Confessions of a Kentish daydreamer, sometime owl chaser and dedicated perch hunter.
About the Blog
I’m writing this in the summer of 2019. It’s been a while since I last posted and I may not do so again. The entries herein reflect several years of wild birding and angling, as well as many a rumination on the history of the local landscape and how I came to be here. Here, you’ll find first person accounts of close-up encounters with wild pike, perch, owls, peregrines and countless other Kentish characters. Some of the writing is set in the Surrey Hills, where I used to escape to when I lived in London, but the vast majority is situated in my home county of Kent.
I started writing this blog in the autumn a few years back, with a view to keeping an online angling and birding diary. I chose the title- ‘Postcards from the English Outback’- with my tongue firmly stuck in my cheek. I’m a townie and, other than an idyllic childhood spent growing up on Pegwell Bay, I’ve spent most of my life as a lover of home comforts. But this changed nearly ten years ago when I decided to move back to Kent, having spent a few years teaching up in London.
The trigger was a move I made to Putney Heath; it’s a glorious part of the capital and I lived directly in the wooded part of the heath. The whole area was beautiful. I heard tawny owls every evening and once came face to face with a sparrowhawk that blocked one of the old paths as I trudged back from the pub. If I walked north, I could quickly reach ‘The Green Man’ tavern, where Dick Turpin used to hide his guns. If I wandered south, I could be sat opposite Wimbledon Common within a few minutes. There I’d watch the weekend horse-riders and sup ale in some of Oliver Reed’s favourite old watering holes. The more I fell back in love with the old country, though, the more I wanted to get back home to Kent and rediscover the lands of my youth. Within six months, I’d given notice at work and moved back to my home-town.
These ‘Postcards’ pick the story up a few years in to my adventures. By the time I started to write them, I’d been back in Kent for a full five years and had spent an unreasonable amount of my spare time wild coarse fishing and bird watching. When I published the first post- ‘The Haunted Tin’, about an old fishing tackle box my friend Morag gave me, I’d come to see my part of the county’s countryside as a sort of ‘outback’. Even today, in 2019, 85% of Kent is rural. But it’s one thing to know the statistics; it’s another to love and appreciate a ‘land’ for what it is. There are many ways to come to this; some go walking, others paint (I’ve always wanted to do more of the latter) but I did it via angling and birding.
Tracking migratory birds (often meeting the same creatures year in, year out) and pursuing wild fish, immersed me into the local landscape. This has been predominantly East Kent: the Stour Valley and the land just westwards with its ancient woodland and pretty little villages; east of there, my tales encompass the old Wantsum Valley (much of which was under water just two hundred years ago) with its strange marshes, small streams, ex-industrial ponds and great tidal rivers. Much of this part of the land was mined and worked on by my grandfather and his generation of my family. In the more recent entries, I’ve travelled east of the Wantsum to write about my childhood in Pegwell.
The heart of these pages beats in these wild places. My efforts to locate the birds and fish that reside in them is what stoked my initial desire to write a blog. However, I quickly found other themes- not least of all family, history, the landscape and at times, the concept of an English ‘Eerie’. These concepts haunt the stories you will find herein and it’s my intention to leave the pages up and online, even if I’m no longer adding to them.
It’s entirely possible I’ll go ‘wild’ again at some point and really have something to write about. There are lots of themes and adventures that intrigue me. Perhaps if I get the time away from work, I’ll be able to pursue them more.
I feel as though I’ve written enough about the marshes here but that I didn’t sufficiently cover the other two great ‘outbacks’ locally: the Blean Woods and the English Channel. My recent short-eared owl quest helped to address my lack of writing on the latter front. But it doesn’t go far enough.
There are still bass to be caught.
And the woods grow older and more interesting every day.