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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Suddenly it’s autumn in the Darent Valley

Two weeks ago I did the Shoreham circular in 25C heat. Now, dodging showers and sudden switches in temperature I’ve ventured out on the Shoreham-Eynsford walk ( 3), the Eynsford-Lullingstone (walk 12) and to the eastern valleys of Shoreham (walk 14).

It’s often the case that the sky can make landscape photography easy; with the weather we are having this mid-September, the clarity of air and development of interesting cloudscapes transmit atmosphere and steal the scene with drama. Enjoy this slideshow…

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A taste of summer

Lullingstone and castle

Lullingstone and castle, summer 2014

Summer has suddenly broken out for the first time in weeks. Today is looking good, tomorrow also after a dull start. The heat truly comes on for Monday though there may be some cloud around, so expect humidity, but a good time to take kids paddling in the river or down to the coast. However, there are thunderstorms up ahead. What I’d love to get on this site is a good pic of lightning from one of the walks; a sort of north-west Kent storm-chasing scenario on foot. There haven’t been many occasions when I’ve done one of the walks in hot summer weather… just hasn’t happened much lately, but here’s a pic of Lullingstone Castle from the Shoreham to Eynsford walk on a hot day in July two years ago.

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.