No red October – yet. And a giant kestrel

Walks this weekend (October 7-8) in Downe and Darent Valley revealed shades of green rather than oranges and reds. Is it because of the relative warmth at the moment? Just feels as if the countryside just wants to hang on to summer and its leaves at the moment. Look a bit closer though and there’s plenty of scarlet in the form of rose hips. Apparently they are very edible and full of vitamin C.

One of the largest kestrels I’ve ever seen is currently hunting around the north-western (Eynsford end) of Lullingstone – a spectacular, silent bird. It must have been a female  – they are noticeably bigger than the males. But even so, a real whopper. And on the Downe cycle yesterday we came across a red kite floating and flopping low down. It had probably spotted a dead thing.

Meanwhile, the Biggin Hill two-seater Spitfire was incredibly busy on joy flights. During our two-hour cycle it made three sorties, heading out to east Kent over Toys Hill and back over Shoreham. A great sight and sound. Few other aircraft up, probably due to the stiff breeze. Some pictures from Lullingstone/Eynsford today…

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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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Beckenham Place Park – great for a local stroll

Sadly for us south-east London golfers the 18-hole Beckenham course – once the UK’s busiest – has gone; happily for us south-east London walkers the space now opened up is superb! There are expansive grass areas, a mildly hilly terrain, footpaths through woods adorned with bluebells just now, plus excellent birdwatching and a no-nonsense cafe in the striking, though decaying, 18th-century mansion (where there are also yoga classes and an artist’s studio). If you can’t make it out to the countryside or to Chislehurst/Petts Wood, the park is a great place to get some exercise locally: it’s possible to do a three-mile walk within and around it.

Beckenham Place Park mansion

Beckenham Place Park mansion

Access

You can enter it from opposite Ravensbourne Station or from several points on Beckenham Hill Rd and from Westgate Rd. If you get off the train at Beckenham Junction or New Beckenham, just walk up to Foxgrove Rd and take the lane off to the left with rather grandiose houses on it called Beckenham Place Park. It’s also a short walk from Beckenham Hill station on the Thameslink (like Ravensbourne).

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Development

There are no plans to build on the park yet thankfully – but maximum vigilance is urged on that score. The only development at present will be flood defences (the Ravensbourne, Quaggy, Pool and Honor Oak rivers have been known to flood houses in the past), so bore holes and the creation of a water meadow kind of thing are on the cards. There has also been a lot of tree planting (native species).
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park website provides more details on events, development plans and amenities in the park. It’s possible to do a good urban walk linking Beckenham Place with the excellent Kelsey Park and South Norwood Country Park without too much pavement stomping. Oh, and there are kingfishers regularly seen on the Ravensbourne river.

September

One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.

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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?

Birds of Kent and Kentish birds

Most walkers will often ask themselves ‘I wonder what that bird is?’ at some point along their favoured trudge, before moving on none the wiser.

On my most recent walk (Shoreham to Eynsford, December 3, 2015) I was lucky to spot a little egret (instantly recognisable) at Shoreham, and later a troop of long-tailed tits followed me along the hedgerows beside the Darent.

Soon after this I came to a young tree with plenty of seed heads draping from its thin branches. There appeared to be no birds in it but I could hear the whirs, whoops and clicks of finches. As I neared, a never-ending stream of birds left the tree – incredibly there must have been at least 75 in there, goldfinches or siskins. Being silhouetted I couldn’t tell exactly what they were.

Now, my mate Dave would have been able to tell me – and in a pleasant non-anoraky style too. He’d also have known what kind of tree it was, what type of birds make that call, and deduced what species they were from what they were eating (if he was on form). If Dave had been there we’d have spotted and heard so much more, but I was on my tod, so apart from the usual jackdaws, robins, parakeets, various gulls, mallards and blue tits, I saw nothing else. But there are a host of exciting birds on these walks – from various owls to tiny goldcrests – and it’s worth knowing what they are, even if you never see them!

So with this in mind I invited Dave to write a page for this website, and here it is.