We slept late (for us) waking at 8.30 to the sound of the breeze in the trees and the call of a cuckoo drifting over our head. A wild start to what would turn out to be a wild day.
One of the unique features of the campsite is the “Bathenon”, two outdoor rooms with baths, with waterfall showers hanging above them. The water is hot and plentiful, standing under a hot shower, sun streaming over me, buzzard soaring overhead, was an amazing experience and a fabulous way to start the day.
In the Go Down, the on site shop, you can order breakfast hampers, with eggs and bacon produced on the estate, locally baked bread, butter and Knepp Estate marmalade. Hunger sated, we set out to explore.
We strolled out across the meadows, sun warm on our backs, birdsong loud in the still morning air. Passing through one rambling hedge we came into a field where part of the Longhorn herd were grazing, mothers with young calves. They are beautiful beasts, horns curved and imposing, the youngsters with softly curling coats, peeking out from behind their mums, unsure of our presence. As we walked through them we gently chatted to them, hello cows, beautiful calves you have, how wonderful to see you this morning, they stayed calm, watching us between lowered lashes until we were through and on our way. Dropping down to one of the many watercourse that run through the estate movement caught our eye under a nearby tree, our first gimpse of deer, frozen still, watching us, ever on the alert.
We stopped to gaze across the lake, edges carpeted with shiny green waterlilies, yellow flowers peeking through the water. A family of Egyptian geese exploded from the reeds, fluffy goslings scrabbling to keep up with Mum and Dad, then serenely floating away out into deeper water. A hide sits above the edge of the lake, a sinuous path leading up to it through the trees. It was calm by the water, gentle ripples over the lake, squabbling coots across the water the only discordant note. Swans glided serenely, while teradactyl like grey herons patrolled the margins. A gentle plopping in the reeds alerted us to the presence of a great crested grebe, bobbing up, then diving down again, coming back up impossibly far away.
This weekend Knepp was home to the Floral Fringe Fair, taking place in the grounds of Knepp Castle, the family home of the Burrelll family, who own and manage the estate. This was a wildlife fair with a vintage theme. Inside were lots of interesting stalls, selling a whole range of vintage wares, wildlife themed art, delicious food and felted creations. Various wildlife groups also had stalls, including the local Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. We were particularly interested in the stall of the Amateur Entomologists, displaying a huge stick insect and some beautiful moths. We bought a needle felted hedgehog from an amazingly talented crafter, ate ice cream in the meadow by the lake and let the thud of beating drums wash over us.
The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring the wildlands on foot. It’s amazing how much you see when you slow down and walk quietly. Above a stream flashes of bright iridescence, a shining of damselflies flitting above the slow flowing water. Looking closer at their dazzling blue forms we realised they were beautiful demoiselles, blue males contrasting with bronze females, a mating dance, resolving into heart shaped embraces perched delicately on the edge of leaves.
Peeking under reptile tins we observed grass snakes and slow worms, coiled in the warmth, a privilege to see these seldom seen reptiles. Above pools pale blue forms darted and flitted, the oily sheen of their translucent wings catching the suns rays as their turned, broad bodied chasers hunting for a meal.
Deer darted as the edges of our vision, eyes occasionally locking with theirs, both waiting, still, who will move first? Along sunny pathways butterflies flitted; speckled woods, brown with golden spots; red admirals, posing to show off their boldly marked wing; a painted lady, slightly tatty after an amazing migration for such a small creature; skippers, orange and quick; all enjoying the nectar of blooming bramble and dog rose.
Up on a tree platform, looking over a pond, a bird came in fast, swerving to change its path as it saw us aloft. A cuckoo; with a small, very angry brown bird in hot pursuit, too fast for us to ID. We stood, startled, as the cuckoo began to gently call in a neighbouring tree, the wild had come to us.
In the evening a dusk safari, exploring the estate in an ex Austrian army vehicle, with a guide explaining the rewilding work on the estate. In the first field, a buzzard stooped to a stop in a dead tree, posing against the darkening sky, harassed by a corvid. Overhead, a red kite soared, enjoying the last of the days thermals.
As we rounded a corner, a red deer stood, still and serene, staring back at us, a second deer further into the field, checking us out, before slowly walking away. Our eyes gazed out on the wildlands, spotting deer, eyes pricked, listening to the bird song building to the dusk chorus. Our final stop was by the hammer pond, the last of the daylight draining from the sky, bright white light from the waxing moon taking over, Jupiter dazzling in the sky beneath it. As the darkness deepened bats emerged, a noctule climbing high into the sky, then diving steeply, hunting its prey, echo location on the bat detector like a electro disco, lower down pipistrelle bats darted, swooping low over our head, hunting midges drawn to our warmth. A glass of wine in one hand, a bat detector in the other, what a fantastic end to a very wild day!