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Feeling the Benny-fit

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 10 December 2018
Related property: Sibton Park
Feeling the Benny-fit

With apple orchards and hop fields, the gently undulating hills of the North Downs and the High Weald, quaint villages and towns, oast houses aplenty, history and beauty embodied in its plethora of castles and ancient cities like Rochester and Canterbury, and coastal gems such as Whitstable and Broadstairs, Kent is rightly lauded as one of England’s – indeed the UK’s – most alluring counties.

But surely even the most ardent Kentishman or woman would agree, Gravesend (above), 47 miles north-west of Sibton Park, is not one of the county’s ‘must-see’s. Coastal the town may be – indeed, the place had a thriving tourist industry, back when tourism was in its infancy – but these days the surrounding land and seascapes tend towards the industrial: factories, warehouses, and, of course, Tilbury Docks. In fact, micro-economically speaking the town has seen better days. Despite a new fast rail link to central London the number of high-street shoppers is dropping, and the local Marks & Spencers, that reliable bellwether of prosperity (or otherwise), closed its doors in 2014. Gravesend is struggling.

Or has been, until recently.

Over the past three months or so, the town has enjoyed an upturn in its fortunes – and it’s all thanks to Benny.

First sighted in September (though it may have been in residence since July, according to experts), Benny is a beluga whale (at top), gender unknown, thought to be a juvenile. Quite how, or why, it showed up, alone, in the Thames Estuary is anyone’s guess; while they seem to like estuaries, beluga whales are normally to be found in the Arctic, living in pods of up to 10 individuals. So the Gravesend beluga likes warmer waters, and is atypically antisocial, apparently. Benny No-mates.

But what’s even more surprising is that it’s stuck around, apparently surviving happily on the marine life to be found in the estuary waters.

And the town is feeling the benefit. The Ship & Lobster pub on Gravesend’s waterfront is selling a ‘whale pale ale’ called Benny’s Beer; Marie’s, the local tea room and gift shop, has sold out of whale fridge magnets and Benny Christmas cards; and elsewhere in Gravesend’s heritage quarter trade in beluga merchandise is similarly brisk.

 “The view is that if any species of whale can survive here it is this one,” said the Port of London Authority’s Martin Garside. “[Benny] is an intelligent animal so he [sic] doesn’t tend to go into the shipping lane. He has shown no sign of stupidity other than an apparent lack of enthusiasm to get home to northern Norway.”

“At some stage we’d like [the whale] to move on,” added Gravesham Council leader David Turner, “but... these whales can stay in estuaries for 25 years or so.”

Benny’s home – for now: the Thames Estuary

No-one knows how long Benny will remain in situ. Probably not even Benny. But for now, if you’re travelling to or from Sibton Park or fancy a day out with a difference, why not take a trip to Gravesend and see if you can spot him (or her)?

Holidaymakers at El Balcón de Santa Ana in La Gomera or Encosta Cabo Girão in Madeira are virtually guaranteed to spot several cetaceans on one of the islands’ many whale-watching trips; but to add whale-watching to your Kentish holiday itinerary? And a beluga whale, at that? Serious bragging rights.

Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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