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.
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.
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.
Fishermen often land cod, plaice, bass and mackerel off the shingle close to the power station and twitchers delight in the migrant species that drop by. Historic structures abound and very trendy modern architecture peppers the shoreline among the fishing hulks, converted old railway wagons, coast guard and lifeboat buildings, nuclear power station and two-and-a-bit lighthouses. Local residents probably get a bit hacked off at the sightseers trampling noisily in the shingle around their homes (especially whoever lives in Derek Jarman’s old gaff these days) but that’s the price of living in a nice place.
Well, ‘nice’ isn’t really the right word. It’s ‘different’, not nice.
We went hoping for some sun but got little last Thursday. We were really taken by the fish’n’chips at The Britannia pub though, and the cool nautical decor (best pub loos ever). The Brexit Phonebox installation was quite striking too. I forgot my binoculars so relied only on mk1 eyeball to spot marsh harrier, a curlew, a hobby (I think) and a few wheatears. Probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway; my binox are rubbish. We popped in at the RSPB reserve later where there was a plethora of digging bees; an apparently rare sub species (More on Dungeness at North Downs and Beyond.)
One thing, if driving down (not the only way; you could get a train/bus/Dymchurch Railway combination from London) I’d avoid the M20… because of well publicised reasons (too depressing/boring to go into here), but also the lorry-up-your-arse thing. Instead, leave early take a leisurely and really scenic drive down the A21, turn off to Hawkhurst, Northiam then past Rye and Camber.
Winter has arrived but it remains mild; with more rainfall the mud has churned up on the most of the walks so it’s time for wellies. But take care: the chalky Darent Valley hillside paths can be a bit slippery at this time of year, particularly where the paths are worn and the chalk is close to the surface. But the austere beauty of the North Downs in winter is now evident, especially on the eastern side of the valley – walks 5, 14 and 19 – and on the Eynsford routes: walks 3 and 12. If the temperature drops a bit take a flask out with some hot chocolate and maybe a shot of something stronger – really works out here in an easterly wind!
Each of the walks on this site have their own character. There’s definitely a split between the southern routes, such as Chiddingstone, Ide Hill and at Hever, which are more wooded and somehow bucolic, and the more hilly, more grassy northern routes of the Darent Valley where the ridgelines are the highest points for an easterly winds for hundreds of miles. It’s all very atmospheric; when walking I often imagine what life was like for Saxons, Romans, Britons and Vikings who settled these parts and picture them on their long, painstaking journeys.
So, here’s a useful way of choosing a walk near SE London … enlarge the map, then just click on the labels and lines to find a walk that suits you. You’ll see there’s quite a spaghetti junction of walks around Shoreham, you can combine them all and stay out all week if you like! My tip this week is Walk 19: Fackenden Down. It’s on the eastern side of the Darent Valley – straight out of Shoreham train station and the views are terrific. The walks are also on the menu at the top. Enjoy…
An online version of the Ordnance Survey map 147 can be found herebut strangely some public footpaths are not included. I’m gradually working on making GPX files for the walks so they can be followed ‘live’ on smartphone, but, ahem, slow progress is being made!
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).
A lovely piece by Carol Donaldson in the Guardian at the Christmas weekend drew my attention to this area just east of Gravesend. It’s only an hour’s drive from, say, Brockley (potentially less if you can get to the A2 more quickly than I did today) and 40 minutes by train from Lewisham (direct to Higham on the Gillingham route). You can walk direct (about 2.5 miles from Higham station) to the marshes RSPB reserve at Cliffe Pools or get the 133 bus. The walk I did starts at Cliffe village on the little chalk ridge above the marshes, right by 13th-century St Helen’s Church and heads west, reaching the sea wall before returning through lagoons to Cliffe. The churchyard could be where Pip came across Magwitch in Great Expectations (it might be that the children’s graves at nearby Cooling is where this was imagined) and Charles Dickens’ daughter was married nearby at St Mary’s, Lower Higham. More recently, the marshes served as paddy fields in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick’s Vietnam movie made in the late 1980s.
The beauty of the area is that you can just walk off into the marshes and make for the sea wall – there’s lots of interesting historical features including a beached boat. Otherwise there’s big skies, a lot of birds (the plaintive calls of waders accompany you throughout), ships gliding on the river beyond the wall, timeless atmosphere … I’ll add details of the route I took soon, as well as the Westerham-Chartwell route. Yet another place near London that takes you to another time seemingly hundreds of miles away. Some pix…