First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
‘Keep an eye out for the beavers,’ advised a man festooned with wildlife cameras whom we passed in the car park at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve. ‘Lots of signs around – look for those toothmarks of theirs, eh?’
We didn’t see any of the recently reintroduced rodents on our walk round the East Kent reserve under cloudy winter skies. But evidence of their presence was widespread in the shape of young trees felled with a curious hinged effect, the severed parts gnawed white and smooth with fine patterns of chiselling by beaver incisors.
The first creature we did see was another species of aquatic rodent, a little grey-brown water vole scuttling along the bank of the Lampen Stream. We heard other voles too, plopping into ditches at our approach. So much of nature is secret, hidden or only momentarily glimpsed, especially in the ‘downtime’ of winter. But if you have an eye for the birds, Stodmarsh NNR is bursting with overt life, loud and proud.
In the still grey afternoon, perched in the Reedbed Hide, we looked out on a bay between enormous stretches of creamy-white reeds – the reserve has the largest area of reedbeds in the southeast of England. Shoveler drakes with snowy breasts and chestnut wings went dabbling beside their drab brown mates, their long spatulate bills giving them a solemn air of consequence. Among them swam teal with yellow flashes on their afterparts, and breasts very delicately patterned in ash-grey and black.
A sudden panic had them all dashing into mid-pool with agitated squawking and a might clatter of wings on water. What had caused the upheaval? ‘Probably a fox,’ grunted one of the twitchers from behind an immense telescopic lens. ‘Spooked ’em and scarpered’.
We followed a broad and muddy path north between reed pool, ditches and sodden green acres of freshwater marsh. Stodmarsh’s watery landscape was formed partly through subsidence of old mine workings below ground, a reminder of the now-vanished Kentish coalfield.
Seduction smells of Sunday roast emanated from the Grove Ferry Inn, where we turned back along the wide and muddy River Great Stour. An angler on the far bank hooked a roach and lifted it out, a wriggling strip of silver. We watched another hunter of the waterways, a big marsh harrier, cruising low above the reedbeds, looking for frogs or water voles.
The light began to seep out of the afternoon as we followed the homeward path, serenaded by the harsh pig-like screech and snuffle of a water rail creeping through the reeds, another winter sound of this magical place.
How hard is it? 4¾ miles; easy; flat walking, can be muddy. Bring binoculars!
Start: Stodmarsh NNR car park, near Canterbury CT3 4BB (OS ref TR 222609)
Getting there: Reserve is signed from A257 (Canterbury to Littlebourne).
Walk (OS Explorer 150): From bottom right corner of car park pass info board; follow track for ¼ mile to cross bridge to T-junction (223610). Left; follow ‘Reedbed Hide’ signs to hide (222612). Return to pass bridge (don’t cross); follow path (‘Footpath’, yellow arrows) past Undertrees Farm. In ¾ mile pass Marsh Hide (226618); in ½ mile dogleg right/left across track (233623, red arrow); follow ‘Grove Ferry car park’ signs for ⅔ mile to road (236630). Left (Grove Ferry Inn is opposite); in 40m, left (‘Stour Valley Walk’). Follow riverbank path. In 1½ miles path veers inland (221620); follow it past Tower Hide (222617), then follow signs to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Grove Ferry Inn, Upstreet, Canterbury CT3 4BP (01227-860302, groveferryinn.co.uk)
Info: Stodmarsh NNR – 0845-600-3078; explorekent.org