Emmetts Garden (on the Ide Hill walk) is showing off its rare tree species at the moment, with orbs hanging off branches and baskets draped with national flags. Inside each basket is the name of the tree and its origin. Surprisingly good fun going from one to the other trying to work out what it is. I’d never heard of a castor oil tree (China) before but the Japanese cedar was my favourite.
Meanwhile, mud is a sticking point on the walks, as you’d expect in February. One Tree Hill and around is awful, Hever too. But Ide Hill is not too bad – even the bit where you meet the Toys Hill red route is passable. Elsewhere, Lullingstone/Eynsford is generally OK, Shoreham circular too. Downe and Knole Park are bankers for lack of mud in huge quantities, but Petts Wood has plenty of squelchy areas. All are fine with decent boots – it’s just that you should be mentally prepared for a bit of slippin’ and slidin’, and going to the pub afterwards means taking boots off or bringing spare shoes.
That seemed to happen very quickly. A dreamy, misty, surprisingly warm autumn has suddenly snapped into winter with a blast of Arctic air. Truth to tell, the past 10 days have become increasingly turbulent, with high winds stripping the trees of much of their leaves… all those beautiful greens, oranges and reds were too good to last. I know; this happens every year, but somehow it all seems somewhat abrupt each time, in the same way as you feel plunged into darkness when the clocks go back.
In February the mud league table needs publishing, especially with some quite big rainfalls this past week.
So, from the driest to the wettest and muddiest walk (I haven’t loaded all these walks yet)
1 Knole (where does the water go?)
2 Downe (nothing too serious but popular stretches of paths quite squelchy)
3 Lullingstone river path (nasty, but the river distracts you – and the danger of sliding in)
4 Shoreham (some bad spots, particularly by the river on the way to Eynsford)
5 Toys Hill (soul-sapping seas of mud)
6 One Tree Hill (detours into the brambles will leave your clothes in tatters and your arms bleeding!)
7 Lullingstone path by Roman villa (pictured; after the steps the path is a morass of vile goop with no escape; mercifully short)
8 Andrews Wood slope (you’ll be on your arse in no time at all)