Wednesday, 28 March 2012

High As A Kite

We park in one of the available spaces next to the country pub and spill out. Yes, this seems a pleasant place for Sunday lunch - there is a small play area in the garden which will suit the boy, and the girls will sip drinks at one of the garden tables as they await their macaroni cheese, chips and salad.
To the south, a view of Watlington Hill, an outcrop of the Chilterns and property of the National Trust. A curious chalk-cut hillfigure graces this part of the escarpment, the spire-shaped Watlington White Mark, supposedly carved into the hillside in 1764 by one Edward Horne of Greenfield Manor. It is purely ornamental, one of the follies popular at the time, and easy on the eye as one sits in a pub garden sipping cola.
On the other side of the pub, surrounded by a hedgerow, is the Watlington village carpark, and above it the kites are gathering. My eldest grabs her camera and heads for them.
Red Kites are the Gods of the British sky, and before the 70's were virtually driven into extinction. Their re-introduction to the Chilterns is one of the greatest success stories in national conservation, their colony here the largest in the country. A trip up the M40 to Oxford is infinitely improved by the sight of these beautiful, graceful creatures gliding across the countryside.
 There is a man in the carpark, an associate of the Hawk Conservancy near Andover, and he is thowing chicken skin into the air. About two dozen Kites are now wheeling above, and as Eldest crouches and watches through the eye of her camera, a couple of them swoop. They do not land on the tarmac, they grab the scraps without stopping then arch back into the sky, their wingspans up to six feet, a heart-stopping vision as they glide over our heads.
Lunch is ready and we munch our food in the garden, the Hillfigure watching over us from Watlington Hill, the call of the Kites serenading us as we eat... and the day is far from over. A few miles away, across the border in Buckinghamshire, the Hellfire Club are waiting for us...

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