There’s no doubt about it. Winter walks aren’t always particularly uplifting. Views are subdued and less vibrant. The oranges and reds of autumn have gone, to be replaced by toned-down browns and greens. There’s mud, damp and murkiness that can make you want to flee the country. But the sky picks its moments to remedy everything; pink and orange sunsets, swathes of deep azure; the rush towards dusk bathing ancient Kent rural scenes in yellow and grey light. There are times when you feel that our little pokey-out county is in tune with the timeless far north; Iceland, Norway, Lapland… maybe the Vikings who settled here felt most at home on these dark cold days. Am I being pretentious? Stop me if I am. I’ll stop then.
Here are some pictures from early afternoon on December 16, 2017, on the high-level Meenfield woods walk, to the west of Shoreham and the little valley separating Meenfield and Andrews woods (an extension to walks 2 and 8).
It’s often the case that the sky can make landscape photography easy; with the weather we are having this mid-September, the clarity of air and development of interesting cloudscapes transmit atmosphere and steal the scene with drama. Enjoy this slideshow…
Beyond the steep, thickly wooded eastern wall of the Darent Valley is a quiet chalk upland area of dry valleys, meadows and plateaus. There’s a disused golf course, now overgrown and becoming a bit of an unofficial wildlife reserve, lovely north-south views, a discreet private airstrip behind a strip of woods from which vintage light aircraft are regularly flown, and, well… that’s it really. It’s a very atmospheric area and, for me, quite different in nature from the western valley wall. My new, ‘eastern valleys’ walk (number 14, 4.5 miles, pix below) really digs into this tranquil, timeless landscape via the little hamlet close to the defunct Austin Lodge clubhouse. Also the Otford/Shoreham/Romney St walk (5) takes in some of it. Walkers can combine the two routes to make a 10-miler or combine them with the Shoreham Circular strolls (8.5 miles). The starting point for the new walk is Shoreham railway station, which is well connected to south-east London, by Thameslink trains (not the most reliable line but so handy for the countryside). It can also be started from the church with an alternative route up to the plateau. There are some steep sections so you’ll feel this one afterwards. Enjoy. (Download a pdf of this walk.)
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.
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.
I’ve added two new circular walks, a bit further than the others from south-east London, at Hever (walk 9) and a few miles to the east, Chiddingstone/Penshurst (walk 10). They are both possible on public transport from south London: trains from East Croydon run to Hever and Penshurst, but unfortunately neither station is en route; being 1.5 miles from the start in the case of Hever and two miles from the walk for Chiddingstone/Penshurst. Both are lovely and quiet; Hever has more woods and sandstone outcrop, whereas Chidd/Pens is more meadowy and crosses the river Eden twice. Each has a small section on roads where you have to be careful. The bit on the road at Penshurst on the Chiddingstone walk is particularly bad so don’t do it with younger kids. Both walks use the Eden Valley Path for the first half. Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst are all Tudor villages with great houses linked with Henry VIII, the Boleyns and others so these walks, or parts of, are particularly good for youngsters studying that period at school. Both have great pubs: the Henry VIII at Hever and the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone.
Here’s a reminder of the historical connections of the walks on this site and a map of their locations.
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.
Fine days at this time of year are fantastic for colours and light. All fine days are great of course, but there’s a surprise element when it’s nice in October and November that somehow helps you enjoy country surroundings all the more. Yet some of the finest autumn colours are to be had in London: Dulwich Park, for example, with its variety of trees (the turkey oak by the western perimeter lane is amazing) and also Burbage Rd, nearby, which has some maples of the deepest red right now, yellow-green honey locusts (I think), and wine-coloured cherry plums amid others.
Trees are such a part of the landscape in the city or out in the sticks that most of us hardly bother to stop and wonder. I’d been doing the One Tree Hill walks for years before I noticed the most amazingly tall, straight oak (picture). Great beech trees abound on all of these walks; some of the most extraordinary, again, on the One Tree Hill escarpment (picture).
The images below are from One Tree Hill, Shoreham and, most recently, Ide Hill, which was right on the borderline between foggy and sunny on 1 November.