Take a virtual walk around the estate this spring at Scotney Castle
Pull on your virtual walking boots and join Austin, one of the volunteer estate guides at Scotney Castle, for a walk around the estate in his favourite season. Prepare to transport yourself to the great outdoors in Kent and savour the atmosphere.
I've been a volunteer estate guide at Scotney Castle for 6 years and there's nothing I enjoy more than taking visitors on a walk around the estate. Join me now as we go on a virtual 2.5 mile loop, taking in some of my favourite parts of the estate.
Having followed the Blue Route along the Old Carriage Road from the Salvin Gate, the path travels parallel to the Bewl River before reaching the five-bar gate that announces the arrival at the lower edge of Kilndown Wood and the connecting path of the Red Route and the Yellow Route to Broadham Woods.
Following the Yellow Route, or the Hop Trail as it is frequently referred to, will eventually lead us to the site of the Hop Pickers Huts and then on to the Hop Gardens and Little Scotney Farm.
As soon as we pass through the gate at the junction of the footpaths, we arrive in one of the many magical parts of the Scotney Estate. In spring time we will see the woodland floor carpeted in Wood Anemones, Snowdrops, yellow Primroses, shiny yellow Lesser Celandines, Dogs Mercury and the first signs of Blue Bells shooting forth.
By Late April and into May these will be replaced by a carpet of English Bluebells. Here and there are Mouse-ear Chickweed flowers and the first appearance of the Cuckooflower or Lady’s Smock as they are also known – the appearance of these will often announce the arrival of the Cuckoo if you listen very carefully, whilst also signalling the emergence of the Orange Tip butterfly.
As we continue along the Hop Trail, we will hopefully see other butterflies emerging from their winter hibernation on warm sunny days. These will include Red Admirals, Peacocks and Commas for example, yet the biggest and most impressive this time of year is the large yellow Brimstone that floats around the woodland floor.
Eventually, crossing a Drovers Trail, we enter the second part of the wood and reach the Hop Pickers Huts. These were last used in 1961 as accommodation for the Hop Pickers who travelled from London each September to harvest the hops. We believe that these old wooden huts that remain standing today were re-built in the late 1930’s.
Though the National Trust have carried out some renovation to them, they remain a testament to the life and living conditions of those families who spent six weeks picking hops to supplement their income and escape from the conditions of Victorian London.
Though mechanism has changed the hop picking process since 1961, the harvesting is still a labour intensive process and Scotney remains the only National Trust property where hops are grown, and very little has changed with the process since 1961. Tours still run each year during harvest time to the huts, the Hop Gardens and the farm to see the full harvesting process.
As we continue along the Hop Trail through Broadham Wood the path turns towards the River Bewl and midway along this path there is a wooden bench overlooking the river where, on a warm sunny spring day, it may be possible to sit and hopefully catch sight of a kingfisher, watch damsel flies near the water’s edge and listen to the songs of the birds that live in the woods. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs returning from North Africa, Robins, Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Nuthatches, Green Woodpeckers and Buzzards are amongst many birds that frequent the woods and the Estate at Scotney.
" My favourite time on the Scotney Estate has to be Spring time with its cold mornings and sunny days when flowers are breaking out in the woodlands and trees begin to show their early breaking buds and green new leaves."
More butterflies can be seen looking for new growth to lay eggs, you may be very lucky to catch a waking dormouse up in the hazel branches or a scurrying wood mouse or field mouse searching for food on the woodland floor. Grey Squirrels are frequently seen searching for last year’s crop of hazel nuts or sweet chestnuts amongst the dry leaves, or hopefully where they buried them last Autumn. It's easy to see well-marked tunnel like trails through the undergrowth left by badgers on their regular night time search for food, or the hoof prints of Roe Deer in the muddy paths.
Upon leaving the wood we join the Back Drive and cross the bridge over the Bewl River. To our right are the bare poles of the Hop Gardens, and there may be workers clearing the dead growth and repairing any damaged wires before attaching new strings in preparation for the new growth. Eventually the perennial hops will reappear and the new season will begin once again.
Returning along the Back Drive be amazed by the abundance of wild flowers growing on the verges, the blackthorn in flower and the hawthorn bursting into leaf ahead of its flowers. The migratory birds are returning and the sheep are putting on weight approaching lambing in the first week of April.
The Estate at Scotney is a wonderful place to walk for an hour or two on a sunny spring day, whether you chose to walk alone or join one of the Guided Estate Walks. Whilst Scotney Castle is closed to visitors following government advice, I hope you've enjoyed this virtual walk with me today. Come and visit us once we're able to welcome visitors again.