Brighter weather today, but with a fresh wind.
This morning I took Ben and Sam for a short drive to Levens Park. It’s part of the grounds of Levens Hall, originally a medieval pele tower but converted into an Elizabethan ‘gentleman’s residence’. It’s probably most famous now for it’s topiary gardens. The park was laid out at the same time as the gardens – between 1694 and 1710 - designed by a Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont. It’s an open Deer Park with huge Oaks, Beeches, Sweet Chestnuts and Limes – presumably 300 years old.
What caught my attention at first though was a much smaller tree, another Hawthorn, but with red flowers:
They could almost be Roses, couldn’t they? But they are much smaller, and are apparently a cultivar of Midland Hawthorn (as opposed to Common Hawthorn).
The river Kent flows through the park, and having left the path to take this photograph I was in a position to look down on the river. A flash of metallic blue was a Kingfisher crossing low over the water. It was a brief and distant view, but the first time that I have seen a Kingfisher for some time. Can any other British bird rival the colours of a Kingfisher?
I had promised Ben deer and so was relieved when a herd appeared on on the hillside.
These are rather unusual Fallow Deer, imported from somewhere to add exotic colour to this manicured simulation of wilderness. They are much darker than other Fallow Deer. At the moment they seem to have odd dark spots and I suspect that they are shedding a darker thicker winter coat.
Ben was captivated and insisted that we stalk as close to the Deer as possible.
I was thrilled that Ben enjoyed the Deer, but he soon put me in my place: when we left the park and crossed a field he was even more impressed by the huge sloppy cowpats that made the path into a scatological maze.
The route follows a very quiet lane beside the river for awhile. The lane is bisected by the dual carriageway of the A590 and becomes two cul-de-sacs joined by a concrete walkway under the main road. This Heron seemed unperturbed by the traffic noise:
We finally reached a road bridge and crossed the river to make our return. Ben was beginning to flag, but was revived by the excitement of crossing over the A590 on a bridge. Speeding traffic may also be more exciting then Deer when you are three.
We were soon back in the Park and stopped for a snack. We were joined by a Hen, most definitely free range:
And not remotely shy:
Our walk now followed an avenue…
of huge Oaks:
Along which we soon encountered a herd of Bagot goats:
Like the Deer, I think that these are pretty much unique to this park.
Ben preferred the Goats to the Deer, I think because they allowed him to approach without running away.
The next cause for excitement was a hollow oak.
Which naturally required close inspection:
Via the back door:
I think that this is an Oak Apple. I remember reading about the life-cycle of the wasps that live in these galls, because I was fascinated by the fact that the generations alternate living in the tree and then on the roots.
Ben had completely recovered his energy and enthusiasm by now and was climbing on the trunk of a felled oak:
(The other child is a stranger who was keen to join in but understandably nervous about the idea.)
And whizzing off on his bike to find a hiding place in the base of another giant oak:
…was probably the biggest that we saw all day. The photo doesn’t begin to convey its majesty. I couldn’t persuade Ben to pose against it to give a scale by which to judge it.
This tree demanded attention because of these bulbous growths on its trunk:
You can see the Kent in the background.
The walk was intrinsically enjoyable, but I also enjoyed it because Ben was having such a good time. It made me recall days out from my own childhood, when we regularly visited Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. There were both Fallow and Red Deer there which was fantastic, especially during the rut. Clambering in and on hollow oaks was another common feature, as was hiding from my Dad. I often think that it was the freedom to charge around, to climb, to explore the open spaces there that first fostered my love of the outdoors. I hope that I can give the same gift to my kids.