Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Wednesday 17th May 2017

I am writing this on Wednesday evening. Outside it is pouring with rain, and in the living room Tony is trying to rent a car for two more weeks in Scotland once out stay at the cottage is over. This is my last night at home for nine days, as tomorrow Tony and I are staying in London, and then on Friday we are sleeping on a train before arriving on Scotland and making our way to the cottage on Skye.

It is the end of another fine spring day here in east Kent, we have done some great things, details of which to follow.

One hundred and thirty five Asking Tony what he might like to do, he said he would like to go to Dover Castle, and as it several years since I went, seemed like a mighty fine idea to me. And with an opening time of ten, it meant a slow start to the day before the short drive into town to the entrance.

As we have breakfast, and Tony hangs the clothes out to dry and I make pasta salad for dinner, the clouds begin to clear and weak sunshine begins to break through. The cats have made themselves scarce, so it is quiet in the house, except for the sound of fingers banging on keyboards as we both upload shots to various social media sites.

So, at ten to ten we set off, driving to the Duke of Yorks then along to the castle, joining the short line of cars waiting to enter, then the set of lights that allowed four cars a time to cross the drawbridge. We drive over and round two hairpin bends to the car park. It is now a glorious day, twenty five degrees and with barely a cloud in the sky.

We go to the entrance, I get to go in free as I'm a member of English Heritage, Tony has to pay, and they offer him extended membership for a month, which he refuses. But then they do this to every visitor, I knw that as the day goes on I will hear their patter, all said with a smile.

A walk round Dover Castle Tiny and I split up, as I have a list of things to snap, most important is St Mary in Castro and the Roman lighthouse next door. I climb up the steep path through an ancient gateway, taking the path that continues to climb until I come huffing and puffing to the church door. It is open, and I am first one here, so I can go round getting the shots I want, detailing the mosaics on the wall, and great details.

A walk round Dover Castle More people come in, but I am done, so I can leave and get out back into the sunshine, so I can walk along the upper battlement walls, to get the views over to the National Trust place, and Reach Road. I was alone up there, and was wonderful, but I could hear the noise of a group of schoolchildren approaching behind me, so I keep ahead of them and make my way down to the Admiral Ramsey statue, where i can sit on a picnic bench and look out over the great views of the town and promenade.

A walk round Dover Castle I walk up to the great tower, to take more shots inside, making for the spiral staircase that I san snap with the wide angle lens. The King's chambers are dark, but I take shots and they come out fine, or as much as I can tell in reviewing them.

A walk round Dover Castle I take refuge in the cafe, and have a bottle of old fashioned lemonade and a muffin, joining people only a few years older than me who are complaining about the tea.

A walk round Dover Castle Back outside, French students are shouting down insults from the top of the keep, and an American makes a Holy Grail reference, so I mutter, and your Mother smelt of elderberries, which he laughed at.

A walk round Dover Castle It was midday, and I had an hour to kill before Tony was due to meet me back at the car, so I sit near the entrance and watch people come and go, and the staff sell them enhanced memberships.

Tony arrives dead on time, but it turns out he spent most of his time queuing for the tunnel tours, and had seen nothing of the keep or tower. I felt bad.

A walk round Deal We go back home for lunch of fruit smoothie and to check our shots. And then we go out to Deal for an encore visit to the narrow lanes leading off Middle Street.But before then we go for a walk along the pier, and I insist we get an ice cream for that whole "British seaside experience". Only, instead of Mr Whippy, we have handmade artisan ice cream in waffle cones. THen we can walk along the pier, taking in the fine afternoon, and hardly a breeze to ruffle out hair. At the end, Tny walks round the cafe twice, so to confuse his online keep fit tracker.

A walk round Deal We back to shore, then to Middle Street walking along so Tony can take some snaps.

A walk round Deal Finally we walk down to where the fishing boats had been dragged onto shore, and now wildflowers grow between the machinery, and yet this is still a working, well, harbour. I sit and do some more people watching, especially the road rage of someone driving the wrong way up a one way street, and swearing long and loudly whenever anyone tells the young lady what she was doing was wrong.

A walk round Deal The walk over, we go home and I make plans with Jools to drop the hire car off, and her pick me up to take me home.

These salad days are coming to an end, and tomorrow we head to the bright lights and hard streets of London town. Tony helps me egg and breadcrumb the sliced aubergine, then I shallow fry them, so by seven we have a fine feast, along with several bottles of silly strong Belgian beer. As is the way.

And Tony is still trying to hire the car, and has now resorted to phoning up.

News when we get it.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Tuesday 16th May 2017

Time is already running out this week, as on Thursday Tony and I are planning to go to London for two days, and then on Friday we catch the sleeper train north. Trying to pack everything in that can be seen in Kent is impossible, we do what we can to make Tony's visit as memorable as possible.

On MOnday, Tony had said he knew of Dungeness, and with the weather taking a turn for the better, it seemed a good idea to go there first. Not much I can say about Dungeness, the UK's only official desert, a collection of old fisherman's shacks now converted to homes and an artist's commune, all in the shadow of two nuclear power stations, and a miniature steam railway.

Dungeness, Kent We are allowed a slow start, taking time for breakfast, a shower and collecting our gear for the day. Jools had already gone to work, so by the time we left the morning rush had ended, so we could make our way down the Alkham Valley road to Folkestone, then up the motorway to Hythe before taking the coast road to Dymchurch, New Romney and to Dungeness. It is maybe a year since I last went this way, and new houses have sprung up in places, but the views over the marsh as the ground opens up look the same.

Dungeness, Kent Once we go through Lydd, we take the road over the gravel dunes, past the nature reserves and entrance to the power stations and finally turning onto the Dungeness estate road. To the right at the wooden shacks/houses, and the left, a wide expanse of shingle leading to the fishing boats that had been dragged out of the sea, and all were surrounded by old fishing gear. And towering over it all is the menacing shape of the power stations.

Dungeness, Kent I drop Tony off so he can take shots, I drive on and find a parking bay, so I can wander about too. The clouds had cleared and the sun came out, so it felt like summer, even on what is usually such a windswept place.

Tony's second day in England An hour or so later, Tony joins me, we go to the railway station for a brew and use their facilities, the first train of the day rumbles in. Sadly its a diesel, but I did expect that.

Tony's second day in England OK, time to move on: Tony likes to see my shots of the woodland walks we take en route to look at some orchids, so the plan was to visit such a place in the afternoon, maybe see some bluebells, then walk on so I could snap orchids and The Duke.

We take the coast road down through Littlestone and Greatstone before getting back on the main road to Hythe, and from there we go to the junction with the motorway but head north up Stone Street and into orchid country.

Tony's second day in England With the bad news about the chippy burning down, we had decided to find a place that did fish and chips for lunch, and up on Stone Street there are two good pubs, but as it happened the Chequers won out because of the quality of their beer. There was only another couple of groups in, but they all chose to sit inside, we ordered our meal and drinks then went into the beer garden, sitting down at a picnic table to wait for the food to arrive.

Two plates of fresh battered fish and handmade chips arrived, which we made disappear very quickly, followed soon after by a pint of Hophead ale too.

Tony's second day in England And from there, Denge is just a ten minute drive through Petham and then down narrow lanes to the parking area at the top of the woodland drive. Sadly the bluebells are almost all over, but there was enough to make a shot or two for Tony. But with the leaf canopy nearly complete, very little sunshine was making it through to the woodland floor to lit the bluebells, which is why they are fading fast; their time is past.

We meet another orchid fanatic on the walk down, and we exchange news about other sites and people who try our patience, to Tony he says it seems we were talking in code, but at the same time fascinating. But he might have just being kind.

Tony's second day in England We walk on to Bonsai, and take the circular path, and the Lady are at their peak, with hundreds if not thousands of spikes in the long grass and undergrowth. I was looking for very dark or very plale examples, and do find one or two very dark ones, and just as we were about to leave the site on the way back, three very pale ones, with white lips, but sand coloured hoods, not quite pure var. alba.

We could find no Dukes basking, it was too warm, but as we left the site, a single male settled in front of us, so Tiny can now say he saw one. Not that it would impress many people back home.

With the time now nearing three, and I had dinner to prepare and cook, we have to head home, taking the cross-country route from Whitfield getting home just before four. Unbeknown to Tony I had invited a fellow Flickr-contact for dinner, so I was making roast beef and all the usual trimmings for us all. And as you can tell, this would be warm work on such a hot afternoon.

Jools comes back at quarter to six, and Peter arrives just before half six, a surprise for Tony. But that means they can talk whilst I cook the vegetables, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. All come together to be ready at seven.

Tony's second day in England Dinner is great, even if the chef says so himself, and we all clean our plates clean, which is a good sign I guess.

I was so hot, so we sit outside as dusk falls, Peter has to drive home before it gets dark, so Tony waves him goodbye, as the day fades to black.

Monday 15th May 2017

Back to work. Except for Jelltex, who has not only this week off, but next week too into the bank holiday weekend. Yipee

However, the much fabled lay in eluded me, and I was awake before six, waiting for the alarm to go off and Jools get up. I do lay in bed after a good stretch, I laze until I can smell the coffee brewing.

Poor JOols has to work, and poor Jelltex has to find things to do to fill the day ahead. Jools gets ready for her working day, and I drink my coffee, check the internet, and am disappointed once again to find that Trump had not either resigned or impeached overnight. I am sure if will happen one day mind.

Tony gets up at eight, and after breakfast of Bran Flakes and more coffee, and finally after two showers, one each, we are ready for the world.

Top of the list of things to see must be the white cliffs, and as the cliffs stretch along the east coast, why not go to the nearest ones at St Margaret's. And as the school run was over, it was simple to drive through the village, and then to the Monument.

Tony's first day in England After parking, we get out and find the weather is turning for the worse, and there is rain in the air, but dry enough for photography, at least a few sanps to say we had been there, and the look of horror on Tony's face as I stood on the edge of the cliff when he wanted to take my picture.

From there we take the short and winding road down into the Bay, but we don't stop as the parking attendants are about, and I have little change of the machine. I don't think either of us took a shot.

Anyway, onto the main event, shopping in downtown Dover, as Tony needed a few things. So, we crawl back up the Bay road in 2nd gear, then along Reach Road, looking at the fine views over the Channel to La Belle France in the distance. You could see it, but it was misty, so the cliffs were unclear. But then there would be other days.

Dover is, well, Dover. We park near the now-closed Co-Op, and walk to Sports Direct so Tony could buy some shoes and a coat. In a turn up, I also buy some trainers and a couple of walking trousers for the Scotland trip. As if walking trousers wasn't mad enough, they also sold golf trousers. I mean, who buys special trousers to play golf? Golfers, of course.

From there we go to Smiths to buy some stationary; don't ask. But then when you are on a holiday of a lifetime, you want to make notes as you go along to make sure no details don't get forgotten. That done, it is time for Tony to see some orchids.

Tony's first day in England It is just a short drive up the cliffs to Samphire Hoe, parking up, we find the cafe isn't open, so the cuppa and a cake plan we hatched was scuppered. That leaft us with the walk along beside the railway, looking for the last of the Early Spiders that are clinging on, and to my surprise I find a few, including a var. flavesens, but I don't take a shot, I mean, there's always next year isn't there? Yes, already making plans for next season!

We Find a couple to talk to; they are there because it is the wife's birthday, and they came over from Broadstairs for a walk in the drizzle, although they did not know that is what the weather was going to be like. We walk with them a bit, and chat, nice enough people for sure.

After walking back to the car, we talked about lunch, and I thought that me might try the cafe in Elham, something traditionally English.

The Elham Valley road was pretty busy, but we could find a place to park, only to find that it was closed on Monday. Bugger.

Tony's first day in England But in most villages there is always a pub, but in Elham there is two. One is a Shepherd Neame, which is OK, but the beer really isn't that good, not the pub's fault. But behind on the square in front of St Mary's Church is the King's Arms, a fine pub that does great food, and with just two other customers, we got served quick. And I ordered us both ham ploughman's to eat, as this must be a day full of the "British " experience. The meal came with fresh bread, pickles, salad and plenty of ham, as you would expect.

Tony's first day in England The last stop of the afternoon was Caesar's Camp, which overlooks the Channel Tunnel dept and terminal above Folkestone. And its a good walk too.

I take Crete Road up from Newington, which then steeply rises up the down, narrow and twisting with high banks on each side, until we come to the top, and the road then hugs the edge of the down, with spectacular views down onto the tracks far below. After parking on the road, we walk up the the iron age fort, until the view to the west opened up, and we could wee the tracks vanishing into the hill on which we stood.

Rain was still in the air, and it was none too pleasant, we waited for half an hour to see if a Eurostar would come thundering out of the tunnel, but it didn't, so we retrace our steps back to the car.

One hundred and thirty three Tony wanted some more stuff for his trip, so that meant going to Tesco, and with the schools had just finished, that meant it was going to be interesting to say the least.

Getting a Sim Card for his phone with a data bundle, then getting the card fitted in his phone took half an hour, then came the search for old fashioned bars of soap. They don't sell much of them now, most is the liquid stuff, and most of what they do sell is the yucky coaltar stuff your Granny used to use.

Anyway, we get the stuff, pay for it and cam escape back home where there we three hungry cats waiting to be fed.

The plan for the evening was fish and chips, but the best restaurant in Deal burned down last week! I know, who'd have thunk it? Anyway, I look online and there is one on Middle Street which seems ok, so the plan is to go over when Jools comes back from work.

Deal is at least quiet in the evening, and parking is free, so we park up near the pier then walk though on of the narrow lanes to Middle Street only to find it closed. And much to our excitement there was a TV show being shot; the 3rd series of The Tunnel.

We wait for the scene to be shot, then we can walk past, looking at the crew looking at us as they get ready to reshoot the scene.

And then we find the chippy was closed on Monday!

Change of plan; curry!

After walking back to the car we drive into Walmer to the curry house on The Strand, which is where Jools and I have used in the past. here is just one other table taken, so after ordering drinks, we get papadums, and then wait for the main course to arrive.

The food was fine, service excellent as ever, but with each of us having one drink, we decide to call it a night and go home so we could sit outside, if it was warm enough.

Bats have emerged now, so as we sit in the shelter with the new solar powered lights twinkling above us, we watch the bats wheel and loop the loop as they chase insects.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Sunday 14th May 2917

The big day.

For some years I have been in contact and made friends with a good chap from NZ called Tony. To cut a long story short, he is coming over to stay with us and to partake in our adventure to the frozen north when we rent a cottage on Saturday. And this weekend, on Sunday, he arrived, so we were off to collect him from the airport. He was due to arrive in the middle of the afternoon, and so by the time he cleared immigration, got his case back and got through customs, we might seem him before midnight. Hopefully sooner.

But, instead of driving just to the airport, I thought we might do some other stuff beforehand, in short: a village pub and church. I looked online, and near to Leatherhead was a village called Mickleham. It had a nice looking pub, and opposite was a good looking church. So, with the destination set, we just had to while away the morning until it was time to leave.

Needless to say, as the Premier League season hasn't finished, there was more MOTD to watch, bacon to cook and butties to eat. And blog posts to write, giving the clouds which covered the sky when we got up to be swept away by the keen breeze. All was ready in the house, the bed ding washed and bed made, towels and flannel in place, and a fridge full of food. All we needed was Tony.

At half ten we climbed into the car for the drive up the motorway and then along the M25. I have written about this trip so much, up through Folkestone, Ashford past Maidstone and then head west for the M25. Traffic got heavier, and although it wasn't too bad, there was no digital radio in the hire car so we couldn't listen to Radio 6. Anyway, Jools and I could talk, she could play on her laptop, and I could complain about all the other drivers and their crappy driving. Kept me occupied.

We drove from Kent into Surrey, the traffic getting thicker and stupider. So it goes, so it goes.

At Leatherhead we finally turn off, and take a main road through a stunningly beautiful leafy valley towards Box Hill. Turning off, we are in the main street of the village. Parking was no problem, so we stop on the side of the road.

The Running Horses, Mickleham, Surrey By now the weather was really stunning, the sky was like an episode of The Simpsons, so we walk up to the pub, check out the menu, and decide, upon reflection we would be happy for them to serve us food.

St Michael and All Angles stands opposite, with a square, squat rower with a small spire, and I could see that the door in the tower was already open. So, we go in.

St Michael and All Angels, Mickleham, Surrey Inside was a heavily victorianised church, but with enough original charm to be enjoyable It featured some nice arts and crafts windows, but I could find no maker's mark on the glass. Decrypting the history of the building was hard, what with blocked doors, arches and the such. But snapping in a church again, I am happy enough.

Five past midday meant it was five past opening time, so once I had my shots we go over to the pub take a picnic table outside and order Welsh Rarebit and a beer/cider. Yes, this is living alright.

Around us, others are eating and drinking, whilst the waiters, dressed in starched shirts, fuss around, making sure we had all we needed. If I am honest, no matter how good the food and service was, eighteen quid for glorified cheese on toast, but hey, I'm on me holibobs.

The Running Horses, Mickleham, Surrey We eat up, drink up, and I reckon we still have an hour to kill, so we select a random name from the next signpost we see, and go there, looking for a church to photograph. We end up in Little Bookham, Greater Bookham apparently having no church, but after seeing a small sign pointing to the church, we find ourselves in a very posh dead end street, there is a parking area, and behind a line of lime trees, a path leads to a small stone church with a white wooden bellcote.

And it is open.

Inside it is fine, another heavily restored church, but with interesting blocked arches in the south side and an unusual stone fint painted white.

I snap the church, and then checking the time it is time to head to the airport. Now, long gone are the days when there would be endless waits with no news of the flight landing hours ago and no sign of anyone from it, there are information boards, and live updates on the web. And even the car parks are good, just next to the terminal, a short walk over the sky bridge to the arrivals hall, where we find a cafe that served decent coffee and had tables to sit at and good service. Amazing really.

LHR Jools and I guess when he would come through; I say an hour and a half, she says 45 minutes. And as it turned out, Jools was nearest as he came through after 50 minutes. And was looking all calm and relaxed. Apparently had had had a shower in Dubai and a change of clothes. And slept well too. Whatever next?

One hundred and thirty two We walk back to the car, pay to get our ticket validated, so we can leave, which meant we could make our way onto the M4 once we had got throug the airport traffic, and then turn onto the orbital motorway again, hoping that the accidents we saw earlier had been cleared. I mean, its never pleasant driving on the M25, but it gets to to where you are going, and again we had no hold ups, and once past the road south to Brighton and Gatwick, traffic was much lighter. So much lighter that my the time we got into Kent, I was almost enjoying driving again.

he sky cleared as we drove south past Maidstone, Tony loved the colours of the fields, now a lush green in colour.

We arrived in Dover about half five, time to have a brew once we had parked, Tony unpacked, and as a treat for his first meal in England, I made chorizo hash, of course. What were you expecting? Tony had brought me beer and Jools cider, so we had these to accompany dinner.

We kidded ourselves that it was warm enough to sit outside; it wasn't really, but the view was good as was the company. We have ice cream for supper, peanut butter flavour, before tiredness to us to our beds. As tomorrow would be another exciting day.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Saturday 13th May 2017

Plans for Tony's visit are now in the final stages, with the main objective for the day was to pick up the hire car that will transport Tony and I around Kent from Monday, and also collect him and his bags from the airport. So, once we had breakfast, or coffee at least, Jools would drop me off down the docks to collect yet another car.

It was dull and grey, but with the promise of long sunny spells later, it boded well for a day in the orchid fields.

Jools takes me down the docks, a quick drive down Jubilee Way, where they have yet another new computer system to learn and deal with, and me fill out paperwork. We have been given a Renault Picasso something, a small van really, nippy but steers like a dead whale round corners. I drive it back home, racing a Beamer back up Jubilee Way, he leaves me for standing, but boys and their toys, eh?

One hundred and thirty one Once home I get the parking space outside the house, and wait for Jools to return with the shopping, as she went to Tesco once she had dropped me off. She returns with fruit, vegetables, croissants and bacon. Among other things, so I make coffee and warm the croissants up, and with the radio on, we eat.

Jools goes into the garden to tidy it up, I wash up and then go out to hunt yet more orchids. The plan had been to go to Pegwell Bay, but as it will be the last chance to look for the var. alba EPOs, I go to Barham first. I meet no other vehicles on the way, driving down the narrow country lanes to the parking spot with no trouble at all. I decide to travel light, so just take the camera and macro lens, and set off up the bridleway, scattering squirrels that were rummaging in the leaf litter for more food. I stand and watch, they don't see me, so go about their task until I cough, and the three of them scatter. I lose sight of them as they scramble up the trunks, but see their shadows on the ground in front of me as they jump from branch to branch.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia The EPOs have almost all gone over, the paler ones are hanging on, but there was no white ones. I have snapped enough of them this year so leave the spikes alone. I walk further up to see if I can spot the Helleborines I saw three or four years ago. I saw it by the bank next to the track, but clearly there were no orchids after a point, meaning I was just looking at bluebells going to seed.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia One last take is to check on the Kentish rarity, the Lesser Butterfly. In a small glade, a handful of rosettes are growing, with one putting up a spike, it is a week or so away from being open. I snaps it anyway.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea On the other side of the road I check on the wooded slope, but it is poor pickings. At first I thought I could see no orchids, but in time I saw spikes and rosettes, but many of the spikes were bare, either having grown that way or picked clean by a mammal or person. Just one spike was fully formed and nearly completely open. I see two fly, and these look in good shape even with each having one flower open.

Checking my useless self-winding watch, which had already lost 20 minutes that morning; some might say I should move quicker. I reckon I have time to go to PGD to look at the Monkey.

Monkeys.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Its just a short drive down the valley, and then up the narrow lane up the down to the meadow. Up in the old quarry, there is a single slike that was starting to open from the top, the only orchid that does this. Elsewhere in the 2nd paddock I find several spikes, but they are only just emerging, and at least a week away from opening

At the far end of the site, I find several Fly open, but hard to find. I look for more walking back but fail to find the ones I had seen a few minutes earlier. The single Lady has failed to produce a spike, and the only Greater Butterfly I could find was looking in a sorry state, faded yellow and looking twisted as if someone had stepped on it. Which is possible.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia I look for Musk on the way back, ambitious, but after finding the Late Spider open the day before, anything is possible this season.

I go back home with the time now ticking towards half one, or quarter to one on my stupid watch. Back home I rustle up insalata caprese for us, butter some corn bread and lunch is served.

There are photos to review, blog posts to write. But outside the skies clear, and although windy, it seems too nice to be sitting inside, so at four, at halftime in the football, I say to Jools I was going out. She comes with me, as our destination is Pegwell Bay, and the Yellow Men of Kent.

The route is my old commute to Ramsgate, now different with the cooling towers at the power station gone, as is now the turbine hall too. Wild flowers line the roads all the way, and summer seems to be nearly here, especially with it being so dry.

After parking by the Viking Ship, we walk down onto the old hoverport, and then have to reacquaint ourselves with the layout, and how nature has moved on another year and all is yet more overgrown.

I find the yellow Men, although not that high as yet, but there are many spikes and the group is spreading. I take shots.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora Then we try to find the Bee that flourish here. But as much as we searched, we found just a single yellow rosette, as underfoot the ground was bone dry. No moisture about at all. They might recover if there is rain, but probably not now. Oh well.

We come back home, driving through Deal as it was now half five, and the shops would be closed, so traffic hopefully light. Deal was quiet, and driving along The Strand is very nice, as most people have gone home for the day. We carry on and are soon home, and me reviewing yet more shots.

Wild garlic sausages, fresh Jersey Royals and asparagus for dinner, means it was a fine and spring-filled dinner. Too late for strawberries, we will be able to share them with our visitor tomorrow, because as I write this, Tony is 38,000 feet above Iraq, and getting nearer to England every second.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Friday 12th May 2017

First day of holibobs.

I guess it takes time to decompress from work, waking up at the normal time, head full of tasks you think you need to do. And then you remember someone else is going that for the next two weeks. Sadly, poor Jools has to work for another four days, so if I wanted the car, then I would have to drop her off at work. Or the train or bus station, but as I had plans for the six hours she was hard at work, I would be with a friend hard at orchid chasing.

One hundred and thirty As you do.

So, after coffee and a quick breakfast of fruit, I check my gear that I have the important stuff: camera, battery and memory card, and we're ready to go.

As usual, it's an uneventful drive to Hythe, other than me trying to understand those who speed to work, I would crawl to work, but zoom back home. Anyway, we arrive in Hythe safe and sound, where just outside the factory gate the new flats are nearly completed, a million a pop, and the parking area not bing enough for a Range Rover, judging by the line of their noses sticking out onto the pavement. Its the view of the beach they pay for, not the storage area of the factory I suppose.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Jools gets out, and I wheelspin away, back through town and up the back road way to Cheriton. I have to be in Faversham by half eight to pick up my friend, Mark, so the best way was to go up the Elham Valley road then onto the A2. Another pleasant drive, even through the narrow village streets: it was cloudy but with the promise of sunshine later. Or so I hoped.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Most traffic was going to Canterbury, but I cruise past, just enjoying not working. Faversham is busy with traffic, most on the school run, but I only have to get to the filling station on the edge of town, where Mark will meet me. Gives me the chance to fill up the car and grab a sausage roll for 2nd breakfast.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea Mark arrives, and our first port of call was to see the Faversham Monkeys. Faversham is where the MOnkey Orchid hung on, and seeds from here is what seeded PGD, with great results. Sadly, the site is not in a good state, with only half a dozen spikes, but there are also a few Lady too. Anyway, after reaching the site, we climb over the style and up the slope, and in a clearing I see maybe a dozen Lady and a very healthy looking Monkey, very much at home among the trees.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia In the paddock there was one more healthy Monkey, and as I got down to snap it, the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight came down and illuminated it for me, giving the colours a proper zing. Elsewhere, there were rosettes, but not much else to see, other than Mark nearly stepped on another Monkey just emerging. So he puts a cage on it to keep the floppy eared bastards (rabbits) off them.

White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium We walk back to the car, hopeful the weather will get better. A short drive away is a chalk bank where helleborines grow in great numbers, and a Single White Helleborine is in bloom, but very much keeping it's lips closed Like always.

We drive on, and with the main point of the day was to search for the Burnt Tips near to Dover, instead of faffing around in the Faversham area, we decided to go over to the coast, and on the way check out a couple of small sites for other orchids.

Birds Nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis At Woolage we stop to look for more Bird's Nests; Jools and I cam last week and she found just the one new spike growing. After walking over the green, we enter the wood and Mark is also amazed at the number and size of White Helleborine spikes. And then after some searching we find three Bird's Nests, newly emerged through the leaf litter. I check on the one Jools found, and that is larger, but still no flowers open.

White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium Our next to last stop was at the top of Lydden Down for a look at the Men. In among the wild rosemary, there were dozens of spikes, so nearly half open now, but still a week away from their peak. And for Mark this was the first time he had seen these particular Men, and so after searching for them over a mile in the wrong direction, so now he knows. You know.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora Down the hill, we park again, and with dark clouds gathering collect wet weather gear, for those who had it (not me), and bags for camera equipment in case it pours. From the car park it is a steep and steady climb, initially along an ancient track lined with trees and bushes, and now carpeted with dog's eggs, until after about ten minutes we break cover and head due west over open downland, and the path still continued to climb.

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes At least I could pretend to stop to look at the view when I was really getting my breath back, and resting my poor back too. Through a gate, and still climbing across another paddock, then on a wide track at the very top of the down before the path started to drop down until we came to the reserve.

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes Burnt Tips are small anthropomorphic shaped orchids, which used to be fairly common in Kent, but now this down was the last known place some four years ago. Mark and I are in possession of good Mk1 orchid yes, but deceiving us was the tiny flower Milkwort, which just happened to be tiny orchid shaped and coloured. Time after time we stopped to stoop and inspect another plant that turned out to be Milkwort.

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes Two hours we searched, and found no Burnt Tip. We did find dozens of Early Spiders though, which is something. We snap those, before just about midday, we decide that we had searched enough and we walk back up the down. Then down the down. Down into Temple Ewell.

I drop Mark off at Kearsney station,; it was half twelve, and I had at least half an hour to kill as I was to pick Jools up at two. What could I do to pass the time? Hmmm, I wondered about the Late Spider Orchids. These are among the rarest plants in Britain, and grow only in about six spots in East Kent. I could visit the best site, which by taking a slight detour could said to be on the way to Hythe.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora I make my way along the road that hugs the edge of the down, overlooking the Channel Tunnel depot, finding the tiny space big enough for one small car. I wonder why I am bothering checking so early in the season, these should be out in a month. Nothing else to do I tell myself.

Along the top of the field, checking the chalk bank for other orchids. I impress myself for finding four tiny spikes of Man Orchids, one partially open. If I can find these I rationalise, then I should find the LSO spikes.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora I search for 5 minutes, then finally find a rosette with a spike forming.

Great.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora I take a shot of that, and happy enough I tell myself I have time to find more spikes and rosettes. I search the top of the bank and find nothing, I look lower down, and as soon as I started, something catched my eye.

Sitting there, as bold and clear as day is an open spike, with the flower as perfect as it could be, and maybe having been like that all week, or for just an hour. I am so darned happy.

I snap it from a distance, get closer snap again and finally snap it on extreme macro. Perfect. No, perfection was reached when the sun came out and the colours came to life.

I just had time to get back to the car, drive down off the down and into Hythe over the Channel Tunnel and to the factory, arriving 5 minutes early!

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora Jools comes out, and so now the weekend can start, though I would argue mine began 22 hours earlier. We take the back road back to Folkestone, then up the Alkham Valley road and into Dover. Phew, what a day, six hours of orchid chasing, and nearly every box ticked.

Once home I make a huge brew and break out the Belgian vanilla cookies. Mmmm, cookies.

I review the shots, then begin to post letting folks know about what I had seen. The Jelltex orchid information service!

At half four Jools goes to the chippy, neither of us had eaten since breakfast, and so a huge piece of cod was called for. And she delivered, or brought it back anyhows.

Fish, chips, chip butty and a huge brew. Yum.

Being a Friday there is TOTP, this time from November 1983 and featured The Smiths performing This Charming Man, their first hit. I can remember watching that for the first time when I went out live. And then an hour of Monty, and then bed. Listening to Chelsea winning the Prem as I brush my teeth, already too tired to care.