Away to the Woods

Lena Kennedy's shack in Cliffe Woods

Lena Kennedy’s shack in Cliffe Woods

Jumped on my bike last weekend to undertake a pilgrimage to find Lena Kennedy’s woodland shack, the last remaining plotland home in what was once a thriving community of woodlands dwellings erected by enterprising East Enders wanting their own little country kingdom.

Lena Kennedy and her husband, like many others, came to Kent in the 50’s to escape the overcrowding and smogs of the East End of London, hoping for clean air and space for their children to spend their weekends. They bought a parcel of land with their limited savings, amongst the trees of Cliffe Woods and began slowly to erect their country home, first they bought a old railway carriage to live in and then slowly they began to build their little wooden shack, grow their vegetables and make friends with the other working class  families who felt that, despite the lack of mains water, sewage or other facilities, they had found their little piece of paradise.

Many of these people showed a determination and resilience which can only be admired, some cycled out from London carrying the timber to build their houses on their backs or worked extra jobs  to find the savings to buy their land.

Then in the 60’s the council declared the community of shack dwellers an unsightly shanty town and compulsorily purchased the land in order to build as Lena writes ‘small modern houses all the way over my lovely green hill.’ The shack dwellers were powerless to stop ‘this terrifying thing about to take over them all.’ Somehow Lena’s shack was spared and later, at the age of 60, when she became a best selling novelist, she wrote about her years in the shack in her autobiography, Away to the Woods.’

Early last Saturday I rode into an icy spring wind through the lanes of the Hoo Peninsula to Cliffe Woods. The woods are now tucked up behind the village and indeed the hill is as Lena feared, one big suburban sprawl of brick built mega bungalows and sprawling concrete drives. Very little remains of Lena’s lovely oaks and ash trees.

I had no idea where the bungalow was, but the plotlands, though vanished, retain their skeleton breath on the map, long gardens, regularly ordered, with little houses set well back in the plots. On View Road, I passed a wooden gate which seemed to lead onto a derelict piece of land. I would have walked by had not a glimpse of blue caught my eye. There, on what appeared to be a garden shed, tucked behind a tangle of hawthorn trees was a blue plaque, of the type which appear all over London buildings, drawing our eye to the homes of the wealthy and famous. Lena Kennedy was a prolific and successful author and this was where she came for over 30 years to write.

blue plaque at Lena Kennedy's shack

blue plaque at Lena Kennedy’s shack

The shack, tucked away in its little garden full of daffodils and primroses was still a delight all the more so because it was now overshadowed by giant multi garaged monstrous homes. How could this little shack be considered ugly and inappropriate and the buildings that had replaced it more acceptable? Our sense of what is a correct and desirable way to live is all skewed, for me, I will take the simple life in the woods every time.


Exhibition of Estuary Art


If you are visiting Whitstable in Kent before the 14th April then please take time to explore Paul Fowler’s exhibition at the Horsebridge Arts Centre. Paul creates the most beautiful paintings often of pieces of found drift wood and this exhibition explores the changing coast of Kent and his travels along the Saxon Shore Way.  For more information on Paul’s painting visit;


Another chance to take part in a nature writing workshop

participants taking part in a workshop in October

participants taking part in a workshop in October

The second of my two nature writing workshops for the Wild Sites on your doorstep project will take place on Saturday 12th April from 10am – 1.00pm leaving from the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory in Sandwich, Kent.

The  Wild Sites on your doorstep project is all about enjoying the wild sites close to where you live and using photography, art and writing to explore your responses to them.

During the nature writing workshop we will take a walk through the beautiful and atmospheric landscape of the dunes and coast around Sandwich and learn the principles of writing vivid prose about the natural world. For more information visit

Pecking Order


Spring is here and to mark the start of a season of mating and loving, two male blackbirds are having daily battles on the roof of my summer house. It is a parade ground, a boxing arena, a prized territory or, possibly, the border between two.

They follow each other, day after day back and forth across the roof of the summer house, bouncing now one way, now the other.

“I’ve seen you off.”

“No, I’m back and I’ll see you off.”

It’s been over a week now and still no one is the victor.

This ritualised marching, like the soldiers at the gate between Indian and Pakistan involves much ferocious glaring and head shaking.

Occasionally, an airborne battle erupts, a spiral of black wings and extended claws, gaping bills and gleaming eyes and, then, silence. They vanish to seach for worms, cocking an ear at the soil and ruminating on which tactic will finally settle this score.

a blackbird stand off

a blackbird stand off