The difference a bit of rain makes

The difference a bit of rain makes

Interesting to see the effect of normal weather on the colour of the landscape. The first picture was taken on 15 August on the Fackenden Down route with the summer drought at its peak; the second picture on 17 September. It had rained during the week of 4-11 September.

Parched grass, Dunstall Farm
Parched ground near Dunstall Farm – the tree branch was dead years ago
Back to normal after the early September rains – and, below, a silver birch tree on Fackenden Down photographed on the same days
Joining up the Shoreham walks for an epic

Joining up the Shoreham walks for an epic

Windy, cold, grey, damp. Yep, this May is a shocker. We needed the rain yada yada (or yabba yabba, take your pick). I won’t go on leisure cycles in this kind of weather, but walking is still a possibility if the wind drops. I know, it’s hard to believe I’m talking like this – it’s May in south east England! My walking activities do mean I have some accurate memories of weather and there were a couple of days not dissimilar to this last May. But only a couple. Anyway, for once I had time last weekend to devise an epic by joining up group of routes. Some old friends were joining me from west London; so we wanted to stretch our legs and truly earn that pint at the end. So we took on the Shoreham eastern valleys walk joined it up with a section of the Fackenden Down route then slipped into Shoreham circular mk2 before segueing smoothly into half of Shoreham mk1, taking in the Meenfield wood bluebells.

Meenfield wood bluebells

On the map it looked to be 8.5 to 9 miles but we reckoned it was about 11.5 miles with our inability to walk straight and a diversion to see the Percy Pilcher memorial. Back in the village the choice was between the Crown, the King’s Head or the Mount Vineyard for the aprés. We settled on the vineyard for its proximity to the station, though both the pubs were passed with regret. In the manner of a walk in the Highlands or west Wales we encountered a number of different weather conditions – beginning with a colourful combination of shades of grey at different levels punctuated by shards of blue sky and varying degrees of sun.

Percy Pilcher memorial

What with the multitude of greens and yellow tones in the woods and fields the effect was dazzling at times. But as we left Magpie Bottom a period of nimbo stratus with heavy rain fell upon us and we emerged at the top of Fackenden Down with that great view shrouded in mist and ragged low cloud. But by the time we’d left the hillside after sheltering we were in bright sunshine and what felt like a 10C rise in temperature. Finally, at the vineyard, we caught the edge of a thunderstorm somewhere around London bringing further rain. In the sunny bits buzzards soared, yellowhammers posed on the tops of hedgerows – with blackcaps, robins and whitethroats chirping away within – and Spitfires from Biggin Hill growled overhead. All part of the Kent wonderland.

Autumn takes its leave

Autumn takes its leave

I’m having to change my banner photographs with every passing week to keep them current as we hurtle into winter. Autumn officially ends on 21 December but we all know that’s baloney. A few stormy days over the past week or so have stripped away the leaves and although temperatures are still fairly mild, it gets dark at 4.30pm and the ground is saturated. It looks like winter, it smells like winter, it feels like winter, it’s winter.

Last Sunday’s stroll at Cudham was beset by hefty squalls and paths are awash. Today I set out with a friend to walk between Otford and Eynsford via Polhill, Pilot woods, Mill Lane, and Lullingstone. I continually slipped trying to ascend the steep sodden face of Polhill ending up on all fours sliding backward downhill, much to my friend’s mirth. We shared a cereal bar and discussed footwear. It was actually so wet that our boots never really got muddy despite regularly sinking ankle-deep into the mire.

The light seemed to go at about 3pm as the clouds sank ever lower so we abandoned the Eynsford leg and scoured the dank but still delightful streets of Shoreham for something to drink. We struck lucky and gratefully downed our Westerham ales under an awning outside the closed, deserted Ye Olde George (set for redecorating and reopening next year we hear).

Nr Romney Street, Round Hill, Austin Spring, near Shoreham, winter 2017

The conditions throughout the walk had been pretty ropey with low stratus scraping Fackenden Down opposite and a constant patter of precipitation slightly too heavy to be dismissed as drizzle. Darkness fell as we reached the railway station and faced a cold wait, which fortunately proved short as the Thameslink rolled in bang on time.

To add some perspective to the “inclement conditions” encountered on the walk we discussed a book I’m currently reading: The Worst Journey in the World, by a member of Scott’s team, which is about the ultimately horrific Antarctic expedition of 1911-13. Lots of things went wrong before the final tragedy, some before they’d even left Britain. None seemed insurmountable at the time but added together, like pieces in a jigsaw, they each played their part in the deaths of Scott and four of his fittest, doughtiest fellow explorers.

Underlying all of these mishaps were some truly horrendous meteorological experiences, which make walks in the Darent Valley even in murk, mud, darkness and constant rain, feel like a carefree saunter in the Shire. So, this winter, take a small leaf out of Scott’s book and say “to hell with the weather, let’s go for a walk”. There won’t be any crevasses after all; you will get back in one piece even if it rains or snows, and you might even be able to find an acceptable beverage. Just make sure you’ve got some decent boots.

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.

Soggy Saturday: super cool Sunday

A dull damp Saturday, a stormy Sunday morning then a bright breezy, cold afternoon. Big contrasts. Two walks: Polhill Bank (an extension of Shoreham mk1) and Ide Hill. I love Meenfield woods high on Shoreham’s western ridge in wet weather, wisps of cloud scraping past the tree tops. Further south, at Ide Hill on Sunday, the sudden bright sunshine, after a morning of torrential rain, strangely failed to warm the air which carried with it hints of the Arctic. We saw a buzzard and a red kite. Chaffinches, a bullfinch pair and blue tits hopped busily in the undergrowth on Emmetts’ southern bank. My boy suggested the pub, then changed his mind: he wanted to see if Arsenal would lose to Everton. They didn’t, and we put the central heating on. There’s a non sequitur for you.

Polhill Bank

September, rainy day looking out from Polhill Bank near Shoreham.

Ide HIll

The new clearing looking south 250 metres in to the Ide Hill walk. September, bright, cold afternoon

Wet Easter

An extraordinary amount of rain falling in north-west Kent at the moment (Good Friday), but it should relent by tomorrow, with the possibility of a little afternoon sunshine (and a shower or two). Sunday will be mainly dry but cloudy. Monday is pretty nailed on to be another stinker with heavy rain  all day. So a rather disappointing Easter weekend for walking. Even if Saturday and Sunday are dryish the mud will be pretty horrific and temperatures on the low side. It seems spring has got no further than being a hint. Oh well. Here’s what it should look like:

Blackthorn blossom on One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent

Blackthorn blossom on One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent

The joy of bad weather walks

The weekend has started abysmally, with heavy rain, low temperatures and general murk. Great for walking! Yes, there’s a real frisson in donning hat, gloves and coat and striding off on a ridge amid horizontal precipitation. Failure to remember hat or gloves, however, is detrimental to the cause. Some places take on a whole new atmosphere of wilderness when you walk in poor conditions. Knole Park suddenly seems like a Scottish glen, the Ashdown Forest becomes Dartmoor, Lullingstone the Cheviot hills (bit of a stretch that). Anyway, whatever, my point is that waiting for perfect conditions is just not good form if you want to enjoy the local countryside. I can see from my exalted position as webmaster that the number of views on this website fall dramatically as the clouds gather. So don’t delay, ignore the moisture, get out there. I’ll be watching.


Ide Hil walk, Ram Pump Pond

Ide Hil walk, Ram Pump Pond

A great walk on a grey day is my latest offering here… Eynsford/Lullingstone (4 miles; 90 mins). It’s mostly mud-free, has two good pubs waiting for you, and up on the hill by Eagle Heights you’ll feel the elements alright. It’s also a great choice of walk if car-less; it starts from Eynsford station.

I won’t bother with a picture; grey, rainy days aren’t very photogenic. They’re all about feeling it.

A few hours later… went to Knole Park in awful conditions, but got an OK shot with the iphone
– had to brighten it a bit so a bit pixelly but still…

Stag at Knole

Stag at Knole, November 2016 (Point 1 on the Knole Walk)

Wild flowers after the bluebells

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So that’s it for this year’s bluebells but buttercups, cow parsley and hawthorn are making for some fairly spectacular viewing, I noticed on the Downe Circular walk today. The buttercups in the meadows next to Down House are superb right now, as are the hawthorns forming the hedges of the three fields on the second half of the walk. A strangely murky day which eventually turned into a downpour. Quite fun really.

Darent Valley ‘cloud forest’

Darent Valley ‘cloud forest’

What an appalling bank holiday weekend for weather. I can’t remember one like it; only Saturday morning was up to scratch. And this on top of a week of heavy rain. In need of exercise though, we drove over towards Shoreham and walked for five miles on various paths in the the western Darent Valley above the village to Andrew’s Wood, then through Pilot’s Wood and Meenfield Wood back to where we’d parked (where Shacklands Rd meets Castle Farm Rd and the High St). With the humid, steamy, very damp conditions the woods had the feel of a tropical cloud forest. At the highest points we were in the clouds, draped over the tops of the North Downs. The wildlife consisted of wrens, pigeons and a robin, however; not quite up there with howler monkeys and the three-toed sloth.

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