Last week, the Cudham walk was terrific with sunshine and wisps of high cirrus stippling the sky. The medieval flint church (pictured), shaded by ancient yews was beautifully lit as was the wonderful New Year’s Wood. There was little in the way of mud, but also few birds for some reason, even among the hedgerows. This drop off in the numbers of birds is something I’ve seen right across the walks lately. It seems to me that rich, well kept woodland areas such as Scords Wood and Petts Wood aren’t doing quite as badly as farming and pasture areas. This is what worries me about those new fences at Downe – does it mean more grazing and less space for wildflowers? Steve Gale’s blog North Downs and Beyond has some more on the drop off in bird populations. Steve is an expert observer of fauna and flora and has the experience to observe and record changes in numbers.
Unlike that sparkling Sunday in Cudham, the weekend just past was so gloomy that I only managed a brief cycle to Beckenham Place Park and back. I found little to inspire to be honest. Let’s hope for better in the weeks ahead.
Come along and enjoy top quality live jazz
Not venturing out at the weekend actually suited me as I needed to practise my saxophone (and watch some sport) in readiness for a gig tonight (Monday 13th). So if big band jazz is your thing come along to Sundridge Park WMC at 134 Burnt Ash Lane, BR1 5AF. It’s £6 to get in and the band starts at 8.30pm and finishes at 10.30 with a short break. There’s no need to book (you can’t anyway!) but there’s a decent bar at hand and lots of seating in a large room with good acoustics. The next performance after this is on 6 March at the same venue. The music we play is by arrangers and composers such as Thad Jones, Bob Florence, Gil Evans, Kenny Wheeler and Mike Gibbs, the sort of material performed by the Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie bands etc. What else can you do on a bleak Monday night that’ll be as uplifting? Don’t answer that!
Personally I don’t mind ‘busy’ walks. Anyone who’s hiked the Samaria Gorge, climbed Snowdon or sauntered along the Amalfi coast’s spectacular ‘Walk of the Gods’ trail, will be familiar with routes’ long lines of dehydrated tourists in frankly inappropriate footwear. These Kent walks offer comparative splendid isolation and are undertaken by people who are generally dressed for the conditions. But if it really is solitude you are after you might find that the Shoreham circular isn’t the best choice on a sunny Sunday, and Petts Wood’s main paths are much frequented by families and dog walkers – unsurprisingly considering its suburban location. Lullingstone is particularly busy around the visitor’s centre and river and Knole around the house – but both are big enough country parks to escape the crowd. There were snaking queues of day trippers on the One Tree Hill routes before the winter mud arrived on sunny weekends. Personally I like to see everyone out and about; it’s great to see people of all ages enjoying the local countryside and greeting strangers as walkers do. But if you want a quieter walk the best routes are Shoreham’s eastern valleys, Otford to Kemsing, Hever, Otford circular and Fackenden Down. The Cudham and Knockholt walks aren’t exactly choc-a-bloc either usually. Don’t get me wrong, there are always people around on these walks – you won’t feel like Cheryl Strayed in Wild (as portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the film). By the way, if you do choose a Shoreham route and happen to be hungry, the Mount Vineyard does great pizzas I’ve found recently – and it’s a great spot for a drink if you’re waiting for the train (the station’s an eight-minute walk up the road).
A beautiful dusk walk around Chartwell and Mariners Hill on the Hosey route, accompanied by a stunning full moon and the mew of a buzzard, hit the spot last Sunday afternoon. It’s not always the early bird that catches the worm, you know. The mud just before point 8, the ‘dramatic’ crossing of the infant River Darent, is hilariously sloshy and treacherous enough to defeat any footwear bar stilts fitted with spikes but can be avoided by walking parallel in the grassy field alongside and rejoining just before the log bridge. A satisfying hose down of boots after returning home was called for.
With Saturday a washout it was a real pleasure on Sunday to find time for the Ide Hill route (a three-hour round trip from SE London). For some reason I often take this Greensand Ridge walk while my chosen football team is playing so it’s rarely the relaxing stroll it ought to be. Fortunately, after initial tension, the goals came in a rush so by the halfway point all was well and I could enjoy the subdued January colours, stillness of the woods and occasional bird calls. A huge buzzard glided away from us soon after leaving Scord’s wood leaving a cacophony of jackdaw and carrion crow calls its wake. There were few other birds evident though, a few robins, wrens and a dunnock the only compensation for the finches I was hoping for. The tiny cricket pitch at point 5 seemed even more titchy with no one on it. We caught the sun as it slipped out of the blue sky into a solid-looking bank of cloud draped across the western horizon as far as the eye could see. This gave us a strangely false sunset, and an early dusk at odds with the sky overhead. But those weald views – fantastic as ever. A pint in the cosy Cock Inn was a perfect way to conclude proceedings. Oh, happy new year by the way.
Snowtime is no more. Now sub tropical air is drifting up from the south with the giddy heights of 14C being likely in our neck of the woods. Walks last weekend and the previous week were some of the coldest I can remember. Superb, I thought! But we’re in that time of year where anything is possible, particularly given the effects of the climate crisis. We could have balmy days or freezing days in the month ahead.
Looking at all the mud I’m beginning to wonder if it might not be an idea from next month to have some grass seed or wildflower seed at the ready to scatter on the edges of paths when on a walk, or around stiles and gates where huge swathes of mud have appeared. There might be some good reasons why not but I can’t think of them.
As it’s Friday night I’m going to suggest a piece of music to enjoy while making dinner. It is Earth Wind & Fire’s version of The Beatles’ Gotta Get You Into My Life. Very uplifting. Next song on my playlist was Gill Scott-Heron’s The Bottle.
Pictured above is Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in early March, which I first visited this time last year.
It’s hard to keep up. A few days I wrote “Country walks are now the only safe activity we can indulge in this Christmas. Pubs, clubs, theatre, cinema, restaurants are sadly all out. And with the rules stating it’s OK to meet up to six people who don’t live with you, walks are pretty much the only shout at a social gathering (at a safe distance) we can get up to.”
That’s now incorrect. Going for a walk is not OK with more than one person who doesn’t live with you.
The rest of the blog post now appears curiously dated and irrelevant: “So expect popular locations to be busy; it might be best to avoid Lullingstone Visitors’ Centre car park, for example, and the road parking around Knole. Even the One Tree Hill car park has been full at times recently. It might be a case of arriving before 10am or after 2pm in those locations or indulge in a bit of creative parking. Anyway, there are plenty of other options; peruse Kent Walks near London to find the right hike for you. But whatever you do, take wellies or walking boots. The mud is quite something at points on all the walks. And I’ve found a flask with hot chocolate, possibly laced with something a wee bit stronger, can add a bit of value too.”
At least the bit about mud is still accurate. I just hope everyone can chill out and make the best of it and I wish you all well.
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.
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, November 2016 (Point 1 on the Knole Walk)
For only the second time this winter we’ve had a beautiful sharp day with the temperature struggling to get above zero. If there have been any others, they’ve been during the week, which doesn’t count! Saturday (16 Jan) was a superb walking day, particularly towards dusk, and there were loads of people walking around Eynsford and Shoreham. Sunday was cloudier and with patches of snow and ice. Looking at the state of some of the paths I recalled that someone who had recently done the walk between the two villages described it as ‘buggyable’. Well, that’s commendable, however state of the art and all-terrain their buggy is.
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.