Remembrance Day walk – lost in the woods

Deciding to do a half-remembered walk without map or instructions I set off from Westerham to Chartwell on a 4.5-mile circular route taking in French Street hamlet. Of course I got lost. These woods (Tower wood, Hosey Common) are pretty full-on and some of the paths they contain draw you in only to spit you out into a ditch or thicket with no choice but to retrace your steps. Still, I stumbled across Chartwell eventually but saw nothing of French St. Being Remembrance Sunday it seemed a good choice; but then I remembered that Churchill hadn’t stayed there much during the war, having been withdrawn to Chequers – far away from possible commando raids. It’s not a particularly amazing house but it’s hard to think of one in the south of England with as much significance and in such a brilliant setting.

Looking back towards Westerham

Looking back towards Westerham and the North Downs ridge, 11 November 2017

The path up on Mariners Hill gives a great view over Winston’s house and into the Weald beyond to the Ashdown Forest. There are also some fantastic sequoia-type trees (giant firs?) to admire. I took a trail back in the direction of Westerham in the twilight; another false path that delivered me without fanfare right on to the dangerous B2026, which hairpins around the greensand ridge on its way to Edenbridge. As I hugged the verge, most cars slowed and gave me a wide berth – and I thank them, but not Mr Audi Q5; he sped around the bend oblivious to the possibility of a vehicle coming the other way and me, a pedestrian, plodding along on the verge. He nearly ran me down. I gestured; he beeped. A prime SUV numpty – a person wrapped up in their own importance I thought.

Chartwell from Mariners Hill

Chartwell from Mariners Hill

By now it was the gloaming time and I spotted another path on the left leading down through woods into a valley. What a joy this was: a carpet of red leaves and glimmering water to my left. I later found out this was the infant River Darent. A gorgeous path. I’ll have to incorporate it into a walk soon.

Weald view from Mariners Hill, Kent

Weald view from Mariners Hill, Kent

Downe walk

The Downe walk is very handy when you haven’t got much time (and you have a car) because it’s relatively close to SE London. It’s also great to do after/before visiting Downe House and has two good pubs, a lovely cake shop and a pretty good curry house! It’s also quite short (2.5 miles) – enough for a bit of exercise without taking over your day. One thing I’ve noticed of late is that whoever farms the final field on re-entering the village keeps obliterating the footpath every time they harvest/plough. It’s quite annoying and thoughtless. There are enough walkers to re-establish the path but after it rains that final field won’t be a lot of fun. I can’t really suggest a diversion either. Anyway, with autumn colours it’s all looking rather nice … (pictured is the penultimate field, not the ploughed up one).

Autumn colours on the Downe walk

Autumn colours on the Downe walk

Special trees on these Kent walks

Of the countless arboreal delights of north-west Kent there are a few standout trees. There’s the tall, straight oak on the Ightam Mote path, the enormous yew near the sandstone holloway’s entrance on the Hever walk, the high, buzzard-friendly larches encountered on the Shoreham eastern valleys walk, just about every tree in Knole…

But few are more striking – or precarious – than this beech growing out of the greensand escarpment at One Tree Hill, which walkers pass on their way towards, or back from, Ightam Mote. The picture below doesn’t do it full justice: because the camera is pointing down, it’s hard to appreciate the gradient this amazing tree is growing out of. Let’s hope it lasts a while yet.

The amazing tree growing out of the escarpment at One Tree Hill

Ide Hill colours

All of these walks are great for autumn colour but Ide Hill’s panoramas, valley mists and tree varieties are a bit special. Even thought the red/orange thing hadn’t really got going last week these pictures give a flavour of the season’s changes (see the walk’s page for more great autumnal shots).  At Emmetts last week I really liked the weird bush with pink ‘berries’ – it loves it down in Patagonia where it lives above the tree line and it’s called gaultheria mucronata. The berries are apparently edible.

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No red October – yet. And a giant kestrel

Walks this weekend (October 7-8) in Downe and Darent Valley revealed shades of green rather than oranges and reds. Is it because of the relative warmth at the moment? Just feels as if the countryside just wants to hang on to summer and its leaves at the moment. Look a bit closer though and there’s plenty of scarlet in the form of rose hips. Apparently they are very edible and full of vitamin C.

One of the largest kestrels I’ve ever seen is currently hunting around the north-western (Eynsford end) of Lullingstone – a spectacular, silent bird. It must have been a female  – they are noticeably bigger than the males. But even so, a real whopper. And on the Downe cycle yesterday we came across a red kite floating and flopping low down. It had probably spotted a dead thing.

Meanwhile, the Biggin Hill two-seater Spitfire was incredibly busy on joy flights. During our two-hour cycle it made three sorties, heading out to east Kent over Toys Hill and back over Shoreham. A great sight and sound. Few other aircraft up, probably due to the stiff breeze. Some pictures from Lullingstone/Eynsford today…

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Suddenly it’s autumn in the Darent Valley

Two weeks ago I did the Shoreham circular in 25C heat. Now, dodging showers and sudden switches in temperature I’ve ventured out on the Shoreham-Eynsford walk ( 3), the Eynsford-Lullingstone (walk 12) and to the eastern valleys of Shoreham (walk 14).

It’s often the case that the sky can make landscape photography easy; with the weather we are having this mid-September, the clarity of air and development of interesting cloudscapes transmit atmosphere and steal the scene with drama. Enjoy this slideshow…

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Slow worm and autumn colours

Slow worm and autumn colours

Enjoyed an excellent walk on the western ridge above Shoreham to Polhill today. Autumn colours were beginning to kick in, lit up by the slanting late afternoon sun low in a sky that looked to be in a state of flux. High cirrus, ragged grow low broken cumulus, patches of blue and squally showers on the horizon.

I love coming across unexpected wildlife so was delighted when my son spotted a large slow worm by the path. They are legless lizards apparently, not snakes and not worms. This one was a real beauty, more than 20cm long, and I think a female (males aren’t so stripy apparently). In one of the photos you can see its little black tongue flickering out. They eat slugs and worms apparently – the only creatures that aren’t quick enough to get away – and can live to, amazingly, 50-odd years.

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Just finished reading Beryl Bainbridge’s Birthday Boys novel about the expedition to the Antarctic led by Captain Scott that finished in tragedy in 1912. An incredible book that gets inside the heads of some of the main protagonists on the trip and leaves the reader staggered all over again at the risks and appalling hardship those men gladly signed up for: recommended.