Some days it seems there is not much good news in the world but today I learnt for definite that two black winged stilt chicks, one of the rarest birds in Britain, have successfully fledged from farmland on Sheppey.
The adults have patrolled tirelessly throughout the year to drive off marsh harriers, buzzards and even the RSPB expert who came to see them.
They and the farmers deserve every bit of this success. These are the first birds ever to fledge outside of a reserve in Britain and, for today, that is enough to make me happy.
Enjoyed a wander in Earley Wood near Petham with my gang of volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership this week.
Early purple orchids, wood anemones and bluebells
a jumble of twayblades
Green lanes outside of Sittingbourne
Bank Holiday weekend and everyone hits the road and spends the weekend stuck in a jam on the motorway. Instead I decided to discover the delights a little closer to home and caught the train to Sittingbourne with my bike.
Sittingbourne is not an obvious tourist destination but a short cycle from town is Milton Regis, an ancient settlement with a high street of beautifully preserved buildings and the fabulous medieval Milton Court Hall. Here, at Easter, the local judge would preside over cases seated in a high chair in the upper storey. The hall is open every Saturday from April to September. Don’t forget to ask the friendly volunteers to show you the tiny town gaol with its unfortunate resident.
My old OS map drew me across the railway and the M2 towards two hamlets called Upper Toes and Nether Toes. Who wouldn’t want to visit such places? Unfortunately the modern maps seems to have done away with these names and grouped the places together under Howt Green.
Luckily apple orchards and quiet country lanes still exist just outside Sittingbourne. With the ever encroaching threat of housing the get out and enjoy them while you still can.
I finished my trip with a visit to the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, one of the oldest in Kent. Built on a site of pagan worship the churchyard is a gem of ancient headstones, including one from the 1600’s of a boy who was killed on Guy Fawkes night by an exploding rocket.
Why spend Easter stuck in a car, polluting our countryside with exhaust fumes only to arrive hot and bothered in a crowded location? Instead step back in time, catch a train, dust of your bike and discover the things right on your doorstep.
Looking back to Iron Wharf from Faversham Creek
Today I cycled out from Faversham and fell back in love with my country.
I sometimes forget how lovely England still is when I spend so much time seeing and despairing at the destruction of our countryside. At times it seems that we have become one big building site and ugliness both physical and ideological threatens to engulf us.
Today however I remembered all the good things as I weaved past the lively market and down to the boatyards of Iron Wharf where people clambered over their weekend projects with renewed enthusiasm because the sun was out and the days were getting longer. I then crossed a ever more rickety bridge over a creek and spun across Nagden Marshes.
Spring was everywhere, butterflies courting, birds singing, blackthorn spangled in lacey blossom.
Spring in England is a blessing which you can enjoy all the more after the gloom of a long winter and, even these days, when winter is not what it was, then I can revel in the first sun on bare skin. I fully subscribe to Robert Browning’s philosophy in his poem ‘O to be in England.’ and never wish to live full time in a country where the summer is endless. Like many things in life the joy of pleasure returning is all the sweeter when you’ve come through the dark days.
Away from the banks of Faversham Creek I swung down quiet lanes, passing farm workers, horseshows and stopped at St Bartholomew’s Church in Goodnestone run by the Churches Conservation Trust and stepped inside to discover it’s simplicity and cool whitewash. On, past quirkily named pubs and first pints of shandy back to town. The world had gone all John Betjeman and I was thankful for it.
If Tolkien hadn’t imagined Middle Earth at Moseley Bog outside of Birmingham then he would have found his inspiration at Berengrave Nature Reserve near Rainham in Kent. A chalk quarry where spider trees rise from a flooded floor, ice covers crystal clear lakes and tangles of debris hang from the branches as if we were in the Louisiana bayous.
It is not a cosy place of well tended trails. It is a place of magic and myth and dark thoughts. Never sunlit, even in the heat of summer. A place of silence and uncomfortable feelings. A place to drown your sorrows or your body in, your last word escaping in a bubble beneath the ice.
It is the cut through on the way home which causes children to quicken their step. It is a Boggart hole. May its secrets persist. We need the darkness on the edge of town. We need the wildness more every day.
Bakersfield, the brownfield site at the end of my road which was home to hedgehogs, little owls, nightingales, lizards, snakes and turtle doves have been destroyed. I tried to stop it, I couldn’t, but the fact that I tried, helps. Please watch this video and write to McCulloch Homes and Bioscan to condemn their actions.
Another virtual postcard from online magazine Longshore Drift