Posted by: Ross Gardner | September 2, 2021

To the Castle

Hadleigh Castle in Essex

Awake to early, especially for a bank holiday Monday. Tossing and turning; little chance of getting back to sleep. Sometimes you just have to grasp the nettle, haul yourself out of bed and make the most of the morning.

My walk took me, among other places, to Hadleigh Castle. Since being built, initially in the 13th century, subsequent decades of neglect, landslips and occasional pilfering of stone for other buildings have left it in ruins. Sat up on its hilltop looking across the Thames Estuary and the sea beyond, in its halcyon years it must have presented a pretty impressive prospect to anyone sailing up river. As maligned as I sometimes hear it to be by the locals (of which I am one), it even now, I think, still possesses something of a presence in the modern landscape.

A had seen the odd walker and runner on my way up, but I sensed I was the first to set foot within the castle ruins that morning. The place was busy with birdlife and I was greeted to something of a racket. Two kestrel were swooping around the remains of one of the corner towers, their own presence raising the ire of the resident jackdaw who harassed them relentlessly. This is always fascinating to watch. Sometimes the victimised raptor will slope off as best it might, until the corvids leave them be. Sometimes the former will have the stomach for a scrap. A couple of weeks ago I had watched a pair of young sparrowhawk that positively seemed to relish in the conflict, dipping and diving, racing around trees and baring their talons, returning time and again for more of the same. These two falcons seemed somewhat reluctant to be ousted from the castle walls, but the jackdaw eventually had their way.

Other birds though, were quite unmoved by all the noise and clamour. The ever-present feral pigeon, able to return to their wild, rock dove roots on these craggy, artificial cliff faces, looked on unperturbed. So to did the three green woodpecker that apparently found the close-cropped sward with the castle walls to be worthwhile ant-hunting ground.

I cherished the small privilege of finding this slightly unlikely, undisturbed corner, but did feel a twang of guilt for being the one to disturb it.

A Kestrel takes leave from the squabbling crows

A Feral Pigeon unperturbed

A young Green Woodpecker on the lookout for ants


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