They say a change is as good as a rest, so rather than visit one of my many local patches, yesterday afternoon I took myself off to the Greensand Ridge of southern Surrey. It is an area that I do know in parts but have not visited for several years. Armed with the trusty OS map, I parked at Friday Street and made my way to Leith Hill via a number of footpaths, some that I had walked before and others that were unfamiliar. Several loops were taken in the name of 'exploration', a good couple of hours were spent on the open heathland of Duke's Warren (above), with the whole expedition ending with a magical strike out northwards from Broadmoor along the achingly beautiful Tilling Bourne valley.

I have a confession to make. I'm not a great fan of the Greensand nor heathland. As I walked across, up and down the said area in question, I quizzed myself as to why that was. My most obvious dislike is of conifer plantations, especially when they are planted on dry, sandy soil. The ground is littered with needles and cones - sharp, scratchy and uninteresting. This area is also characterised by sudden, deep gullies; steep and dark banks; wet mires haunted by sedges, rushes and neat-tea coloured pools, plus an undeniable feeling of oppression and an indefinable mood-lowering atmosphere. It feels as if you are being watched and not really all that welcome - a feeling that is enforced by the hundreds of 'Private - Keep Out' signs making sure that you do not stray onto the Wooton Estate. Having said that, the low, ever-so-dull cloud did not help matters, and when I did get out from under the trees and onto open heathland my wellbeing changed rapidly.

As has become expected, the number of birds seen and heard were depressed, but not without interest. Highlights included a flock of c40 Crossbills (male above) at Duke's Warren, that flew in noisily and alighted on several isolated conifers. In this general area I was entertained by at least five Woodlarks, with much singing and displaying being observed. 2 Cuckoos, a Stonechat (a male, behaviour suggesting a nest nearby), two Garden Warblers and 6 Willow Warblers were also logged.

Towards the end of my walk the sun started to fight its way through the cloud layer and although never fully winning that particular battle partially lit up the world. The fresh lime green leaves of the unfurling beech became luminous and the bluebells took on a much more cheery feel. Sometimes you just need to take what simple things are being offered to you and be thankful...


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