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.

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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)

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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.

September

One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.

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An Eynsford walk in the rain and cold

Dreadful Saturday weather-wise today, but, undaunted, we – my younger son and I – decided to venture out to familiar pastures. We went to Eynsford village and did a circular walk from the riverside diagonally uphill across fields to Eagle Heights, enjoying lovely, rain-swept views across the railway viaduct down the valley towards Sevenoaks. Passing the bird of prey centre (and being lucky enough to see a vast raptor wheeling in the murk above, pursued – at a distance – by two gulls) we strode on, entering Lullingstone park, turning around its central hill (the one topped by pines and cedar of Lebanon trees) and returning the way we came to Eynsford. It’s now 9.30pm – the pre-Match of the Day hour – and I’ve still not entirely warmed up; a really raw afternoon. I’ll write up the walk soon; it’ll make another good one for train users being easy to adapt to start from and return to Eynford station. Some of it covers the same ground as the Shoreham-Eynsford walk on this site.

Bluebells

Bluebells

The bluebells, as I write on April 26, are in full swing. They generally love moist, even swampy ground in sun-dappled woodland (so coppiced trees are very good) and south-facing slopes where the drainage isn’t great. The best places for walking amid bluebells – of the walks on this website – are:

1 Ide Hill-Toy’s Hill circular walk via Emmett’s Gardens. Here, bluebells are everywhere. Especially brilliant on the south-facing slope of Emmett’s Gardens.

2 Shoreham circular – extend the walk into the woods above Shoreham to the west, as far as Andrews Wood for great bluebell vistas.

3 Downe circular – at Point 3, instead of turning right towards Downe House, turn left on the path that heads down into woods (in to the valley between Downe and Cudham – an area called Downe Bank, which also contains some orchid varieties). The bluebells here are amazing. In fact every little copse around Downe, Biggin Hill and Cudham has spectacular seas of blue.

Other superb displays can be seen at One Tree Hill (1km south east of Knole Park), near Sevenoaks. Then, and closest to SE London, there is Petts Wood/Hawkwood. For the latter, enter the wood from the entrance under the railway line at the intersection of Towncourt Crescent and Birchwood Road and take the second path on the left and you’ll soon be in the realm of the bluebells (in Edlmann Memorial wood) after passing through a grove of chestnuts.

A weather lesson

The viaduct at Eynsford from the latter stages of walk 3, in awful weather

The viaduct at Eynsford from the latter stages of walk 3, in awful weather

I went out this afternoon with my older son for a decent walk around Lullingstone/Eynsford. I hadn’t checked the weather, in fact I hadn’t glanced outside all day (football was on). I was dimly aware of it being windy but somehow had thought it would be mild. We considered going to see Whiplash at the cinema but decided some fresh air would do us good. Fresh?! Horizontal, freezing rain; a wind chill of -3C… well, it shows that even the North Downs have their wild side. The picture above just looks dull; doesn’t do justice to the sheer pain the elements inflicted on us today.

A bucolic welcome to you

A bucolic welcome to you

Sometimes you just need to get out of the city. Even in good ol’ south east London, with its verdant parks and Victoriana, the urge to swan around in ancient landscapes, free of the roar of traffic, does sometimes come to us all of a weekend. The good news is that there are beautiful fields, woods and villages to walk in just 30 minutes out of town by car or train.

Whether you’ve moved to south east London for work purposes or whether you are from these parts and just haven’t felt the urge to shift your butt into the woods and fields, my aim with this site is, without wishing to be rude, to tell you where to go. I want to share with you the great places you can walk in without much planning and without dedicating too much time to it. Many of the routes are great to take children on, too.