During these strange times, please keep checking in here to catch up on updates from CPRE Kent planner Julie Davies as we all adjust to very different working days… stay safe and well, everyone
Wedensday, June 3: Pilgrims on the Pilgrims’ Way
We met pilgrims on the Pilgrims’ Way!
I’m always on the look-out for photos I can take that don’t just show beautiful country scenes but have people in them actively enjoying the countryside. My family are getting fed up with me asking them to stop and pose.
One of the joys of lockdown has been seeing more people than normal exploring the outdoors: family groups biking, couples with maps. Imagine my delight when I saw a couple with bikes taking in the view on the Pilgrims’ Way. Sneaky photo time, I thought. Then their matching bikes caught my eye.
We gave a cheery hello and then I thought this isn’t a matchy-matchy cagoule situation, these bikes have been hired. It turns out that this couple had come down from London for the day and arranged to pick up their hire bikes from Hollingbourne train station.
We’ve always ruled out distant bike rides because we can’t get three bikes in/on our car. It looks like we’ve been missing a trick.
I often talk about how we should holiday in Kent. No one else in my family is convinced. But wouldn’t hiring bikes make a great day out? This is something I’m definitely adding to my wish-list.
As we walked away, my husband said I should have asked what lockdown was like in London. A missed opportunity.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, do leave a comment – can you recommend any bike routes in Kent?
Tuesday, June 2: Beetle bank
My husband stuck a finger on the map and that decided where we’d do our family walk. I’m not keen to go out in the car, but he feels the need to escape. We drove 20 minutes to the other side of the Kent Downs. I think he had his eyes open when he made his random selection.
One of the hardest things to do when you drive out for a country walk is to find somewhere to safely park your car. We drove up and then back down the street before deciding which bit of lane was the widest and straightest. I was pleasantly surprised when, a couple of hours later, we hadn’t been pranged and there was no note from an angry resident pushed under the wipers.
We walked across rickety bridges over drainage ditches and through fields of rape, wheat, beans and brassicas. And then came across a beetle bank. We were a bit confused by this. The bank followed the route of some telegraph poles and looked for all the world as if there had originally been a hedge between them – that had since been removed – with the bank marking the old field boundary. Perhaps we were doing the farmer a disservice – but wouldn’t retaining the hedge have had a greater wildlife benefit?
From our high point on the downs we scrambled down the scarp slope to the Pilgrims Way through a paddock of sheep. The views were breathtaking. We sat down under the shade of some trees in front of a pretty cottage and ate birthday cake and then started our loop back to the car.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, perhaps you can shed some light on the beetle bank we came across.
- Peacock butterfly
- Cabbage whites
- Amazing views out towards the High Weald
Monday, June 1
My walking companion turned 13 at the weekend.
Imagine that. A milestone birthday during lockdown.
We went out the evening before for one last walk as a 12-year-old. After the heat of the day it was lovely to get out while it was still warm without it being overbearing. And the light was beautiful.
We did my daughter’s favourite route but couldn’t decide which direction to walk it. We let the dog decide when we got to the end of our road.
Obviously, there wasn’t going to be a party this year, so the chosen treat was a picnic lunch at the beach. There was hardly anyone around when we went to the coast in the evening last week – but I must admit I was slightly nervous about a daytime visit. Fortunately, our bit of sea is not a tourist hot-spot. We always take pot luck with the tide. It was so far out, it looked like you could practically walk to Sheppey!
We found a patch of less gritty shingle and lay down on blankets listening to the breeze and the chatter of the family in the next set of groynes. Selfies may have been taken.
It felt like we were on holiday.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment – has there been a lockdown birthday in your family? How did you make it special?
Wednesday, May 27: M2 and fruit
We redeemed ourselves with a long walk today. And we ventured out on paths across the other side of town. It was quite an adventure.
Instead of walking straight along the A2 to the farm shop we meandered through the park and up over the railway line. We battled stinging nettles and then discovered the reason the path was so overgrown was that everyone else takes a short-cut through the farm shop car park!
The roar of the motorway is starting to build up, giving a seemingly hard urban edge to the countryside we were walking through. This was emphasised by the graffiti on the motorway bridge.
Amid the apparently ‘barren’ fields we noticed pockets of wildness. Wheat and oats growing in the margins – presumably runaways from last year’s crop – with wild grasses and what looked like chamomile.
We passed neat fields of blackcurrants laid out in lines, almost as if they should be an on allotment. And then large-scale strawberry production on table-top trays in polytunnels.
Quite an industrial walk for us – particularly as most of it was on concrete-paved farm tracks – with the M2 as our ever-present companion.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment – have you eaten your first Kent strawberry of the year?
Tuesday May 26
It’s half-term. Our routine has gone adrift. And it’s too hot to walk at lunchtime. And then we find other things to do.
Much to my husband’s disgust the daily walk with my daughter and dog amounted to little more than a quick half-hour around the block. We’ve developed a conspiracy theory. We’re both convinced that our allotted period of exercise isn’t so much for our general well-being; he likes to have the house to himself for a while!
We threw caution to the wind and did our mini town walk in reverse. There’s a cricket pitch near us in the middle of a housing estate. A quiet secret of open space. It was lovely to see socially distanced meet-ups (bring your own deckchair) – a park being put to good use.
Short walk it may have been. But I had an ulterior motive.
The elderflower is, well, flowering and I wanted to go down to the local stream where stocks are plentiful. Usually I don’t get around to making elderflower cordial until July – when I struggle to find the blossom because it’s started to set into the fruit.
The path next to the stream is a well-trodden route for us. It’s a car-free easy-access option that takes us from practically outside our front door, right into town.
With more time to ‘be’, this year I’m ahead of the elderflower game – although two friends have already made batches. I love elderflower cordial. I especially like the fact I’m in the moment, embracing the season.
The recipe I use is a heady concoction of sugar, with more sugar. I might try reducing the quantities, though, as I need to make a birthday cake later in the week.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment and tell me if you make elderflower cordial – perhaps we could swap recipe notes?
Today we spotted:
- An interesting moth on our hall ceiling
- Sparrows nesting in a really exposed nest-box next to our patio
Sunday May 24
It feels like we’ve been on holiday – we drove five miles from home and explored footpaths we’d never been on before.
We have clearly defined responsibilities at home. Mine is to plan our walks, provide the picnic and carry the rucksack. It’s pink. My husband refuses to wear it.
We decided to try somewhere new for our walk and parked in one of the villages that I sometimes drive through to get to our office in Charing. I’d already marked out our route in highlighter pen, making a loose circle – with two sets of opt-out points. No one complained, so I didn’t tell them about the shortcuts.
Part of the reason we headed this way was because my husband doesn’t like marsh/coastal walks in hot weather – he prefers these locations in the gloom of winter. So it was woodland and rolling countryside for us.
The start of our walk was the busiest I’d seen so far. Having parked up, we saw 10 other people in quick succession. This soon thinned out.
We passed hedgerows for dormice. Shocked ourselves in the woods – I had my head down reading the map while a gentleman stood aside for us. I hadn’t noticed him and jumped. My husband claimed he was having a ‘ladies backwards’. This is a walking joke that stems from outings with my parents’ rambling club in Yorkshire.
We spotted bluebell country for next year. And great vantage points to take in the view. Where we live it’s reasonably flat, so being in the Kent Downs was a real change of scene.
The footpaths through the cropped fields were really well marked. I can’t say the same for the horse paddocks the paths went through. We got the distinct impression we weren’t welcome – from the taped-off enclosures and the invitation to follow the diverted footpath markers (there weren’t any) and the missing footpath signs from the lane that went through someone’s yard to the electric fences we had to unhook (and rehook) that barred our way through two sets of kissing gates.
I guessing these routes aren’t particularly well used and perhaps the designated public rights of way are considered a bit of a nuisance.
- If you own land with a footpath running through it, I’d love to hear your point of view – if you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave me a comment.
Friday, May 22
I’ve just looked at the kitchen calendar and discovered that I haven’t been out in the car since Mother’s Day on Sunday, March 22. That’s over eight weeks ago!
With restrictions on our movements eased a little, we went to the beach midweek, on the hottest day of the year so far. I’m not very good in the sun, so I was happy to stay home during the day, away from the sun-lovers. In fact, if we do go to the beach, we tend to head off at teatime – when all the day-trippers are starting to go home.
We packed a picnic and drove off. Our closest beach is about 15 minutes away and as we rounded the corner to our usual parking spot, I did a double-take: there were cars everywhere! Fortunately, this was only an indication of the limited amount of parking locally, and not a statement about how busy the beach was. As usual, there was (at least) one groyne-defined section of beach per family.
The tide was out. And the sea was still. And it was still baking hot. I’d bought my book with me and was prepared to linger until sunset, but I was outvoted.
Fired up by all this adventure, my daughter and I went out on our bikes for our next session of daily exercise. Big mistake. While we’ve got into a routine of lunchtime walks, apparently cycling is a step too far. The complaints were numerous.
As I’ve got plans for sunrise and sunset bike rides to all our local too-far-to-walk spots, my aim is to start off with short frequent rides. We haven’t really cycled since we got our dog five years ago.
And it’s with huge thanks to my brother-in-law that exploring on two wheels has been made possible. He serviced my daughter’s bike after a rather dramatic puncture incident during a practice ride a couple days ago. Perhaps that’s what’s putting her off travelling further afield!
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, do leave a comment and tell me whether you’re travelling further afield to enjoy being in the great outdoors. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.
Tuesday, May 19 (Claire’s story)
Over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting to local mums on the community pages of Facebook asking them about their experiences of exploring the countryside with their children during lockdown in what, for some, has been a first-time experience.
In today’s post, Claire tells me how she’s been enjoying exploring with her four-year-old looking for signs of spring as they’ve gone about working on a school homework project together.
Claire reminisced about her own childhood and how she enjoyed camping trips in the countryside and playing in her parents’ large garden. She’s comfortable being in nature.
Claire explains how she and her daughter have been stopping more often than they otherwise might have done to look at things. They’ve been documenting their walks by taking photos and have been trying to find out the names of butterflies and plants. This is where your smartphone comes in handy: Claire uses apps like Plant Finder (and the ‘picture this’ plant identifier) to help fill the gaps in her knowledge.
As a side note, I’ve started using Google Lens, which I’ve discovered is part of my phone’s in-built software, so I don’t need to take up storage space by downloading an app.
Claire told me she’s really been enjoying learning with her daughter. They’ve done a flower dissection at home and been learning about pollen. Together they’ve found that understanding more about nature means they look more closely at what they see on their walks – which includes stopping to look at the flowers they spot to see if there’s pollen on the flowers and bees.
And they haven’t just limited themselves to studying flowers – they’ve been exploring shells on the beach and looking at the living things in the tide pools.
As Claire says: “It’s been interesting to learn about British countryside flora and fauna. We’re also working on bird song!”
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and tell me what you’ve spotted on your walks. Are you keeping a journal like Claire and her daughter and using apps to find out more about the natural world?
Sunday, May 17
One of our routes out into the countryside is to walk to the end of our road and cross the bypass. Every time we walk this way, I see one of the many building sites around town – and I’m reminded that my sloe and blackberry picking grounds have been displaced.
While I’ve been mildly inconvenienced, I have been enjoying scouting around for new foraging sites.
Not all change is bad, though. Today the footpath we couldn’t find (Thursday, April 9) has now been clearly marked – and an additional area cleared on the top edge of the field. This means there’s now a ‘pavement’ on the field edge, which makes negotiating the bends on this particular single-track lane much easier. It wasn’t cars we needed to be mindful of, but quiet cyclists – we were walking on a section of the National Sustrans Route 1 between Dover and Gravesend.
When we’re about one mile in, the moaning starts. Can we stop for lunch now, are we halfway round yet? Of course, I lie. My daughter is starting to piece together her mental map of the local geography – and then groans when she realises that home is some way off.
No one else is interested in putting in a few minutes’ work before we leave the house, so I’m left to be the route-planner and map-reader. More fool them, I say.
I do build some short-cuts into my routes if the complaints ratchet up a level; most of our walk was a shortened route so we walked along quiet lanes rather than footpaths.
We stopped for a picnic lunch outside a Grade II*-listed building. The field in front has been mown and has a lovely view down to the local church.
As with all good walks, the second half was a little shorter – and included sashaying through a field of wheat (on the footpath, of course).
My walks are proving to be a great way of taking exercise and exploring my local area and have given me the opportunity to spend time chatting with my daughter. All of which is rather apt as May has been designated National Walking Month by Living Streets (the UK charity for everyday walking).
I’d love to hear about your walking stories. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and let’s compare notes #Try20.
- Peacock butterfly
- Red admiral butterfly
- Pied wagtail
- Scarlet pimpernel
Friday, May 15
Has your house ever been cleaner and your garden tidier? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been deep-cleaning our house, room by room – although, with only one left to do, I’ve run out of steam.
While I’m indoors, the garden is my husband’s domain. He often likens mowing the lawn to having a quick hoover around: it really does perk up the garden.
On the subject of mowing the lawn, did you know it’s No Mow May this month?
As we have a wildlife garden, I asked my husband whether he was going to embrace No Mow May and he gave me an empathic “No!”. Actually, this was echoed by a gardening friend of mine who said something along the lines of needing a combine harvester in June.
My husband did go on to explain himself, saying that our town garden is too rich in nutrients and that wildflowers thrive better on poor soils. He suggested a compromise of leaving a small pocket unmown, or mowing a path through some longer grass to balance the needs of nature and give an air of estate management.
Do you remember several years ago when prairie planting was a big thing at the Chelsea Flower Show? At the time we really embraced this idea and turned our front garden into meadow. We thought it was amazing: our neighbours weren’t quite as impressed. We eventually lawned it over and I remember looking at Google Street View afterwards and agreeing that to the untrained eye it did look a mess!
You can be wildlife-friendly without being unkempt and this is what the team at Plantlife is encouraging us to do this month – much like the nation’s haircuts, now’s the time to adopt a less rigorous mowing regime and say goodbye to your close-mown striped lawn for a while.
You don’t need to go full-on meadow – you could raise your mower blades and cut slightly longer than usual.
I’ve noticed some spectacular urban verges on my town walks during lockdown – some of them put areas of the countryside to shame. Have you noticed garden boundaries in the countryside that are over-manicured, with tightly clipped grass right up to the road edge?
The local environment is often made worse for wildlife, with a profusion of non-native species – we’ve seen conifer hedges, photinia and laurel in the most rural of settings. This upsets my husband so much that he now refuses to spend his leisure time walking in areas where the countryside, nature and wildlife doesn’t seem to be understood by local property owners.
- If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear whether you’re going to embrace #NoMowMay – how many plant species have you got in your lawn?
Thursday, May 14
What would you prefer: a couple of hours at a soft-play centre, or to be out in the countryside – or does that set off your allergies?
One thing that working from home has taught me is that my experience of life isn’t necessarily the same as yours. It’s second nature to me to put on my wellies, grab a map and go for a walk. But what if the prospect of a muddy walk fills you with dread as you try to wash and dry your toddler’s clothes in a small flat – or being outside sets off your allergies?
I’ve been chatting to some local residents on Facebook, asking them about their experiences of getting out into the countryside – particularly if it’s a new activity they’re sharing with their young children.
One mum told me “We weren’t very good at going for walks before lockdown – in fact we simply didn’t do it – but lockdown has kind of made it a necessity. With a two-year-old who enjoys entertainment at soft-play and the park, we’ve found the woods to be a really lovely place for him to burn off energy and really enjoy himself, when he’s clearly felt very cooped up in our small flat.”
As we chatted, I asked whether choosing the woods would become part of their family’s new normal. She wasn’t sure but did say “I wonder if our mentalities will change as we are more ‘scared’ of the indoors and the higher probability of the virus being spread indoors than outdoors. But equally soft-play was a lot less effort, to just rock up and go. You don’t have to find the wellies or take a change of clothes in case you all get covered in mud!”
Another subject cropped up while we were talking and that was allergies. Rapeseed is in full bloom at the moment. It had never crossed my mind that suffering with allergies could put whole swathes of the countryside out of reach to you.
Another local resident chipped in at this point to say she’s vulnerable to rapeseed pollen and a tree pollen. “I mostly avoid areas where rapeseed is being grown while in flower – antihistamines don’t seem to help too much and it can flare up my asthma, making me more vulnerable to attacks. When I lived more rurally, I’d have to dry my clothes in the tumble-dryer so they didn’t get pollen blown on to them while on the line.
“It doesn’t stop me getting out, but it does change where I’m going to walk – as soon as I notice a particular field has been planted with rape I’ll find different footpaths to amble down for the year until it’s run to seed. I’m particularly aware of it this year because of Covid-19 and because early symptoms of an asthma attack in me are wheezing and coughing. I’m worried about coughing in public and causing a panic.
“In winter I’m always pretty safe, mostly it’s keeping an eye out for when the yellow flowers are gone and I can walk the same old footpaths again.”
Huge thanks to the ladies I spoke to in helping me write this post – it’s given me a great insight into your experience of the countryside.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your experiences of being out in nature – are you put off by muddy walks and having to plan around allergies?
Wednesday, May 13
It was long walk yesterday. We’ve come to think of these walks as scouting opportunities for when we go out as a family on Sunday for our picnic walk. It didn’t disappoint – my daughter and I are getting strong enough to walk further afield and exploring lanes we’ve never been down before.
Anyway, it’s Wednesday. This is the day we both try to get out of walking the dog. I have an exercise class first thing on Zoom, and my daughter has back- to-back ballet and tap classes in the afternoon. We’re too tired to walk the dog. We do always eventually go out for a quick spin around the block around teatime.
But for the moment, the furthest I’m walking is to the bottom of the garden.
Did you know it’s the wild garlic season? The smell of it always reminds me of visiting my parents when they lived in North Yorkshire. It’s quite pungent. There’s garlic in the woods near our office in Charing, but aside from that I’m not sure where else I’ve seen it in Kent. We have, however, got a huge patch of it in our garden.
This year is the first time I’ve ever done anything with it. I’m quite happy picking elderflowers for cordial and blackberries for jam, but I find there’s something a bit too ‘intense’ about picking something green and putting it in your mouth. Perhaps deep down I think I’m about to eat something unpalatable?
With more time on my hands, I have been picking our garlic. We’ve had it on pizza, in pasta sauce and with mushrooms on toast.
My go-to book for advice on Wild Food tells me that wild garlic (also known as ramsons) is a native bulb found in damp woods and lanes – the young leaves can be used in salads. On the same page is a recipe for Alexanders sauce – this is the plant that looks like Angelica – but eating it for lunch might be a step too far for me, though…
Hopefully it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be eating anything from the wild that you cannot identify with 100 per cent confidence. Plants may be poisonous if eaten.
If you’re reading this on Facebook, I’d love to know whether you go foraging for wild garlic and what you use it for – tell me about it in the comments and let’s compare notes.
Tuesday, May 12
I’ve been seeing lots of posts in Facebook residents’ groups I belong to berating dog-owners and poo-bag etiquette and asking about walking routes out and about near here.
It got me thinking. Why do some of us seem to know the local walking routes but others don’t? If there can be any positives to be gained from staying home and only making essential journeys (and exercising), it is that my fellow residents are really starting to enjoy having easy access to the countryside.
One day last week I put out a call on Facebook asking local people if they’d be willing to share their experiences of accessing the countryside during lockdown. Today’s post features the experience of Helen, one half of a couple usually out at work full-time.
Helen told me how she’d been enjoying walks out to the sea wall, commenting that while we’re in lockdown Mother Nature isn’t. She has been amazed at the cacophony of noises, from the frogs (we heard those on Easter Sunday), the cows and the cuckoos. Helen went on to say that although she’d lived in town for 13 years she was only now discovering new walks in the neighbourhood.
When I asked why it had taken so long to discover the local area, Helen said that staying at home and taking a daily walk had made her re-evaluate what she could do for a better life balance. With her husband she’s now feeling excited about future retirement, and then thought why not live for the moment and embrace what we have now. The upshot is that Helen is going to be making more time for walking and enjoying the natural world around her, as of now.
Helen went on to explain that her walks had made her think about something her mum had said recently. Her parents retired to France 15 years ago. Apparently, Helen’s mum’s biggest regret was that they didn’t explore enough of what was around them while they were both relatively fit and able to do so.
Helen says that her walks have borne credence to this – she’s now walking an average of six to seven miles most days. After all, why wait when you can be in the here and now?
Interestingly, Helen says that she and her husband have needed these walks for their emotional well-being. They’ve been able to work off anxiety, anger, upset and stress. After a walk they find themselves floating back to their house, relishing the fact they live in a beautiful area and are so lucky.
I love the message in Helen’s note. If not now, then when?
I’ll leave the last word to Helen as she says her wish “after this awful period is that we stick to all our resolutions and remind ourselves what is important rather than losing ourselves in routines that do not offer us the right life balance”.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your experiences on walking in your local area – especially if you’re new to it.
Keep on walking, Helen!
Monday, May 11
We spotted buzzards on our family walk yesterday. Two from a hill near the start of our walk and another five from a hill further round.
We took my husband on the route we’d walked last week. The bluebells had started to fade after the heat of the VE Day 75 bank holiday weekend. I was so glad we’d seen them in full bloom.
Instead of walking down the hill through the field of wheat, we went straight on. Even when you’ve got a map, sometimes it’s difficult picking out the right path in the undergrowth, but after a couple of false starts we found it in the end.
We came out into a set-aside field. It was full of teasel and what looked like dried-out ragwort. Both are great species for nature. We’ll have to come back to see whether we can spot cinnabar moths on the ragwort in the summer and goldfinches feeding on the teasel seeds in the autumn.
We also spotted the prettiest stile on all our walks so far. It was part-hidden by red and white campion. It was such a shame that this native planting didn’t influence the choice of hedging right next to it. I mean, who chooses to plant a leylandii hedge in the countryside – and why?
We had a picnic lunch on the footpath through an orchard we’d visited several times in the last few weeks. The blossom had gone and the apples had set. It feels a bit like ‘our’ orchard: the more we walk through it, the more we notice and enjoy it.
On the subject of ‘noticing’, this is a topic that has come up with one of the ladies from my running club. She told me she’d noticed how much more intense the scent of the apple blossom and bluebells had been this year.
We weren’t really sure whether this was brought on by a very wet February and super-hot April, or because there was more time for us to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Have you noticed?
I’d love to hear whether you think the apple blossom perfume has been better this year. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and let’s compare notes.
- Peacock butterflies
- Red and white campion
Thursday, May 7
I don’t know about you, but I’m squeezing every ounce of enjoyment out of the bluebells before they disappear for another year.
Word on the street – well, in my WhatsApp group of eight local mum friends – is that the bluebells just out of town are exceptional this year. And yes, they were well worth the visit.
The problem when you want to visit a specific place is that you have to get there. And bearing in mind this has to be achieved in reasonable time and walking distance during the daily walks with my daughter, decisions needed to be made. This wouldn’t be a three-part ramble of getting there, visiting the bluebells and going home. We’d need to dive straight in with getting to the bluebells as fast as we could.
For us, this meant walking along the A2, rather than taking the more pleasant route cross-country. However, with the traffic significantly lighter than normal, we weren’t buffeted by the back-draught of HGVs and we managed to cross without having to wait ages.
The walk we did was absolutely delightful. It was a route I hadn’t taken in about 15 years. I’m hoping to go back again for our family Sunday walk – but my husband would like to travel further afield and literally see pastures new.
In case we don’t go back I’ll tell you that we passed hop poles, hop-pickers’ huts and a newly-planted vineyard – and then we walked into the woods and into an open glade. If you’re missing your bluebell fix take a look at this video I filmed.
Because the wood had been coppiced, the impact of the bluebells was all the more intense. The colour wasn’t diluted by intermittent tree trunks. An amazing sight.
On the way home we walked downhill on a footpath through a field of wheat. It was more mature than other wheat we’d seen locally. And then to my shock my daughter suggested we loop back (out of our way) because she wanted to see which crop was growing in the field next to the church, so she could compare the two – they were broad beans.
We’re both finding that, although we’re generally fit and active, our stamina has increased and a mile detour gave us way more pleasure than pain.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your favourite bluebell walks. Tell me about them in the comments.
- Greater stitchwort
Wednesday, May 5
Yesterday was a short walk. Without my phone. A ploy by my daughter to speed things up, so I would’t take photos and we’d get back home faster… so she could play on her phone.
It’s May and the hawthorn blossom is out. I mentioned a while back that my husband recalls his father eating new hawthorn growth as a child. On this theme I noticed on Instagram that local herbalist Mandy Rickard had been foraging for hawthorn to use as a tea and a tincture.
On a side note I should mention that Mandy runs herbalist classes at Belmont House & Gardens – if you are a member of CPRE Kent you get a two-for-one ticket price concession to the gardens at Belmont (although no reductions apply at the events Mandy runs).
Mandy has kindly agreed to share her knowledge with me. However, please do note the disclaimer at the end of this post.
Once the hawthorn (or May blossom) comes into flower, Mandy harvests just enough as she needs for her herbal practice from her garden and nearby wild spaces. Some is dried for tea and the rest is made into a tincture (medicinal liquid).
Mandy says that hawthorn is her go-to herb for circulation and the heart. She regards it as “a powerful medicine that protects and strengthens the blood vessels throughout the heart and circulation. Its gentleness lends it to a more emotional level, too, where I use it for the ‘heartbroken’”.
You’ll recognise hawthorn in hedgerows near you by the shower of tiny white flowers – my daughter and I love ‘pinging’ them as we pass, creating a shower of confetti. Mandy describes how the smell of the blossom is reminiscent of fish or rotten meat, which attracts pollinating insects.
Mandy says she is “truly grateful to enjoy the abundance of beautiful blossom throughout the Kent countryside on this useful, albeit thorny, bush!” Be like Mandy and forage for just what you need – and if you want to stay youthful strew a few blossoms along your garden path.
Disclaimer: the contents of this post should not used as a substitute for medical advice. Mandy Rickard works with patients, taking a full case history and medications into account before prescribing a blend of herbs. For more advice you can contact Mandy at email@example.com
Sunday, May 3: cowslips and Roman snails
It feels like I’m the last among my friends to discover the two fields of cowslips in the next village. We saw fields of yellow last week and thought is was rapeseed flowers that had gone over. But no.
We had two options for Operation Cowslip. The first was to take the long route and follow the public footpaths for as long as possible, while the second was to just hit the road and keep on walking. We decided on the second. The only problem being that eventually we ran out of pavement.
Even though the traffic is much lighter now we’re all staying at home, it is quite unnerving facing oncoming cars when there’s no path and you’re walking on the road itself. The utter shock on some of the drivers’ faces once they’d spotted us has hopefully reminded them that just because there’s no speed limit you don’t need to drive at 60mph at every opportunity.
As a pedestrian you really do need to read the road. Listening and looking out for traffic and deciding when to cross over in order that you can safely see around the bends in the road. As well as coping with the cars, we also did our social-distancing dance as we passed fellow walkers, runners and cyclists.
The cowslips didn’t disappoint. I’m curious to know what the management regime is for maintaining a field with such a healthy yellow glow – why wasn’t it overrun with weeds? Do you know?
As I was map-reading, I tricked the rest of the gang into going home the long way round. I’m glad I did as we spotted a lone Roman snail.
Did you know that these snails are protected under the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 (it’s also known as the edible snail)? As such, I’ll be recording my find on the Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre website. The KMBRC encourages recording in the community as an enjoyable, educational pastime that can be done from your kitchen window. Information supplied by professionals and amateurs alike enables the centre to collate and disseminate information about wildlife species and habitats in Kent to inform decision-making, education and research.
Today we spotted:
- Roman snail
- Early purple orchid
Thursday, April 30: what a load of rubbish
Is your bit of the countryside being overwhelmed by members of your community getting out of town for their daily walk? I’ve noticed more people than we’d normally see but certainly not a vast increase.
What I do see gives me a warm glow. Families spending time together – walking, cycling, chatting. Taking in their surroundings.
The more time I spend out and about, the more I’m starting to notice about my surroundings. And what I’m seeing is a load of rubbish. That’s right, litter strewn around in the undergrowth.
While I’m sure some of it must be stray, fly-away rubbish, I’m becoming more convinced that most of it is being purposely discarded.
Imagine the scene. You decide to go for an evening stroll and take a couple of beers with you. You drink said beers as you watch the sunset. And then you toss your cans over your shoulder as you head home. I just don’t get this attitude: the idea that it’s someone else’s job to clear up after you. Where’s your civic pride? Or your concern for the impact on wildlife?
Here’s a problem you might want to get your home-schoolers to work on. What is the weight and volume of a full beer can, compared with the weight and (crushed) volume of one that’s empty? If you’ve gone to the trouble of carrying your tinnies with you, why can’t you take them home afterwards – when they’re much lighter and small enough to fit in your pocket?
As a national charity, CPRE has been campaigning for a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. The scheme requires us to pay a small deposit on the drinks containers we buy, which is repaid when we return them to machines in shops and supermarkets.
This campaign is backed by evidence gathered on a yearly basis by CPRE – including CPRE Kent – through organised Green Clean litter picks. The rubbish found is sorted by size and type and the results used to lobby for the urgent need for a deposit return system that includes drinks cans, plastic and glass bottles, cartons and pouches.
So, with our friends at Keep Britain Tidy, I’d like to say love where you live and take your litter home with you.
- Two nappies
- Nine beer cans
- Six plastic drinks bottles
- Fifteen empty crisp bags
Monday, April 27
We had a great feeling of breaking free today: we crossed over the motorway and headed south. It’s strange how having your movements restricted makes tiny things more pleasurable.
We took a B-road out of town and stopped on the motorway bridge. I can remember waving to traffic as a child (and doing the same with my daughter), but there wasn’t anyone to wave to today…
Today’s walk was all about road walking: we didn’t use a single public footpath, but we still got our countryside fix. It got me thinking about the lady who had posted in one of the community groups I belong to on Facebook. She said she was getting fed up with taking her daily walk along the A2. In reply, another lady suggested that she head out towards the farm shop on the A2 and walked some of the footpaths there for a change.
I wonder whether Lady No.1 was being fastidious in sticking to the lockdown rules or whether she just had no knowledge of the huge network of paths in the local area that she could use and still keep to the social- distancing protocol. Perhaps it’s my inner geography geek coming out in me, but don’t people have maps – whether real or on apps? Or perhaps she felt she needed ‘permission’ to walk into the countryside. As a side note I should say that where I live the A2 marks the southern boundary of the town. For the most part, if you cross the road, you’re in the countryside.
Anyway, back to my walk. Our return journey meant going down a single-track lane – it feels so like a public footpath that the sound of a very occasional car coming up behind you is quite a shock. Eventually this road widens out as it goes back over the motorway. This part of our walk always makes me smile. For 20 metres or so either side of the motorway bridge the narrow lane widens to accommodate two-way traffic, with proper pavements (and kerbstones) at the side. Why?
- Wild mustard (white flowers)
- White campion
- and another white flower that is a daintier version of the white campion – I’m really going to have to get an app to help me with my plant identification…
Sunday, April 26
Sunday is our designated family walk day. We usually cover about three miles every other day of the week, but I like to plan a longer route when we’re all together.
The last time we did this particular walk must have been over 10 years ago. I think it may originally have been one I’d plotted out from a local guided walks series. I’ve taken to drawing over our Ordnance Survey map, documenting our travels. It also makes it easier if you’re not sure where you’re going – to immediately find which bit of the countryside you’re actually in – so you’re not having to constantly unfold and refold your map while remembering you’re vaguely south of wood X. I don’t, however, deface books: I do have standards!
I had imagined that the orchards would be in blossom and we could have our own mini Hanami festival, but the first orchard we walked through was already at the leaf stage. We had more success in the second. A couple of years ago we went to Hanami at Brogdale – if you’re missing your blossom fix, take a look at this short video.
We then headed into the woods. The bluebells weren’t quite as spectacular as we’d seen closer to home, but we were rewarded with the spectacular sight of the early purple orchid. The leaves are tinged with dark purple blotches. My post-walk research tells me they have a wonderful scent that’s not dissimilar to lily of the valley, tinged with blackcurrant – I wish now I’d got closer to the ground and had a good sniff, instead of just taking a photo.
Part of our route home took us down the road I sometimes use as an alternative route back from work. It was lovely to take in the views without being boxed up in my car.
As my husband was with us, he regaled us with his knowledge of birdsong and how his dad used to chew fresh hawthorn growth, which is said to taste of bread and cheese. While I couldn’t detect any notes of a picnic lunch, Rogers Phillips’s book Wild Food backs this up, saying that young hawthorn leaves were traditionally eaten by children on their way to school. Perhaps if lockdown continues, I’ll explore more about eating for free in the countryside. [Disclaimer: don’t touch, cut or eat unless you are crystal-clear what you are looking at.]
- Early purple orchids
- Orange-tip butterfly
- … and possibly a distant view of a field of cowslips
Thursday, April 23: looking for water
I really wanted to see some water today. However, my companion decided that going out to the creek was a walk too far – so we settled on the fishing lakes.
We’re getting quite speedy with our walks. Our post-lunch routine is set and I don’t have to do the pre-prep countdown routine I was doing in the early weeks of lockdown. However, I’m not quite sure that the keenness to get out has anything to do with being out in the countryside – it’s more the thought of getting home faster to start the bedroom makeover. We’re dedicating an hour each afternoon to learning the skills of Polyfilla and paint brushes.
We visit the fishing lakes a lot. It’s my husband’s go-to dog walk. To change things up a bit we’ve been doing other routes. Consequently, it was rather nice to visit somewhere we’d not been for a month. Instead of sticking to the main route, we meandered through narrower paths – getting a different aspect on the (very) familiar.
Much to my daughter’s disgust I’m keeping up with my cheery ‘hellos’. I’ve even taken to doing a double hello to prompt a response sometimes…
We were given the task of checking up on some ransoms (wild garlic) but couldn’t find the spot where it was planted. We did see lots of litter, though, but that’ll be a post for another day…
I love the reflections cast on the water. I’ve been banned from stopping to take photos but managed to sneak in a couple anyway. Don’t tell.
Wednesday, April 22
Clear skies by day and night.
Last night I ran out in the garden and looked up into the night sky. It was a lovely clear night with plenty of stars. I seemed to have missed Starlink, again.
And for those not in the know, Starlink is a satellite constellation that is being constructed by American company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk. The firm has recently been sending satellites up into Earth’s orbit in batches of 60 – with the aim of improving global internet coverage (as reported in inews.co.uk). Another batch is scheduled to be launched on April 22 (tonight). See more here
Fingers crossed, it won’t be cloudy tonight and I’ll get a good view.
Have you noticed how clear, blue and cloudless the sky’s been recently? We seem to be having endless sunny days. A sharp contrast to when it rained and rained and rained in February and we thought it would never stop.
I’ve been wondering whether we’re having unusually blue-sky days because there’s less pollution from air and roadborne traffic, or is it just a normal run of anticyclonic weather? Or is it that I’ve got more time to ponder the world around me?
I’m all questions today…
On the subject of clear skies, CPRE regularly updates research on the sky at night. After all, starry skies are one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer. It’s a sad fact that light pollution not only limits our views of these skies but also disrupts wildlife’s natural patterns.
Through our national office we run an annual star count – the most recent took place back in February. The aim is for you to help us to see where light pollution is a problem and where the darkest skies are. We use this evidence to advocate for better-controlled lighting, and we offer advice about what we can all do to reduce local light pollution. You can learn more about CPRE’s star count here
So tonight, turn off your outside lights and join me as I look up to the sky and see whether I can spot the chain of satellites travelling overhead.
Monday, April 20
Are you getting more exercise with your daily walk than you ever did before? I’m pretty sure we are. My daughter and I go out every day – whereas pre-coronavirus I only exercised in set blocks, at classes I’d paid for, as well as doing a family walk on a Sunday.
Last week we went out to the woods to check up on the bluebells. As we revisit our now-favourite walking spots, we’re noticing – almost day by day – what changes are happening in nature. Two weeks ago there was only the smallest hint of the approaching bluebell season and now the woods are awash.
This got me thinking. Usually we make a visit to the woods just as the bluebell seasons ends. I start spotting bluebells on my drive to work and add it to my ongoing list of things to do. Almost making it a chore that needs to be ticked off: the need to squeeze in an appointment with the blue, before it fades away for another year.
For the last few years we’ve met up with friends at a local charity fundraising bluebell walk. And sometimes we go to a local beauty spot. Are your appointments with nature at set times? At a specific attractions? Somewhere you’ve paid money to go?
Newsflash: enjoying the countryside is a free activity. You don’t have to be part of an organised tour.
The fact that we, as a community, have become isolated from the countryside really struck me when I was scrolling through Facebook at the weekend. Someone was asking for recommendations for bluebell woods to visit. There were all sorts of suggestions, with the most popular being a ‘designated’ site. There was much discussion about ‘the rules’ and whether a 20-minute drive for some exercise was acceptable. The irony is that for a 20-minute walk we can see bluebells practically on our doorstep – as presumably can most of the rest of the families in town.
I quite often say to my husband that we should go on holiday in Kent. To discover the places around us that are too much for a day trip. In a small way, we’re starting to do this now: making the most of social distancing, by exploring with new eyes, sights that familiarity has made us overlook.
Today we spotted:
- Woodland paths
- Hidden views
Thursday, April 16
Lots of my walks recently seem to have featured views to the Isle of Sheppey. Today’s was no different. We walked out to Harty Ferry.
As my husband was with us, he helped us identify the birds on the Oare Marshes reserve, which is managed by Kent Wildlife Trust. Over the years the names have become familiar to me, but I’m not very good at the actual spotting and identifying.
I can spot a seagull, though. Actually, almost 25 years of marriage has taught me not to refer to seagulls as seagulls – you should be more specific. As in: black-headed gull, herring gull and so on.
Today we saw lots of black and white birds, including little egrets and avocets.
On the way home we saw these little blue flowers. I can never remember what they’re called. My husband insists it’s borage. It isn’t. And by the magic of the internet I can reveal it’s called green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens).
And the reason we walked to Harty Ferry? That’s easy – we went to visit the recently-repaired spring head. My daughter took this photo of me – only when I’d filled my cup did I see the sign (I’m hiding it) that said not to drink the water as it hadn’t yet been tested. It’s been a few days now… and I’m feeling OK.
Today we spotted:
- Little egrets and avocets
Easter Sunday, April 12
Our goal for Easter Sunday was to find a field of vivid rapeseed flowers. As there wasn’t much complaining – and I was doing the map-reading – we took a detour.
By some strange coincidence we walked up a lane and took the footpath off to the right. We could see the Isle of Sheppey ahead and then we saw a three-metre-tall crucifix planted in the field. Apparently, it first appeared 15 years ago and can be seen in the distance from the west door of St Peter’s Church.
I’m getting pretty skilful at deflecting the “What time will be home?” questions and diverting attention to enjoying the views around us. It’s quite weird seeing Sheppey in the distance. It looks as if it’s attached to the mainland as you can’t see The Swale until you’re really close to it.
As we walked the long, hot path to the shore we saw and heard skylarks and the most incredibly noisy marsh frogs. What a sound: they sounded like ducks quacking! We also saw a grass snake in the same waterway with its distinctive yellow and black collar.
It was much cooler on the coast and we were buffeted by a welcome breeze.
We did find our yellow field. It was under a line of buzzing pylons and looked really dramatic against the sky. Walking under these electric lines always reminds me of the children’s sci-fi TV series The Changes.
Today we spotted:
- Peacock butterflies (six)
- Skylarks (two)
- Grass snake
- Marsh frogs (hundreds)
- Marsh harrier
- White campion
- Cow parsley
Thursday, April 9
Yesterday we did a town walk. We couldn’t really be bothered getting out into countryside, even though the countryside is probably closer than town. Sometimes it just seems too far.
Over time we’ve settled on leaving the house at 2pm. Today we mapped out our route first and took a loop out into ‘unknown’ territory. We got to the heady heights of 30 metres above sea level and were rewarded with views out across to Sheppey and a pleasant breeze.
We’d committed the route to memory and knew that the only bit of path we weren’t familiar with was in a dead straight line across a field from road to road. But when we got there, the path wasn’t marked. We chose the most worn of the tractor furrows and hoped for the best.
At this point we were about 20 minutes into our walk. Suffice to say, 12 minutes before a doggy bag was needed. If you’re a fellow dog-walker, what do you do with your full bags when there isn’t a bin in sight?
Answer: let it dangle from your hand for the next 20 minutes, put it in your pocket or stash it in your backpack. It’s not a difficult decision: bag it, bin it.
Why then did we come across so much dog poo on the footpaths, and carefully knotted bags left hanging in the undergrowth or neatly piled up? Spoiler alert: there’s no magic poo bag fairy. It’s your dog – your dirt – take it home and dispose of it.
If you need it, you’ll find some dog-fouling advice from our friends at the Blue Cross for Pets charity here and it’s worth remembering that “even if you walk in areas with no legal requirement to pick up poo, it’s important to get into the routine for doing so. It might seem like not much harm has been done, but canine faeces contain parasites that, if not cleaned up, can spread to grass and, if eaten, can cause blindness in people and pregnant cattle to abort their young”.
Today we spotted:
- Peacock butterflies (eight)
- Orange-tip butterfly
- Brimstone butterfly
- Small white butterfly
- Lots more bluebells
- Blue tit
- Two cyclists
- One family group walking their dog
- A couple with a pair of rather fine Standard Poodles
Tuesday, April 7
It wasn’t quite the way I’d planned to spend my birthday. Instead of wandering around Monet’s garden at Giverny, we were in the Garden of England.
As a family we’ve got into the habit of taking our exercise separately – much as I love them, being together 24/7 isn’t good for our family dynamic. But today was an exception.
Snacks packed, we walked to the end of our road and out to the woods. My daughter and dog were shuttle-running up and down the path between us. My husband was up ahead (for the secret birthday talks) and I was lagging behind, taking photos.
The woods are a riot of colour at the moment: neon-yellow lesser celandines, glow-in-the-dark-white wood anemones and the hazy beginnings of the bluebells.
We stopped for a picnic next to the fishing lakes and, thanks to our resident wildlife expert, we were able to identify more of the sights and sounds around us than usual – so although we couldn’t see them we identified a green woodpecker, a chiffchaff and blue tits.
We also spotted:
- Buff-tailed bumblebee
- Peacock butterfly
- Yellow ladybird
- Two pairs of tufted ducks
- Great crested grebe
- Greylag goose
Monday, April 6
What glorious weather we had at the weekend. It’s so hard to believe we’re in the middle of a global pandemic when – to misquote Robert Browning – oh, to be in England now that April’s here.
Beautiful as the countryside is – especially on a spring day – there do seem to be a lot of my fellow walkers taking the social-distancing rules a bit too literally. They’ re carving out new paths across the fields.
The countryside isn’t just one long-grassed park: it’s the industrial engine that keeps us fed.
Don’t forget to follow the Countryside Code: respect – protect – enjoy. Stick to the marked footpaths and don’t take shortcuts through the farmers’ crops.
Respect other people:
- consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
- leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
Protect the natural environment:
- leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
- keep dogs under effective control
Enjoy the outdoors:
- plan ahead and be prepared
- follow advice and local signs
You can see the Countryside Code here
Friday, April 3
I was abandoned by my walking companion midway between our front door and the postbox at the end of our road. It’s not quite the same walking on your own.
I went up and over the railway line just as a train was coming. I love the noise they make. When I first moved into town my house backed on to the railway line and I found the sound really comforting. It was 1994. I was 26, single and a home-owner and had just paid £47,500 for a Victorian mid-terraced property. My dad lent me the deposit (which I paid back with interest every month).
Next stop was the A2. I hardly had to look both ways to make sure it was safe to cross. Once over, I’m in the countryside – where two new housing estates are being built. I rather enjoyed discovering a new footpath that’s been put in by the developer. It’s inset from the edge of the road and screened with native-hedge-planting.
From there it was over farmland. I stopped to wave hello to one of the teaching assistants at my daughter’s old primary school and then looped back home.
The countryside south of town is undulating. It was quite bizarre looking off into the distance and seeing people out and about a couple of fields away. I probably saw about 30 people over the course of my one-hour walk – loads more than usual. It’s good to see more of the community getting outdoors to enjoy being in the countryside.
This was very much a stop-and-sniff dog walk. Because I had no one to talk to, I could just stand and listen to my surroundings. I heard birdsong, buzzing bees, the flapping of a bird’s wings and the crunchy footsteps of another walker coming towards me. No planes. And no traffic. In fact, I didn’t have to jump into the hedge at the sound of oncoming vehicles at all today.
- Bank of lesser celandine, primroses and blue wood anemones
- Small flock of starlings
- Small flock of corvids – rooks or jackdaws, I’m not sure which
- Two family groups of cyclists, plus five more
- More walkers than yesterday
Thursday, April 2
It’s the first day of the school holidays today. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter asked what time we were going out for our walk. She wanted to paint her nails and had to allow sufficient drying time. She’s written out a schedule for the holidays. It seems that every day will be exactly the same as the other – with each activity punctuated by a “go on phone” session.
Pre Covid-19 I’d always have an emergency £10 note in my pocket. But these days no money’s needed as there’s nowhere open for a sneaky cuppa and a slice of cake. It’s strange that the new normal is to reach for phone and keys only, without the usual “keys, wallet, phone” mantra every time we leave the house.
We skirted round the edge of town, out in the direction of the supermarket and then on to the bypass. We crossed what normally would have been a busy junction and headed out along the track alongside the creek – and then on to a walkers-only footpath – having been accompanied if not by traffic then by surfaced roads the rest of the way.
The tide was out, so the creek was all mud and marooned boats, and on the other side flat open marshland.
To the annoyance of my daughter, I’ve started making a real point of waving at strangers and saying hello. We may all be socially distancing – but that doesn’t mean we have to be unconnected with the world around us. And what, I always say, if we were the only people to have spoken to that lady all day?
The prettiest bit of our walk was the part of the footpath where the blossom on the overhanging trees made a tunnel. I’m making a mental of note of where to pick my sloes in the autumn…
We looped back home down a country lane, which has been widened at the end to allow regulation vehicular access to a new housing development.
- Apple (and other) blossom
- Dead nettles – red and white
- Lesser celandine
- Two ladybirds
- Two butterflies – cabbage white and peacock
- A quartering harrier
- Seven cyclists
- One runner
- Fellow walkers
Monday, March 30
Not unsurprisingly, working at home has turned my world upside down.
My office is my kitchen table. I have a great view of the garden – and the kettle is always on the boil.
Despite all the awful news about the coronavirus, I have lots of things to be grateful for – not least my lunchtime walks with my daughter (age 12) and the dog. It’s our first-week anniversary today.
We’re lucky in that we live in a small market town in Kent. The town centre is a 10-minute walk away and we’re out in the countryside within five minutes.
Taking our portion of exercise each day is becoming a welcome part of our daily routine.
I’m trying to encourage said daughter to look at an Ordnance Survey map with me so we can plan a different path each time we go out. We’re highlighting our routes with marker pen – building up a picture, tracking our moves.
Naturally, as with any child, she starts off hating the thought of coming out with me. But I’m all for making memories – so I’m hoping she’ll look back on her year of CV2020 as the one of maps, rucksacks, snacks, walks and the joy of being out in the open countryside. It’s also a really good opportunity to talk as we walk side by side.
Today’s walk took us across the not-so-busy A2 and out through the old orchards thatare now used as horse paddocks and then onto a compacted routed scarred diagonally across a planted field. Countryside it may have been, but there was absolutely no sign of wildlife on the farmed land.
We looped back home – following a short section of path along the M2 – and then followed the lane back into town, passing two new housing estates under construction on the way.
- Blackthorn blossom (sloes)
- Old man’s beard
- A few dogs
- Some fellow walkers
- New houses