK and US, the orchestra performed songs associated with and by the bassist/composer Charlie Mingus, including two superb Joni Mitchell tracks. Here’s my review (slighty hurried in the writing) at Jazzwise magazine.

Biggin Hill airshow

Just a heads up that the Biggin Hill airshow is back next weekend (19-20 August). This year’s event is a bit bigger than the recent ones and features on Sunday the French air force’s display team, the Patrouille de France (and the Red Arrows). Very spectacular. There will also be three extremely noisy modern jet fighters performing as well as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster and various stunt and biplanes, some of first world war vintage. Worth getting tickets for, or at least taking the Downe circular walk for a peek. If you don’t like that kind of thing then take a walk a long way away!

Update: 26 August. Well the airshow proved a great success with brilliant displays and a very supportive crowd. The weather behaved too, despite being a little cold on the Saturday – although as you can see from my pix cloud cover was variable. The Red Arrows and Patrouille de France were extraordinary – amazing skill and training. The jet fighters (Typhoon, F-16, Gripen) all splendidly noisy and rapid and the solo Spitfires actually quite moving considering the location. The sight of Hurricanes, Spitfires and the B-17 over the countryside was very evocative as always. For some truly epic photographs of the event by a pro, take a look here.

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

Bough Beech

No closer … the elusive Bough Beech

From the heights of Emmett’s 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.’

This would be deluded thinking; none of these things are possible. 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. But, hey, I’m totally in favour of learning to sail and having a space to practise and race and enjoy narrowly avoiding collisions with like-minded people, so you can’t knock it. 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? 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.

Bough Beech reservoir

Bough Beech reservoir. Photo taken from causeway at north east corner,
near visitor centre

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 (recently my son and I walked up to nearby organic farm Bore Place on public footpaths and back down to the lakeside road – quite nice, but you could only see the lake for a few minutes at the end) with no real luck.

Where you can almost see the lake

Ah, here’s the Kent Wildlife Trust to the rescue. The KWT has a visitor centre, habitat reserve, nature trail and bird hides at the northern end of the map. There are picnic tables too. 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. Come on, get real. You can barely see the lake from the visitors’ centre, nice though it is there. And the nature trail goes for about a third of a mile close to the lake’s western edge without quite giving you a view of the lake. Well, it does at one point, but there’s a huge fence in the way to prevent people from messing with nature. Then you have to walk back on a country lane down which cars drive too fast.

Bough Beech

Bough Beech – that view again (the only view!)

I’m told the KWT site is a great spot for birdwatching (even us dullards spotted greylag geese and great crested grebe) and, of course, you’ve got to support it; it’s a great resource, has friendly volunteers who’ll sell you a drink and tell you what creatures to look out for and where, and a nice oast-house visitor centre. Bough Beech even has ospreys from time to time – not a creature fond of beautiful natural areas being opened up to the masses for frolicking. So the KWT can do no wrong in my book, no way, but there’s still no view of the lake.

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. Ah, mmmmm, 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 northeast 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 would 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 swift pint 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?

An early Easter as the meadows and woods wake up

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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.

Download Walk 1: Downe circular (near Bromley, 2.6 miles) View on your phone/PC
Download Walk 2: Shoreham circular (3.5 miles) View
Download Walk 3: Shoreham to Eynsford (4.2 miles) View
Download Walk 4: Ide Hill circular (3 miles) View
Download Walk 5: Otford circular via Romney St (5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 6: One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 7: One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 5 miles) View
Download Walk 8: Shoreham/Otford circular (5 miles) View
Download Walk 9: Hever circular (4.5 miles) View
 Download Walk 10: Chiddingstone/Penshurst circular (4 miles)
View