Look to the light

Look to the light

January walks are all about timing. Things can appear dreary, muddy, dank and generally unappealing but with the right weather conditions the quality of the light can make everything right. Clear, bright, frosty days are definitely the best for a Kent hike at this time of year and despite all the low cloud and rain this month, there have been quite a few such days falling at the weekend. Well, a couple anyway. We’ve tried to make the most of it and walks at Cudham, One Tree Hill, Ide Hill, Hosey, Downe (despite the new fences) and Petts Wood have come up trumps. With a hard frost, like the one we found at One Tree Hill last Sunday, a lot of the mud freezes, which helps considerably. Such days can be good for a spot of casual birdwatching too with small birds often so keen to feed that they care less for human presence – I’ve enjoyed up-close views of goldcrest, nuthatch, coal tit and brambling this winter. But it’s a mysterious affair; sometimes there are no birds at all.

  • Beech trees, winter
  • cloudy day Kent
  • Winter sun on track
  • Downe walk in winter
  • Frosty path
I’ve surrendered to the mud

I’ve surrendered to the mud

The mud I’ve encountered out walking is worse this year than in any other I can remember (much worse than the picture I’ve used from Meenfield wood suggests). It has been much wetter than normal, with regular heavy rain over the past two months, but the number of people out and about is another major factor in churning it up. It’s going to take some paths a long time to recover I suspect.

The situation in parks is the same, though of course there are more hard surfaced paths to take; I cycled over to Beckenham Place Park earlier and there are patches of mud where there should be grass in many places. The number of people in the park was good to see; surely it’s better to see everyone in the fresh air trying to enjoy themselves and keep body and soul together than not. On the other hand social distancing was a problem and there were some large groups. Hardly anyone wore a mask, strangely. I know transmission of Covid is thought to be unlikely in the open air but, still, with so many people surely a mask might add a little extra security. We do it on railway platforms so why not in parks? The air was very still, too – something to consider? I’m not sure. Truly remarkable were two ice cream vans down by the car park. That’s not in the spirit of lockdown at all. And it felt about 1C. I still can’t believe it. A deadly plague, it’s 1C and we’re queueing for ice cream or coffee?

One Tree Hill… snow and a river of liquid mud instead of a path

Anyway, back to mud. If using Kent Walks near London for the first time I feel I should point out that the walks are, for 9 months of the year, much better than this squelchy experience! Even with wellies you have be careful not to slip over in it and stretches of up to 100 metres are fraught on some routes. Steep hills are out of the question. Maybe – and it goes against the grain with me to write this – it’s time to leave the countryside alone for a bit. Either join the hordes in the local park (but with a mask and careful distancing) or trudge the streets. Sorry.

Exotic trees and crazy mud

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.

Autumn becomes winter

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

So … up for a winter walk? Of the routes on this site, the least affected by mud are usually the Shoreham circular, Shoreham/Otford circular, Shoreham to Eynsford and Downe Circular. You’ll still need boots, but the woodland walks at One Tree Hill and Ide Hill are truly squelchathons come December, although they remain great to do if you have the right footwear (and attitude!). Also excellent are Knole Park and Lullingstone Country park (where you can do a variety of walks arriving at and leaving from Eynsford station, but can also explore on the Shoreham to Eynsford walk). The latter two are great for huge skies and spectacular late afternoon sunlight. Just take a look at winter sun shining on Knole House (pictured).

I’ll soon be adding some more winter pictures on the site and maybe my routes around Knole and Lullingstone (nearly mud-free). So stick around.


Mud near the Roman villa (walk 3)

Mud near the Roman villa (walk 3)

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)