BLUE BELL HILL
A green oasis among suburban sprawl
Once my local patch – and it kept me fit – this intriguing oasis of calm and green rises up and above the ever expanding urban whirl of Rochester and Chatham and is always a productive walk. The noise of the M2 and the large populace around you seem intriguingly remote and I love this tiny tract of the North Downs ‘squashed’ between the sprawl on the west and the River Medway to the east. The topography protects three villages that remain relatively untouched and also offers a birdwatcher a variety of habitats which always gives my notebook at least 35 species; once – in May - 65! Referred to locally as Blue Bell Hill (which, in winter is an icy devil of a road) it is the interesting linear tract of mixed woodland to the south east of the North Downs Way which always kept me alert. It is reliable for Treecreeper, Nuthatch and three woodpecker species along with Marsh and Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch and breeding Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. Further on loafing gulls on the arable fields at the northern end of the walk are worth checking out and these fields have given me a Hen
Harrier several times in winter; Merlin, too, more than once. It is true that if you choose to climb the down out of Burham village your body will certainly know about it, but the variety of species offered by a walk that could easily extend beyond the three hours I cite will tip the balance. On top of the down bigger skies change your aspect and focus and occasional flocks of water birds – maybe from the Isle of Sheppey – can add to the mix, especially in winter. Having gained the higher ground, the rest of your walk is level then downhill and you’ll be warm enough to ignore the ghost stories you may have heard in the local pubs about a phantom hitch-hiker, a tale I have been told several times while attempting to jot down my birdlist!