Sunday 3 July 2016

A Happy Return

My 'walking down in Kent' on Friday was walking with a purpose. I was looking for the enchanted place - enchanted in memory - where, six decades ago, my father and I wandered happily, nets in hands, amid a profusion of butterflies, where he introduced me to the various tribes and species, and a lifelong love of these bright beauties was planted in me. Could it still be there after all these years, that patch of waste land - slightly scrubby chalk downland - across an unmade road from a row of seaside cottages, with the shingle beach on one side and a fringe of woodland on the other? My expectations were low, but somehow my hopes were high...
 As I followed the coastal path into the village, the landscape became faintly familiar - and then came a double row of cottages on either side an unmade road leading down to the beach: surely one of these was our holiday home all those years ago? I remember it smelt of coal gas and damp and had to be aired on arrival, but I recall little else of those far-off holidays, apart from the beach and the butterflies and that patch of ground where I first came to know them.
 I walked on a little further, and there was another row of cottages, a single row on another unmade road, and facing it... the enchanted place! That patch of slightly scrubby chalk downland was still there, unspoilt, undeveloped - and preserved as an SSSI, a site of special scientific interest. It even had orchids now (I hesitate to identify the species), which I don't think were there in my boyhood. And as for the butterflies...
 The weather was overcast, quite cool, with a fresh wind and the odd spot of rain falling - not promising - but for all that, the whole space was alive with fresh and frisky Marbled Whites (my first of the year), while Meadow Browns and Ringlets bobbed up from the long grass, and a few Large Skippers perched on their vantage points. As I wandered about in a blissful mnemonic daze, I also spotted Common Blues, Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals - heaven knows what abundance of butterflies there must be on a hot and sunny day. I intend to return and find out soon, now that I know that my enchanted place is still there, still teeming with butterfly life, after all these years. My father would be glad.

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