Walking is brain food and so is Camber Sands

Walking is brain food and so is Camber Sands

A new article on walking has popped up at The Guardian‘s website. It’s a Superpower: How Walking Makes us Healthier, Happier and Brainier by Amy Fleming is in the form of a chat with neuroscientist Shane O’Mara while strolling around Dublin. O’Mara makes a great case for walking’s mental benefits; even why strolls are superior to going to the gym or running. I particularly like this quote: “My notion – and we need to test this – is that the activation that occurs across the whole of the brain during problem-solving becomes much greater almost as an accident of walking demanding lots of neural resources.” I have to say I often feel my own brain is emptying during a walk rather than becoming more powerful – perhaps that’s what he means!

O’Mara seems to walk around cities mostly – Dublin, Oxford etc – and there’s no mention of nitrogen dioxide and low level ozone and their possible negative effective on our health. I reckon he needs to hit the countryside, where he’ll find the mental benefits even more striking … I recommend the Fackenden Down walk in late summer sunshine, the ultimate brain nutrition.

Camber canter

Meanwhile, we chose another daytrip to south-east Kent and East Sussex on the hottest day of the year last Thursday. Once again we took in the RSPB reserve at Dungeness, the Britannia pub nearby, Camber Sands and glorious Rye, all of an afternoon. We hit the dunes at Camber at about 3.30pm amid blazing 35C sunshine and air as thick and moist as treacle. Visibility on the southern horizon was curiously murky, however. I noticed gleaming white pinnacles of cloud and the ragged whispy fringe of a cumulus nimbus, towering above northern France I guessed. By 5pm the whole southern sky was black, yet miraculously the coast was still bathed in scorching sun. Lightning flickered horizontally over the English Channel and a regular deep rumbling marked the end of the heatwave. I lay back in the sea enjoying the unusual scene, paddling softly, and got a tremendous sting off a jellyfish.

At 6.30 we set off for Rye pursued by hail, huge raindrops and a wonderfully warm wind. Walking through the beautiful town the sky went orange, a huge rainbow spanned the Romney Marsh to the east and lightning continued to sear through the heavens. Quite a day.

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More Dungeness dallying

More Dungeness dallying

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I usually visit Dungeness in winter for some reason. But on Saturday I chose the hottest day of the year to drop by the surreal headland jutting out into the English Channel. The place was awash with deep blue viper’s-bugloss flowers; very atmospheric and spectacular. The two-mile walk around the RSPB reserve was exceptional and we saw a bittern – a first for me – reed buntings, snipes and sedge warblers.

After a quick pint at the Britannia pub and a stroll in the shingle looking out for seals and porpoises, which everyone else sees but I don’t, we headed for the bedlam of Camber Sands. Miraculously a space became available in one of the car parks as we arrived (it was 6pm but as many people were arriving as leaving) and we got our cooling dip in. The water was particularly brown, however, perhaps because the tide was on the way in and picking up a lot of sediment. One hopes so. There was still time for a walk at Rye and a pizza before the drive up the A21 back to south-east London. Great day out but to squeeze all that in a car is needed really. You could take a train to Ashford then the connecting train to Rye, and a bus, I guess. You’d have to set off a lot earlier than we did though.

 

Rye Harbour

Odd huts, unusual plants, shingle, birds, marsh and just sheer weirdness pop all along the Kent coast into East Sussex. Dungeness feels like the source for all this, but little Dungenesses pop up from Reculver near Herne Bay right round to Rye Harbour. The latter I visited on the ‘hottest day of the year’, last week (July 26, 2018).

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Ashdown Forest – great even on rainy days

Ashdown Forest – great even on rainy days

Just a one-hour drive from south-east London or train journey from London to Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough (nearest station), Uckfield or East Grinstead then bus/taxi/cycle. More info on public transport options here

Further afield than the walks on this site, but not inaccessible from London by train/bus/taxi/bike, is the extraordinary Ashdown Forest (map here) in East Sussex. ‘Forest’ is a misnomer; the word did not originally mean just woodland, it referred to areas where deer were kept for hunting – often in a mixed habitat.

The Ashdown Forest lies on the high weald of sandstone between the chalk of the North and South Downs. It’s a great place for walking – you can wander anywhere, there are few fences and loads of paths. There is scots pine, heather, gorse, rare birds like the dartford warbler, lizards and snakes, many varieties of butterfly, moth and dragonflies. There’s also a lot of history – the area was a favourite hunting ground for Henry VIII (useful for nipping into Hever Castle on the way back too or, if Anne wasn’t in, Bolebrooke Castle), and there was a medieval iron industry in the forest too. On a misty, drizzly, murky day like Monday this week it really resembles parts of Scotland (you wouldn’t be able to see any mountains on such a day anyway).

The pictures here were taken around Gills Lap – a place immortalised by AA Milne in Winnie the Pooh – and Wren’s Warren Valley (Eeyore’s gloomy place in Milne’s stories).

Where to go: Parking is easy in the Ashdown Forest. There are many little car parks from which paths meander off. My favourites are King Standing, Gills Lap, (both off the B2026 from Hartfield and great for high level walks between the clumps of pines), Hollies (off the Nutley Rd near Duddeswell), Lintons (ideal for the Tabell Ghyl walk), and Broadstone (close to the excellent visitors’ centre).

• Mapped walks in the Ashdown Forest from the Ashdown Forest Centre
• Guided walks
• Map of walking routes and carparks
Forest Row bike hire

Near the Ashdown Forest is a flat off-road cycle route called the Forest Way running 6 miles from Groombridge to Forest Row (bikes for hire in Forest Row). Groombridge (home of the superb manor house, gardens and woodland, Groombridge Place) is on a steam train line – the Spa Valley Railway – between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge, on the edge of the Forest.

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