Lullingstone park is a great place to feel the winter vibes in the North Downs, with sweeping views of the Darent valley, big skies, mists swirling down by the river and a variety of terrain: from grassy expanses to rich beech and oak woods. Some walkers in Kent on Saturday saw a double sun – a trick of the light in which the sun seems to appear twice. It’s also called a sun dog, and is a type of halo. We weren’t so lucky, but the atmosphere was superb – wispy cloud, patches of cobalt sky, a low sun and a light mist. Small flocks of linnets were feeding in scrubby fields at the start of our route, up by the golf course entrance. It was the last day of this week of snow and freezing temperatures so we wanted to make the most of it, taking a 4-mile route around the park. A very deep frost had formed on top of the snow, producing some incredible branch-like crystal structures. It was a truly memorable stroll.
As an experiment I ventured out for the 5-mile Fackenden Down walk at 11.30am on Sunday to see just how unpleasant things could get while hiking in the hottest part of the day, with temperatures well over 30C. The answer was, not very unpleasant at all. I had a hat, plenty of water, and took it fairly slowly. The walk starts in cool beech woods but then, up on that eastern ridge of the Darent valley, a hesitant but welcome breeze from the south-east just about took the edge off the muggy swelt. I can honestly say I’ve felt much hotter just sitting around in the concrete dustbowl that is now south-east London; the fairly strenuous walk was not more taxing than normal, though I took the steps slowly.
I accompanied part of my walk with Lyle Mays‘s bluesy but harmonically rich Lincoln Reviews on my headphones – the perfect tune for a drowsy, sultry day surrounded by beautiful, still countryside. Mays was an incredible pianist who performed in the Pat Metheny Group for many decades.
The walk was also accompanied aurally by the calls of buzzards and the rustlings of lizards and small mammals dashing off into the leaf litter by the side of the path ahead of me. As usual I did the walk in reverse so descended Fackenden Down rather than climb it. The bit along the side of the hill (Points 1 to 3 on the Google map) were alive with butterflies and bees enjoying the scabious and knapweed among other wildflowers. I capped the walk off with a visit to the new Samuel Palmer pub, which has replaced Ye Olde George opposite the church. What a superb renovation job has been done there and there were loads of staff to serve the many visitors. Quite the transformation, and it was great to see so many Palmer reproductions on the walls – it’s like an art gallery. But not fancying a pint or a soft drink I popped into the church, which was serving cream teas with a friendly welcome and a cool place to sit down. That might seem strange but that’s how I rolled on Sunday.
The gloom of December and early January has lately given way to bright, often mild conditions.
Great tits are blasting out their rhythmic calls optimistic that spring is around the corner and thrushes have been showing off at dusk with their varied, almost tropical-sounding tones. But this time last year all was silent: we were in the grip of a rare icy blast with heavy snow on the 7th and freezing conditions for the following week. If you’d stayed in south-east London you might have thought the snowfall was very light. But out in Kent, beyond the M25 and on the escarpments of the chalk North Downs and the Greensand ridge, the storm struck more powerfully. It seemed a good time to get out and get the feel of things, so here’s a photographic reminder of what real cold actually looks like. And believe me, the top of Fackenden Down on 12 February was bone-shakingly cold. Enjoy the photos! (Pictured are scenes from the Knole and Fackendon walks)
Once again off to Chiddingstone, this time without birding maestro Dave. But saw my first two bullfinches of the year, plus very large slow worm (too fast for me to take pic of however), skylarks and cuckoo. Plus the best variety of dragonflies – some real beasts – I’ve ever seen on a walk, perhaps brought out by the number of winged insects after the huge storm last nght. Some awesome cumulus nimbus forming beyond north London (Channel 4 news’ weatherforecaster Liam Dutton reckons this storm was the one that wrought temporary havoc to Buckinghamshire yesterday evening). The cloud tops of this storm reached 40,000ft so everyone who saw it from Kent and Surrey thought it was much closer than it actually was.
Awful weather this week – overcast, cold – but at least there was some snow today to enliven proceedings. I decided to get some fresh air on the Downe walk. In south-east London the snowfall didn’t stick whatsoever but by the time I reached Keston there were extensive patches. Below are some iPhone images of the Downe circular walk taken sequentially. I nipped off-piste down to the golf course after point 5 – the unblemished snow on the fairway made me feel as if I were walking on goose feathers; the powder had a strangely translucent appearance I’d never seen in snow before. Popped into the Queen’s Head where a half of Westerham Ales’ Grasshopper by the fire, with Italy v Ireland rugby on the telly, was a splendid ‘warm down’. Once again, a rotten day for weather comes up trumps (whoops, sorry, banned word there).
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.
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…
The weather forecasters were spot on: sunny Good Friday, dreary Saturday, all over the place Sunday and Monday (with a dose of tropical storm bringing down branches and fences on Sunday night). A lot of the paths returned to peak mud status and the magnolias at Emmetts, usually so beautiful at this time of year, were looking a bit windblown and fed up. Looking at the pictures I put up below, on my previous post, I realise they must have been taken in mid-April last year – certainly the tulips at Emmetts were some way off flowering this weekend. So apologies to anyone I mis-sold on that! In the meantime, above are some pictures from Sunday and Monday at Knole and Ide Hill.
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.
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.