A foggy dawn

spiders webs with dewA foggy dawn.

5am alarm.

It will be ok, I can still see…just.

Onto the marshes.

Skylark song amplified in the damp air,

enclosing us both in the stillness.

Traffic on the main road a world away.

Here I am locked in a shrouded room with just me and the bird song and a barn owl, floating white on white over the tump.

Almost done.

A wet patch of mud.

The hire truck sinks to its axles.

Turn left, turn right, reverse, diff lock on, lock off…. Stuck.

Good and stuck.

Wanting to cry. Suck it up and try to think.

Sedge stuffed under the tyres proves useless.

Admit defeat.

A long walk back to the road.

Trousers sodden in the damp grass and boots squelching.

A building site, plead my case. Lots of laughter.

What are you doing? A bird survey? What? At this hour? In this weather? On your Own?

Rescued by Dave in a tricked up Land Rover.

A jolly 4×4 hero.

Winched out of the mud, cheers all round.

Dawn, wet, dew, spiders webs, lapwing in the murk, redshank alarming, hot coffee and bananas and all this before 9am.



Ladies and flys

Ladies and flys

lady orchid cover woodA rainy afternoon took me orchid hunting to Covert Wood near Barham in Kent.

There is something secretive in orchid hunting, passed down by generations who protected the plants from people intent on digging them up for their beauty and the supposed aphrodisiac properties of their roots.

Good orchid territory always seems passed on by word of mouth and it would be easy to miss the steep slope that climbs from a little used road that spirals steeply down through Covert Wood. Here the beech woods roll down the slope on a sea of foamy dogs mercury and wild ransoms. Lady orchids grow under the shaded canopy. Some are the traditional flowers which more resemble men in spotty pyjamas than ladies in crinolines. Some are hybrids of pale lavender and white. detail of lady orchid

Easily missed are the fly orchids, my favourites. There is something a little sinister in them, like they might contain some deadly chemical with which to make a sleeping draft. fly orchid cover wood

The twayblades are not so spectacular although they grown up to a foot high and each flower looks like a little man wearing a baseball cap and giant headphones. The men dance around a central maypole above two giant flat leaves which give the plant its name.

One orchids was more elusive than the rest. I searched and searched for the birds nest orchids which lack chlorophyll and feed on the roots of trees but, if they were there, I couldn’t find them. But that’s the pleasure in orchid hunting, it’s not easy, they do appear one year and then vanish, it takes you to little known parts of woods and hills to find them. It is the mystery and rarity of orchids that make the hunt worthwhile.


Here we go a gleaning

Here we go a gleaning

wye glean 1What better way to spend a beautiful May evening than by joining a gang of jolly volunteers to salvage unharvested food which would otherwise go to waste and donate them to worthy causes across Kent?

Under the Wye downs I joined a gang of about 40 people of all ages from Gleaning Kent to harvest leeks at Ripple Farm Organics. The leeks were about to set seed and therefore a tad too tough to go into the veg boxes but were still fine to be eaten.

Over a few hours we pulled and trimmed and bagged leaks, wielding a giant machete to hack away the leaves and eventually we have salvaged 1240kg of veg which would have otherwise gone to waste. The vegetables were distributed to a number of charities who run meal clubs for kids and adults who might not otherwise get a decent dinner.

wye glean 2

Events in June


Me and lovely agent Joanna Swainson discuss my book at St Mary’s, Lower Higham during last year’s launch – photo Ralph Connolly

June sees the launch of On the Marshes in paperback and to celebrate I am returning to the beautiful church of St Mary’s in Lower Higham where I slept on the last night of my walk across the marshes. The event is on the 9th June at 6.00pm Tickets for this event are ¬£6 but there is no need to book you can just turn up on the night. There will be a licensed bar and snacks available to buy on the night.

On the 21st June I travel to Kirkdale Books, the oldest independent bookshop in South East London, to talk about On the Marshes and sign books. More details to follow from the bookshop website.



Take refuge

urban stress“It is ironic that we have made wildlife refuges for ibis, pelican, egret, wolf, crane, deer, mouse, moose and bear but not for ourselves in the places where we live day after day. We understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature. We point out how other creatures natural territories have become surrounded by cities, ranches, highways, noise and other dissonance as though we are not surrounded by the same as though we are not affected also.”

Women that run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

More reasons why we need to protect the green pockets of land within our cities and the scrubby patches on the outskirts from development. We all need a place to escape from  urban life.