Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Gorse flower.

Locking down, slowing down, opening up: walks in the Country Park

Andrew Colquhoun, vice-chair of the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, has been taking advantage of lockdown days to enjoy the park in all its springtime glory. He also took the photos.

 We might still be in lock-down. Yet there is a golden thread to be found: a gift of time, time which we can use to slow down, to be in the moment. And to open our senses.

I have always been better at doing than at being. I tend to ignore for myself the advice I might give to therapy clients: be mindful of the moment, and take pleasure in it.

So, with less pressure to do, and more time to be, I have found my senses opening more easily to nature. And this has been especially true in our early morning walks in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve at an hour when magpies and rooks still vastly outnumber the dogs and their walkers.

My sense of hearing is attuned to the birds: the cronking of the raven, now a familiar call for a once threatened species. The mewing of the buzzard echoes across the woods, another species which has come back into our Sussex lives over the last quarter century. The yaffle of the green woodpecker is more often heard than the bird is seen. So too its great spotted cousin, head-banging its way into a dead trunk.

My favourite birdsong in the Nature Reserve is that of the blackcap, some of which can now be found near our coast throughout the year. If only the blackcap had had as good a press agent as the nightingale, it might have been the one celebrated as singing in Berkeley Square. Perhaps the nightingale, also said to be there deep in the hedges of the Reserve, only gets kudos because it’s ready to do the night shift as bats fly overhead.

Wild garlic pushing through the leaves.

And eyes too focused on the hedges, scanning, ready to twitch for a whitethroat, a holly blue butterfly, a solitary bee.

Eyes are open for the March blossom of the blackthorn, followed by viburnum in well-laid, mixed hedges, and then the May flower of the hawthorn. At our feet, a changing cast of wildflowers in the hedgerow: lesser celandine yields reluctantly to greater stitchwort. Yellow archangel and wood anemone cohabit with the emerging massed ranks of the native bluebell down Brakey Bank.

Throughout the Reserve the whiff of coconut is there for those with a keen sense of smell in the almost ever-flowering gorse from the East Hill to the Firehills. But a health and safety warning: before bending down to catch that whiff do make sure that your nose isn’t about to collide with a bumble bee about its lawful business.

The merest brush of boot against the wild garlic evokes Mediterranean recipes, as its distinctive smell also rises to meet the nose. Through Fairlight Glen the wild garlic leaves and then the flowers line the paths, the tiny streams and badger roads. In this ferny ghyll and ancient woodland an iguanodon would not be a total surprise: its fossils have certainly been found on the beach below. Some 65 million years on, one senses that it would still feel at home in the Glens of the Reserve and welcome their statutory protection.

One also has the sense of the yearly rhythm of the Country Park, as species have their moment of annual prominence. Peacock butterflies are there before the holly blues and orange tips. Swallows wing back to us before the swifts of the Old Town scream through the twittens. Red campion really only comes into its own time after the bluebells have been at their best. Solitary bees fly in the slipstream of bumbling cousins who have been with us since February.

Maybe my senses have been opened more this year because I have been trying to capture the essence of the Reserve to post items on social media for the Friends of the Country Park. But without lock-down there probably wouldn’t have been an opening up for me, as I have come to value that golden gift of time, to be as well as to do.


Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve


Posted 11:24 Tuesday, May 19, 2020 In: Nature

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