6 January 2022 – a winter walk between Winchelsea and Rye, East Sussex
I knew Winchelsea when I was a girl because my granny lived there for a while. My family and I visited for special occasions and I went to stay with her, once on my own and once with my sister. It was the time I was there alone which has remained in my mind.
I was allowed, perhaps encouraged, explore without a grown up. I remember ranging down slopes, across dried cow pats and over little, soft hummocks. I walked and ran, then I lay down and I can recall the feeling of being there all these years later.
I have a visceral memory of the give of the land underneath me, the warm scent of rabbit and sheep pellets, my nose close-up to the goldening strands of springy turf, the upright threads of harebells level with my chin.
When I returned, some forty five years later with mum, the first thing I saw was a dead blackbird on the pavement in front of the church where Spike Milligan is buried.
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; I left my shoes and socks there – I wonder if they’re dry?
It was such a fine-weather day to be walking out.
Mum and her friend asked, How will you get there? But I knew there would be a path, somehow, and there it was.
I walked from this small cliff-town – what is sometimes called New Winchelsea – to her sister Rye, larger and more cosmopolitan. Rye and Old Winchelsea used to be side-by-side until the terrible storms of the mid-13th century when the ocean drowned the Old Winchelsea, a vibrant Cinque Port trading in wine. Pilgrims once put out for St James of Compostelle in Spain from there.
There was ice in the ploughed ruts and water everywhere. I followed the designated way, but it was little more than a desire path.
I caught my foot on a plant and fell over, of course, arriving into the town to meet friends with mud all over my trousers. Then we walked some more, as the rain came on, along Camber Sands. My siblings and I used to make sand castles with dad there. I remember how the sea was so, so far out and we had to walk ‘miles and miles’ to get our feet wet. All those years ago.
There are holes in the sky Where the rain gets in But they’re ever so small That’s why the rain is thin….
This walk was inspired by a prompt from Alisa Oleva and The Resident’s Association which went like this: ‘Go out on a walk, take photos of all the things and surfaces you would like to touch, but don’t touch them.’
I tried, I really did, but I failed at the first and last hurdles (and several in between if I’m honest). Who would have thought it would be so difficult? Although, given I touch for a living it’s not so surprising. I can’t give Shiatsu because of the Covid-19 virus restrictions, so this brief is apposite.
It was my phone I touched at the off – to take photos. Smooth and cool and about the weight of a nice big juicy apple, it quickly heated up in my hand. I was on a walk I have done once before which ended on a road (link) so I wanted to find a better way back.
As soon as I started I wanted to reach out and feel the difference between the nettles and the dead nettles, even if one sort would surely sting me. It didn’t take long for my toddler instinct to kick in – ‘But I want to touch!’ I resisted.
When a wall reared up in front of me, my protesting teenager was taunted – ‘Just cos you say I shouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I can’t!’ Though I was grown up and I didn’t.
As I passed the buttercups I could imagine the smooth, silky petals. I’m a tactile person. I have honed my sense of touch to a very sensitive degree over tens of years. The mere sight stimulated the part of my brain which remembered the feel from before (as it does with most people) – my brain’s sensory cortex.
“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,’” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of a study into touch.
“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”
I saw stalk ends which I was convinced would be dry and rough. The torn-off strands might feel like threads, but I couldn’t be sure. The gnarled tree, all crooked and twisted, must feel just as dessicated, I conjectured, but harder. I was pretty sure I could lean into it and it wouldn’t fall over whereas the stem would have, of course. Colder than the trunk, the Hedera helix (a better monica than ‘common ivy’ in this case) would feel the least substantial, but the shiniest. Isn’t it fascinating that we use visually descriptive words like ‘shiny’ to describe the feel of something?
While it is customary to assert that we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears, we live in a simultaneous universe where sensory events and their constituent elements have a natural tendency to overlap.
The undergrowth to my right was still opaque with dew, its wetness indistinguishable from its colour. But I didn’t touch; my eyes just feasted. (There’s another of those sensory comminglings). As I wandered on, I wondered, can you feel a colour? Would that pale grey-green feel the same as the vibrant gloss-green of that ivy I had just passed? It would be impossible to subtract the wetness from one in order to compare I reckoned.
In this part of the countryside, the cascades of hawthorn are over now, their slightly feathery, petally droplets have fallen. Black crows were feeding, sharp-beak first, in the field. I would certainly like to touch their glossy feathers – I have been collecting feathers every day on my walks. If I hold the white tubular calamus, or hollow shaft of a long corvid’s plumage and twiddle it, the vane catches the light and gleams. There was a matching black horse lying down nearby and she observed me, haughtily. I might not have been brave enough to touch her.
The wet grass touched my boots – I could see, but not feel. My legs brushed past the seedheads and they tickled my shins. They touched me, I didn’t touch them. In the same patch, I was alive to the contrast between the sorrel, which I knew would be bitty like toast crumbs between a thumb and forefinger, and the emery board, might-cut-you blades of grass. I remembered how I like to slide up the sheath of the softer Yorkshire Fog, just turning to seed now, gathering a mini bouquet before spilling the seeds up in a fountain and spraying them all around. I could just ‘feel’ the imprint of it on my fingertips.
I crossed the first stile which I’ve been not hand-touching for weeks anyway, so I am practiced at that. I had to steady myself for a moment or two at the top before ‘jumping’ down off the second. Then at the next hurdle, I had to slip around behind the tree because the gate was shut. It was, I admit, impossible not to touch the trunk with the edges of myself, but I lifted my arms up as I squeezed through.
There was the familiar parp of the train as it approached the first of a ring of level crossings, making its announcement. I couldn’t touch that train even if I wanted to. I spotted the first chamomile and stooped to collect a feathery stem and have a sniff, transported back to my allotment where I grew swathes of it for medicinal purposes. It was not until the end of the walk when I scanned back that I realised that that had been a touch I didn’t even think to forgo.
I feared to reach out to the wild roses in case I dislodged their fragile petals, so that was no problem. Before I knew it, I scratched my nose because it felt like a fly was crawling there. Damn! Turns out that I’m not great at this game.
I took a detour and there were the goslings, much more grown up, motionless on mirrored water. So still were they, that I assumed they were asleep, but then a parent dipped her beak and very slowly rotated to face her brood. The sun was behind, low, and I saw a drop dripping off. Mid way, it sparkled as the light shone through it, refracting into a star as it fell. Without actively moving she sailed closer to them, the space narrowing, and then she nudged the nearest chick.
It was the second hour and others were waking up and walking their dogs: a puppy scampered towards me and jumped up, so there was a wet-tongue touch without a by-your-leave. The owner and I forgot to move to opposite sides of the path two metres apart. Not so the woman with the stick – she avoided me like the plague as we have been instructed to do.
The birds were busy weeding in the arable fields, their heads bobbing. No doubt some seeds hadn’t yet germinated. A bramble scraped my upper arm leaving a long, bloody slash. Grasses caressed me and wind swept my sweaty brow – I felt it.
I stood under an unknown tree admiring its flowers. I flipped through my mental filing system, took a photo, and then the tree seemed to go ‘here you are’ and one white trumpet floated to the ground. There it lay amongst 10s of others! I picked one up (again, I didn’t even notice this touch until I started writing this) and carried it uphill. After some time I relegated it to my pocket for later perusal and it was, ooh, 5 minutes before I worked out what had caused the stickiness in my palm.
I did find an alternative route towards the end and as I squelched through the mud (there has been no rain for weeks but was some sort of stream running down the bridle path) and surveyed the broken branches from recent winds, I instinctively stroked the burl (a knotty growth) of a nearby tree, I caught myself at it and withdrew my hand sharpish, but it was too late.
The whole thing was pretty tricky. I wanted to know if the bracket fungus was hard or squashy. I wanted to warm my hand on the wall. I was curious whether the temperature of the inside of the log was different from the outside. I would have liked to swish through the Quaking grass. However, I particularly enjoyed the newfound awareness of how much my senses interact. And I had a beautiful walk.
If you ever see something in one of my blogs that is wrongly named, please do let me know. I do a lot of research but it isn’t always easy to get it right and I would be very grateful to learn.
Out of the house, I turned right instead of the usual left. I was heading towards a certain place and hoping to deviate – deviation, on occasion, being the source of imaginative instigation.
Ahead, on the single lane bridge, was a man on the non-pavement side where there’s a ‘>’ in the wall, a ‘more than’ nick out of the road. There is more, because when you stand there and look over, you can see the river. I was prepared to walk on the pavement, to keep my distance, but he crossed back. He had a stick. I said ‘good morning’ and he seemed surprised. I crossed to the nick and leaned over to look at the water. I live by the sea in Edinburgh, but here in Kent with my mother during the Covid-19 lockdown period, I am landlocked. It is different. It has an effect on me.
I took a left at the post office. Another gentleman and I dodged right-left-right until we wordlessly worked out who would go in the road – me. We smiled, maybe murmured, I can’t remember now.
Does this shifting onto the highway to keep our distance, endanger our health?
My route is chosen
I passed where the sandbags are still piled up outside ‘the pretty cottages’ from the flooding,. Further on, there were words carved in chunks of stone at the top of 2 brick gate posts – Lyngs Close. I typed it into my notes for memory’s sake, and google changed it to ‘lungs’. For once, clever google – Lyngs does mean lungs! It denotes ‘an open space in a town or city, where people can breathe fresher air’ (which I didn’t know at the time). That set off a chain reaction in my mind.
I am a health practitioner, and when I refer to the Lungs in my work (Chinese Medicine), I spell it with a capital letter because the term encompasses both the respiratory organs and the things we practitioners have all noticed over the years that are repeatedly connected with them. For example, clients I see with asthma and other pulmonary issues, will often tell me, ‘I can’t breathe in this relationship’, or, ‘Although there is space at my work, I can’t take a deep breath when I’m there – I think it’s because my boss watches over me all the time’. These phrases link the physical lungs and the ability to breathe easily, with the psychological feelings around having enough space and freedom.
This week, the Daily Mail reported concerns that ‘political appointees are breathing down the necks of scientists’, implying that they are being pressurised to make a vaccine quickly. In ancient Chinese texts you will find references to regulations, and the setting of borders (including those between what is right and wrong) linked to the Lungs. As it is their job to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide across membranes (the borders between the alveoli, the air sacs) in order to maintain our vitality, the aspects of our lives related to rules, space and air are also connected. We are living in a time when the government might ‘push strict lockdown rules to their limit’ and that affects each of us in different ways. I tend to rebel if the boundary is too restricted, if my freedom to create is curtailed.1
A walk theme emerged by happenstance (which I always think must be about happily coming across something). Chance is about things happening unexpectedly and about providing for the possibility of…
The Scottish charity Greenspace Scotland (2011) defines green spaces as: ‘the green lungs of our towns and cities which contribute to improving peoples’ physical and mental health…and ‘breathing spaces’ to take time out from the stresses of modern life. ‘
As I made my way down the narrow close, I remembered a walk I took a few weeks ago – I was directed along a foot-width path between two fences, by a farmer who did not want ramblers on his land. This expression of limitation was in the middle of a great, grassy field. I was unable to stray in any way. I recalled the signs I had photographed the previous evening – ‘Strictly Private’ and ‘Keep Out’. In Scotland we have the ‘Freedom to Roam’, not so here in England, my original home.
It’s like the world’s northern forests become a giant vacuum cleaner, scouring the air, sucking down the CO2 till around November
The way then opened up and there was a huge beech tree, one of earth’s 3.1 trillion ‘lungs’, with lobe-shaped leaves. (See the link in the box above for the source of that statistic). By the tree, at the edge of this oval patch of green for everyone to share, was a sign telling me that parking was for residents and their visitors only. I manoeuvred between the cars and came upon an even bigger Green, surrounded by houses and vehicles of varying shapes and sizes. I don’t have one, haven’t had for years, but I remember shutting myself in mine, in a secluded spot, to cry or scream, sleep or read when the children were at school and it all got too much. Here, it was momentarily clear, no exhaust fumes clogging up the air. I wondered if more cars were ‘at home’ than usual – that our new rules were going some way to liberating the planet from exhaust fumes.
There was a murmur of voices, slamming of doors and then a thrumming as an engine started up. It couldn’t, it tried again – the machine was coughing.
I had already strayed from my path, wandered off the tarmac onto grass and the crunch of dry sticks breaking. I took a big deep breath and blew at a dandelion clock. Under my boots, a dry tracery of tracks and mud; above, birds warbled. Avian creatures are the only species with a syrinx, the air passing across these thin membranes to produce their songs. Sometimes, like the Song Thrush, there are 2 windpipes and so 2 tunes can be sung simultaneously. It’s known as ‘duetting’. (How Do Birds Sing, CelebrateUrbanBirds.com)
I noticed two bins on the grass which I knew would starve it of light if left there for very long. Without light, as every school child is taught, it would be unable to photosynthesise, to process carbon dioxide and water and convert it into oxygen and glucose to be able to thrive.
I mused on a Facebook story: A friend living in Peru reported, ‘Six weeks of no physical exercise, except for 2 minute walks to take the rubbish out, or check the mailbox, or walk from the car park to the pharmacy…’ Another, from Scotland, wrote, ‘I have felt a bit up and down emotionally this week, wondering….when I shall see my children and grandchildren again.’ Starved of light and sunshine, of physical contact and face-to-face time with friends and family, the health of we and our environment is threatened.
Outside the Village Hall, a man and a woman in a stationary car were smoking with the windows open and the engine running.
Alone and together
Now I was back on the main road by the bus stop. A cyclist sped past, the dynamo humming. Four-by-fours raced, causing a wind to ripple my trousers. For a moment it was me and the birdsong before the next one. As it pulled away my nostrils filled with toxic vapours. A child stamped so he could hear himself, questioned his parents. He sang a snippet of the tune in his head, aloud. It was boiling (April) – I was ‘warming’.
There were the wings of a pigeon, whirring; there, the straining neck of a blackbird dashing; and there, the candelabra of the chestnut tree. I remembered that they give some people hayfever.
On my right was a track, and a gate with just enough space to squeeze around. ‘How do I know where I am not allowed to walk if there are no signs?’ I caught myself wondering. I went anyway. It took my fancy.
There was one single crow high up in the clear blue sky; further on a solitary cat in the forage; a pesky pheasant in the stubble, its red head and plumed tail quite evident. Until it spotted me, that was. Then it ducked. If I had been a hungry buzzard at that moment, that pheasant would have seemed to be a clod of earth – cunning. A buzzing insect intercepted me and my camera. I ignored it because of the game and my thoughts. It was me and them. It smelled of hot, cut grass and faintly acrid chemicals.
8, 12, 4 birds flew around in ellipses, making a 3d spirograph of smooth circling, their wings catching the sun and glinting like morse code. I watched some more. No, the signalling came from their white bellies being exposed between wing flaps – hidden, shown, hidden, shown – around 3 x per second 2, 70-95 mph3 Notably, they choose to expend extra energy in order to fly together, adding an extra wingbeat per second in order to have compatriots to home with.4 I have brought Sara Baume’s book ‘handiwork’ for a walk with me. She writes that birds migrate with other species sometimes, if they share feeding habits. I didn’t know that. I like to think I could join a flock of others who have the same needs as me for company on the long journey.
If I am not allowed to go there, I can’t help them
Over and over again, as I walk, I am faced with limitations and the knock-on effect of them. As I turned a corner, cars were relegated to the distance, birds and other unidentifiable noises took precedence, but I could not investigate because of the fence. On Saturday morning it was the same – I think it was a distressed duck I was hearing (perhaps because of my concern over the mother of the 2 dead ducklings the cats brought in the day before), but I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity because of the wire and wooden posts. Nor could I help, even if that had been possible. (This is another topic – the crossing over the road to avoid contact, thereby missing the opportunity to be close to another, strike up a conversation, smile into their eyes and help if need be; the secluding which precludes neighbourly chats and offers / receiving of support; the ‘Keep Out’ signs which stop me reaching the scene of the problem – none of it healthy). I realised I was walking the outside perimeter of someone’s garden. They were on one side, me the other.
The wood pigeon gurgled her underwater sounds; the sweet smell of hawthorn was like incense in a mosque. Two rabbits ran out onto the path and turned towards me. I realised they don’t know I was there. One turned off close by, the other froze. She seemed to be unsure. A pigeon errupted from above my head, and I startled. That scared the bunny away.
Nearing the end
A woman’s voice I couldn’t quite hear, interrupted my peace. I saw the phone ringing and I didn’t answer. Before I knew it I recognised where I was and glanced at the time – it was getting on.
I was on the official footpath, but it was the back of a sign that was towards me. I got stung by nettles trying to read it, and, although I generally think that homeopathically that does me good because I respond well to the properties of Urtica dioica, drink it every day (it’s good for the health of my joints and blood), nevertheless this is another danger inherent in rural walking!
Before the cherry orchard, I came across raspberries which have been allowed to go wild. Not over excited, although maybe they are because they have grown in exuberant, prickly arches, more monumental than the brambles. (Do they compete? I wonder). They have been left, free to go their own way. Kids who ‘go wild’ are said to be having fun, they squeal and scream, their voices filling the air with their freedom of expression. I go a bit wild when I walk: I dismiss pretence and constraint. Not quite feral, not ‘gone mad’, but I have wilded.
The voices behind me were getting louder. Closer therefore. ‘You don’t want to do it on a day like today’, he said with a forbidding tone. I stood to the side to let them pass.
I wanted to stay out until I wanted to go back. I knew, now, where I was and how long it would take to get home and guaged it was perfect timing to speak to the kids on Zoom. (Actually I was late and the youngest messaged, ‘Where are you all? I am here on my own. I could be outside.’)
Offstage, a child screamed. A fatherly voice said, ‘Calm down, don’t panic, if there’s a problem, tell me’. Then I was back on a road. They cycled past.
As I crossed the Lees, there was a procession of us, socially distanced. We were strung out, hopefully not ‘strung out’ – nervous or tense – after our walk. One woman wore headphones, cut off; a couple were knee deep in the undergrowth; a what-I-call ‘proper hiker’ was focused forwards with his baton jauntily over his shoulder like Dick Whittington (I said hello, but got no response); a friendly woman with a walking stick smiled and nodded.
I did go where I had intended to, but I got there an unfamiliar way. I came across a lot of warnings, but survived. My health was all the better for the open air and the Spring green.
A 3 hour round walk, to and from Yalding High Street. March 2020
At this time, when we are not allowed to leave the house more than once a day unless there’s an emergency, and should only be doing it for the purposes of exercise, my awareness of the connections between nature and our situation is alive in my mind as I walk.
There’s a little lane off Yalding High Street, between the white-boarded, thatched house and the pale daffodil-yellow brick one with matching tiles (on the same side as St Peter’s and St Paul’s church). It takes you past the churchyard and through a gate which is now propped open with a sign saying it’s because of the corona virus. (It took me a while to work out why, but I think it’s so that you don’t have to touch the wood and possibly leave or catch germs). The cemetery with H’s grave and the rifle range are almost facing each other and you can see the controversial new builds and the rubble which has been left over. The Kintons is a well-used sports and dog-walking patch of grass with a children’s play area.
In the far left hand corner, past the bluebell woods, is a track which darts straight ahead – a field was being mowed to the right, a rather portly little dog scampering behind; and scrubby woods, with the back entrance to a grand mansion, are opposite. A woman was coming towards me and she couldn’t avoid being closer than two metres due to the narrowness of the track, but she awkwardly tilted her upper body away from me. I had a lot of bible teaching when I was a child and these stories often pop into my mind even though I am no longer a practicing Christian. So, I had been thinking about the image from the Good Samaritan bible story of people crossing over to avoid having to help the injured and needy. Nowadays, we are taking care of each other by doing just that: by-passing on the street. Equally, many of us are going out of our way to look out for others – the phone and the doorbell ring approximately seven times a day at my mother’s house where I am currently staying, with folk from near and far checking if she is OK because she usually lives alone and is over 80 years old.
Crossing Vicarage Lane at a slight angle, I clambered over the stile, sleeve pulled down over my supporting hand to avoid skin contact, tromped through the grass, crossed an access road, and followed the footpath signs (you do not have the Right to Roam in England as we do in Scotland).
Water weaves through this landscape at the best of times. It floods regularly, inundating the copses and arable lands; contrastingly, it is often so dry that great fissures appear and hose pipes are banned. Locals are constantly reminded of what is vital to life, forced to focus on conserving it and appreciating it when it is in balance. This virus we are now dealing with, is, maybe unwittingly, protecting our landscape (yesterday drones were spying on the Yorkshire moors to even stop hikers (for different reasons)). Although many fear that we have damaged it for good, we do also know how resilient nature can be.
The earth was bright in the sun, hardening and whitening every day now Spring is here. Often so solid and unyielding in the south east of England, there are still sodden patches and the odd sinkhole of wetness left from Winter and you might not be so safe if you stepped there. I reflected that it is change, especially unforseen changes, which challenge our sense of security. Although we want to trust that we will one day be able to plan and move around the world again, we do not know when that will be. In fact, we know deep down that nothing will be exactly the same; we understand that this is serious enough to bring about a new order. We don’t yet know what shape that will take. because, metaphorically speaking, the ground underneath us has shifted. This is why walking, even when we have to watch our footing, is such a reassuring activity – we still get from a to b and survive the experience. I could feel myself becoming grounded, and then I sighed and felt a movement in my heart area. (Chinese medicine practitioners: in the Five Phases, when the child’s happy (Earth), so is the mum (Fire)).
Walking towards Grove Lane, there is an almost imperceptible gap on the left which opens out to a small lake. It looked grand. Skirting it, I admired the wild flowers. What a beautiful setting on such a day, with the cool wind causing mini waves and turning the surface a myriad of shades of blue.
I crouched down to watch a bee collecting from between delicate mauve petals. He was only just about holding his own way in the breeze, but he kept on, goal clear. I admired the water birds and the Daisies with their sunshine faces. Bird’s Eye nestled at their feet, making another stunning combination of hues. There were sharply serrated Nettles and whorls of Thistles. Neon orange lifebelts hung at either end, and the whole was chicken-wire-edged so that I made an entire cycle before exiting precisely where I entered, stepping over the fallen fence.
Doubling back on myself by the lane which curves around the lake, my attention was attracted by men’s voices, the first of several groups I passed during the morning, working away hard in close proximity. They were setting the strawberry plants onto the stands under the plastic hoods.
I heard the coots before I saw them and I suspect that they were born here, that their life has been, and will continue to be, spent in this pond, (according to the RSPB they are resident here all year round), just as the trees in the wood next to it have stood in the same place for 100s of years. Other waterfowl return to their homes, well to their second homes every winter like Brits on the Costa Brava.
Witness the staying power of trees! There they are, in one spot, come month, come year. And what do they do while they’re standing there? It turns out they are very quietly, and probably slowly, fostering their community through their roots, just as so many of us are only now starting to do.
The word ‘Foster’ is associated with the Old English ‘fostrian‘ meaning to supply food, nourish and support.
At the same time as processing the CO2 (carbon dioxide) for us, looking beautiful and smelling divine, trees offer a home to insects, birds and other creatures. And yet, so many humans were living and suffering alone before this crisis and are now even more isolated. This can be an unnatural, even a dangerous situation for certain people. Questions arise: What can we do to make sure that those who want it can get support and companionship? How can we plan in advance for the next virus? Trees will grow taller and straighter, needing less pruning, if they are planted close to each other in the way that they naturally reseed in a woodland area. What a lot we have to learn! What a lot we are learning right now, thanks to the Covid-19.
The path took me around a corner where some old equipment was half buried and put out to pasture. Wide open fields were flattish, a gentle rise in the distance and the wind from the north was chilly except when sheltered by the hedgerows.
I took the Permissive Path (that is, not a public Right of Way, but one which is permitted by the landowner) over a tiny, planked bridge to West Street and stopped at Hunton St Mary’s church to visit my father’s grave. I took a quick photo of the Village Hall to send to my sister – she got married there – and then crossed back over, past the Engineering Works and went right. I wandered beside more agricultural land until I reached the junction between Barn Hill and the wonderfully named Lughorse Lane.
Clumps of proud daffodils with orange trumpets kept their eyes on me as I passed. There were also some plants which resembled long and upright poos, or if I am to be less disgusting, vertical pine cones in the deep grass (see above).
Before long there was a footpath off to the right and I started to climb quite steeply. It was peaceful. This was my exercise (in case any(official)one is reading this). There was stubble from what appeared to be bamboo on my right, but I doubt it; more likely wheat. There were mostly Magpies, Pigeons and Crows around although I did see a Jay a few days ago which was exciting. I spied a raptor nearer the top, most likely a buzzard, sailing on outstreched wings, but the photo was too indistinct to reproduce it here.
Although a dogwalker took the private road uphill on the right, I turned left on the official way and walked through the Buston Manor yard. First a jogger and then a proper walker with a staff who wore headphones, came towards me. But I was drawn aside by the gardens, architecture and tree bark design, never mind the extensive walled garden. I was told, later, that it is often used for filming TV and features.
Up again and a little sit-down to eat my satsuma, wind in my ears and at the back of my neck. We have to be careful of that as an acupoint GB20, aptly named Wind Pool, where Wind can enter causing headaches or worse (flu), certainly making us vulnerable. My (and my grandmother’s) advice – wear a scarf!
Through a metal gate, I went left onto a farm track of very dark loam, ploughed by machinery wheels and criss-crossed with tree shadows and sunshine-saturated grass. Steeply down now, until I unfortunately spied a Public Footpath stone and so took a right up a slight bank and out into the open again where there was one of the ‘footpaths’ I have walked the length of before in this area. This narrow enclosure drew me along and then, suddenly ending in a field, it showed me up to the right (where admittedly the vibrant green of ground-spreading chamomile was growing alongside left-over broad bean seedlings) and, without realising where I was heading, I was through another metal gate and onto Yalding Hill.
Yalding Hill is to be avoided at all costs if you are on foot as it is a very busy, narrow road with no pavements. Being very familiar with such situations, I was brazen and made sure every vehicle speeding towards me knew I was there (waving my arms, making eye contact, thanking them afterwards), but many were going too fast and several times I had to flatten myself against a bank. Had I known this in advance, I would have turned back.
Tip: Do turn back if you find yourself on Yalding Hill. Find another, safer way down.
I walked through the garden gate three hours to the minute from when I left – good timing!
16.3.20. This blog is unashamedly full of flowers, birds and other natural phenomena. I was very grateful to see that nature is carrying on (perhaps a little less interfered with than before) while all this is going on. It is intended as reassurance, and as a reminder that walking is allowed in the UK, even if you are at risk or at home because others in your family are unwell! I never thought I would have to use that phrase – how is it possible that walking needs to be sanctioned by a government? These are mighty strange times.
I walked across the Lees (more here) and tried to go under Twyford Bridge but it’s still flooded. I took the pedestrian way that bypasses Hampstead Weir (see above link for sunny photos from an earlier time) and comes out at Teapot Island. From there I took a left to walk along the towpath with the River Medway on my right. There were no fishermen today, but there was a man in wellies and shorts, his knees looking rather vulnerable, having a smoke, and another further on, busy weeding. They were outside the new fixed caravans which are lined up neatly there – rather liable to getting wet, I would hazard.
The sun shows up all manner of miniscule details: a strand, a filament of spider’s web stuck to a bramble new-leaf which is coexisting with the old ones on the same stem. There are also aged twigs, dry leaves, spent old man’s beard alongside the new blackthorn flowers and buds. We are all together in this.
I began in a thwarted frame of mind: It was about when you want to walk from a-to-b-to-c, but have to settle with there-and-back. Then, quickly, it was just as glorious as it could be. I had planned to walk The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. I even had the Pilgrim’s Passport sent to me by a very helpful woman at the Cathedral in C. Another time!
Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself. He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises …Well, he was humming this hum to himself, and walking along gaily, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else, when suddenly he came to a sandy bank, and in the bank was …..
There was the scent of wood smoke, and the sound of water under the bridge and through the lock, of twittering, and an occassional parping from a train that was still running even despite the reduction in passengers due to the crown shaped virus.
There were regal foxgloves – no flowers yet, just a fascinator of leaves tilted at a jaunty angle on a mount. Many, many wood anemones were spread across the earth. Copious bird calls either drowned out this winter’s new tinnitus (mostly in my right ear) or it just stopped. There was, however, the thrum of engines from somewhere offstage (which was not the sound in my head!)
I spied one or two little settlements almost hidden by trees over the water, indications that people are living there quietly, in those beautiful spots. At a little bridge, I crossed to investigate the white flowers on the other side – were they wild garlic? No, instead a veritable sea of anemones. And, I spotted a large dead fish with a long nose – a pike – which I thought must have been flung there when the water broke the banks, because the greenery around it was all covered in a film of earth-dust. However, there was a hole in its side, so it must have been hoiked out by a human and not returned.
In the essence of full disclosure, I actually like the way northern pike taste. However, many would rather eat the aluminum foil the pike was cooked on than the fish itself. Well, with that in mind, one chef in Canada is about to change all that.
Coming up onto the road, I was in East Peckham with the food Co-op to my left. I spotted footpath signs up ahead pinting to the industrial area where they burn acrid things in backyards and the flooded woods are full of metal rubbish. Nevertheless, birds sang, woodpeckers clacked their beaks against bark, I spotted mallards and blackbirds, a thrush, a chaffinch – simply delightful.
I was not clear which path to take at Sluice Weir Lock #6 located between the ‘River Walk Junction (Junction with the northern route to the railway bridge) (5 miles and 7¾ furlongs and 5 locks to the west) and Yalding Wharf (2 miles and 1 furlong to the northeast)’ also known as Branbridge’s Whark, Arnold’s Mill Lock, Pinkham. ‘Straight on to Hadlow and Golden Green, or over there to East Peckham which is very pretty’ said the male half of a couple I had been playing overtaking with for half an hour or so. They had a massive dog called Rudolf who, when he jumped up, was taller than me! I took the attractive route and they took the other. After all, we were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ which is possible but a bit weird – speaking to others with a 2 metre gap.
Note: a furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 201 metres
I explored the lock a little and then perused the woods where a huge bumble buzzed around my feet and a robin warbled and squeaked alongside me. There was the first butterfly of the year – bright orange like the redbreasts chest – on my return I saw a uniformly delicate yellow one.
I meanered through the trees, across a pedestrian bridge and came out at a big house and paddock, then a row of cottages. The house plaque reminded me of Dick Whittington which I took as a good sign – a pilgrim if ever there was one, with his staff and pack over his shoulder.
Popular legend makes Dick Whittington a poor orphan employed as a scullion by a rich London merchant. He ventures his only possession, a cat, as an item to be sold on one of his master’s trading ships. Ill-treated by the cook, Dick then runs away, but just outside the city he hears the prophetic peal of bells that seems to say “Turn again, Whittington, lord mayor of great London”
I came out by bus stop on Old Road, East Peckham, opposite the street with the General Store and post office. The sun was warm and my 1.5 hours almost up before turning back. Retracing my footsteps and having a seat on the steps of the bridge, an satsuma revived me. I watched a cat emerge from the woods. She caught sight of me and took a sharp angle to avoid contact. There was a squirrel, but no chatter nor conversation.
I waved at a woman sitting under blossom reading. She had on a cardi which exactly matched the house and brown-red bush to her left. It tuned out to one of my mother’s friends – a village is a small place. She was bemused, not knowing me at all.
This walk took me just under 3 hours from yalding High Street to Pinkham and back along the river (allowing plenty of time for photo taking!)
Walking keeps my energy flowing so I find I can be kinder. It does no-one any harm, and it feels as if it boosts my immune system. Do you like to walk? What effect does it have on your spirits?
I turned left out of Kings Cross station and left again onto York Way. I was seeking Wharf Road Gardens (connected to Handyside Gardens).
‘The name [King’s Cross] derives from a statue-topped structure erected in 1830 on the junction, or crossroads, between the roads now known as Euston Road, Pentonville Road and Grays Inn Road. The statue, you guessed it, was of a king – King George IV to be precise – who had died that year.’ Culture Trip
Past Pret with its cucumber hoarding, old buildings and new, a sign for The Guardian newspaper offices (Farringdon Road) advertising ‘Hope is Power’, and King’s Place with its vertical, undulating reflective surfaces.
Soon I crossed the Regent’s Canal with its long boats, both residential and for business. Turning left again, I wound between patches of grass and raised beds. Apparently the London Underground trains run a mere 4.5 metres below the surface and so the soil depth is insufficient for planting.
Wharf Gardens incorporates Coal Drop Yard, Granary Square, King’s Boulevard, St Pancras Station and West Handyside Canopy – all very ‘regenerated’ and rather chi-chi. However, I discovered many interesting places, not least the Word on Water bookshop.
There was a little contretemps – a woman who was not in full control of her behaviour needing a smoke and most insistently tramping through the shop – which the gentleman in the bowler (see above) managed admirably.
The House of Illustration was there, with fascinating sounding exhibitions such as W.E.B DuBois Charting Black Lives. Not much further on was Central St Martins (CSM) art school collaborating with Shades of Noir in a window display, impressively focusing on ‘the historical white dominance of institutional ownership of archival material’ within the CSM Museum.
There were people playing table tennis in the massive, roofed community space (I wanted to join in) and Art Fund at the Coal Drops Yard.
Down by the canal, I bought a book a lovely little book, London’s Hidden Rivers, a walker’s guide to the subterranean waterways of London – the sort of thing I would have liked to write! And admired the cranes against the picturesque sky.
The Canal and River Trust have done a great job of opening up the canal for all of us to enjoy – those walking, jogging, pushing buggies and the school boys smoking joints. Under Somers Town Bridge I trundled with my suitcase, opposite Camley Street Natural Park which I discovered last year (see the link below to an earlier blog, with photos). Past a flight of smart stone steps upon which you could sit and watch the coots and moorhens rush by and up to the St Pancras Lock and Basin, and Gasholder Park, a tremendous new conversion of the disused gasworks.
A man was putting his back into it, tightening a sheet on the roof of a barge. The vessels were all colours of the rainbow, some more modern than others, one with a bright blue old-fashioned wheel, but no-one was going through the lock as I approached.
It all reminded me of a recent visit to a friend’s boat for breakfast on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, the Leamington Lift Bridge and it’s waterside community, so I had some idea of what was below decks.
It is not far from King’s Cross to Camden Town, perhaps 30 minutes if you didn’t stop off and take photos and browse bookshops and generally see the sights, but well worth it on a cold, sunny day. There I picked up the overground to Gunnersbury, ideal for where I was staying that night.
I started my walk (to deliver a Xmas present and do the shopping) at the forge on the High Street. On the left, as you look at it, the Tat is flooded, a car immersed up to the windows.
I pass the flautist from the previous evening’s carol service in the parish church.
Taking a right at the war monument, where the village tearooms are on the opposite corner, I see that Vicarage Road is closed to traffic due to water inundation further up. The drains are full – I can hear the torrents under the grate by the side of the road.
Passing the school on my right I spot an aspen, a tree known as trembling or populous tremuloides, poplar. Each three-pointed yellow leaf is on its own long stalk tipping from side to side and rustling, like half a castanet searching for its pair to clatter against.
I pass the entrance to the new estate and take a right into a leafy, rather soggy drive where it is quiet. Only the birds are piping and tweeting, trilling, as they do. There are great ridges of mud, puddles the width of the drive.
To my left are flutters of wood pigeon, heard but not seen. A sharp chirp comes from elsewhere. The dun brown earth in one garden is squared off with planks awaiting spring sewing, or maybe even harbouring overwintering goodies ready to spring in, well Spring.
The lodge where only 6 months ago stately artichoke flowers bloomed now has a Xmas wreath and lights which are only just visible in the bright morning.
Now that the trees are bare on the other side, I can see right through to the paddock to the grey tin trough. A wheelbarrow lies on its side and fresh straw has been strewn.
Layer upon layer of burgundy leaves, beech and oak, have been smoothed by rain and packed down to protect the almost dormant plants. When I step on them, they are so deep and cushiony I sink damply down so they cover my feet.
The man I gave the present to asked, ‘What’s it like in the village? I replied that all the cars have moved from the flooded Lees area and are outside mum’s house. He told me that Little Venice had to be evacuated and that their houses had been built to float. I had no idea. Later I discovered that he was not referring to Little Venice on London’s Thames, but to the collection of caravans close to Yalding Station which flood regularly.
As I returned, a red van stopped and the driver rolled down the window to ask, ‘you all right?’ I said I was enjoying the day and taking photos, and he replied that he wished the locals were too. Is it so obvious that I am not local then! Perhaps this is an unusual activity for a Sunday morning just before Xmas.
I wandered on under the nearly-Xmas sun, not a snowflake in sight. I could hear the South Eastern train tooting to warn its approach ahead of the level crossing.
On the way back I squelched my way down to the Kintons, past the new houses. Many are already inhabited, one with a shiny green ribbon crossed up/down, and side to side of the front door as if wrapped like a present with a bow in the middle, and another has the words ‘I’m sold’ emblazoned across it.
I walked along the top of the edging board to save my unsuitable boots from more mud and to see if I still could balance as I used to.
I felt surrounded by water, glimpsed through every break in vegetation.
All smelled of damp undergrowth and wood fires which I imagined burning in cosy sitting rooms where Xmas trees stood adorned with lights with a ring of presents at their feet.
I bid good morning to a gentleman who passed by wearing (suitable) wellies with a lively dog, but sadly I had no canine companion, no Trio.
I stopped by the tree though and remembered her rushing and scampering after squirrels in her heyday.
Here is the churchyard where happy photos were taken of mum and Hugh after the wedding, and the churchyard where he was buried only a few years later.
Back in the centre of the village, no one seems to be able to stop taking photos. Clusters of locals were swapping sodden stories.
October 2018 – I had spent a month in Ireland and had just arrived in London to visit family and lead a Shiatsu workshop. Having stayed the night with my daughter, I woke to find that the sun was shining and I thought I would take my rucksack on a nice walk across London to Chiswick to meet my sister. Approx. 7 miles / 11.5 kms.
I started at Kentish Town West underground station, and turned tail cutting through small streets as they took my fancy, avoiding the busy commuters rushing to work
Refreshed, I found the Owl Bookshop which was full of school children browsing. There was a lovely sense of excitement amongst them at the prospect of the reading.
‘Natural’ is a mix of MAP and Owl, being a café with books stacked in the window!
At the end of Kentish Town Road, I turned right into Hawley Road.
I took a left onto Castlehaven Road and left again onto Chalk Farm Road.
I wound my way between stalls and caravans selling food and other goodies.
You can stand up and paddle on a board under the full moon, at hallowe’en and combine it with prosecco!
When I caught up with it (the church) I appreciated its six-petalled, flower windows.
There were bicycles and a wheel barrow on the roof of a house boat; paintings propped up against trees and hanging on sheets along the washing line; a bench with a proud goat who has curled horns (you will have to go and see!); there was graffiti galore.
Not long afterwards I realised I was not far from Primrose Hill on the right and alongside the world famous London Zoo opposite where the previously mentioned Waterbus makes a drop-off, just before the pretty wrough-iron bridge.
At the Prince Albert Ramp I had the chance of a detour for Camden High Street, and ahead was St John’s Wood, the Snowdon Aviary and Lord’s Cricket Ground. I trundled along taking photos of the wild plants. Joggers jogged and I got to the Jubilee Greenway completed in 2012 to mark the Queen’s birthday and the London Games.
My path took me around Regents Park, named after the Prince Regent, where there’s an Open Air Theatre and a boating lake.
Here there were delphiniums (even though it was October) and foxgloves.
At the Canal Gate (pictured at the top of this blog) I had to leave because the way was blocked off.
I carried on along pavements by busy roads, past underground stations and shops, discovering parts of London I had never visited before. I made my way to Chiswick via Holland Park Avenue, Shepherd’s Bush, the Goldhawk Road, Stamford Brook Road and Bath Road where I met my sister.
My phone ran out so I stopped taking photos and used my handy Belkin Pocket Power (a 5000 mAh portable charger which has been my saving grace many times) to recharge it.
Hot with the action and the weight of the rucksack, I was glad to sit down and have a cup of tea. Had I ‘world enough and time’ I would have visited St Michael and All Angels Church in Turnham Green, an Arts and Crafts building which a gentleman told me about as I stood waiting to cross a road. We had a most pleasant chat while he also regaled me with his life in India. I meet the most interesting characters when I walk.
The Regents Park and Primrose Hill both have excellent views of the London skyline. Royal Parks website.
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
The opening lines of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell
Always check out footways.london for pleasant paths to cross London, a network of quiet and interesting streets.
I just can’t seem to stop taking pictures of flowers! I have added links to a blog I have just discovered (London wlogger – we seem to like the same things) and other London gardens which will be sure to delight.
The garden is round the back and I visited when the rest of the museum was being renovated.
Is your favourite here? If not, please do comment with one I don’t know about or link to your own London garden.
Always check out footways.london for pleasant paths to cross London, a network of quiet and interesting streets.
Please note that this museum has now been renamed Museum of the Home as it has been acknowledged that Geffrye was a slave trader and therefore not an appropriate person to name an inclusive museum after.
October 10 2018: Kent – parts of the Greensand Way and Medway Valley Walk.
Distance: 6 miles / 9. 66 kms
Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours
Weather: glorious throughout
Stiles crossed: numerous
Railways crossed: 2
Boats sailing past: 3 yachts, 2 dinghies with outboard motors chugging away and 3 canoes
Churches: St Mary the Virgin, Nettlestead
Grand country houses : 2 – Roydon Hall and Nettlestead Manor
I started walking across the Lees in Yalding around 9.30 am after a starry night and a misty morning.
The Lees, a low-lying meadow, flood regularly caused by two rivers joining the Medway here – the Teise and Beult. Indeed my father once crossed the submerged road thinking he would be fine and became stranded, having to leave his car and wade back.
On a day like today, the water looked beautiful, producing stunning reflections on its smooth surface.
After some confusion caused by my thinking that the locks beside Teapot Island were the ones mentioned in the leaflet (details below), I set off along the pavement towards Yalding Station from where I walked a few days before using my phone torch in the pitch dark. With the canal on my left and the incongruous new wooden houses appearing upside down under the bridge, it was only a short way to the Marina and Hampstead Lock.
Skirting past the new building, I took the left fork and crossed the first railway line. Then a series of fields and woods, easily found for the most part.
There was a path which is accessed beside a sweet cottage and that is hard to find but a kind woman noticed my confusion and pointed it out.
The low point of the walk came when the leaflet directed me to cross straight through the middle of a huge field. It looked pretty but there was no obvious path as before and I spied a large red farm vehicle in the far corner, so I decided to skirt instead, through the long, wet grass. To my utter dismay the farmer was spraying green chemicals and went as close by me as he could without actually running me over. There was no way to avoid it and the smell hung in my nostrils for the next hour. (I arrived home with a most unusual headache and had to go to sleep. On waking I searched the Internet, discovering what they were and how harmful they can be up close. I showered and am hoping for the best).
The noxious fumes abated temporarily as I made my way through the welcome cool woods, away from the acrid smell I thought, to the altogether sweeter scent of chestnuts. The fences made me wonder what they were protecting and brought to mind the small trucks I came across in the Austrian mountains where single men collected wood. There was no sun except in dapples and a grey squirrel leapt across the path. I could still hear the warning parp parp of the train as it came to level crossings in the distance and the drone of far-off traffic, but also the birds squawking and crawing and tweeting.
Sadly, despite the wonderful view, once out of the trees the very strong fumes were evident for miles.
The fences became much stronger and the gates quite serious, when I came across the deer on my left standing still, observing me. I startled a reclining stag and away he bounded, taking off and landing from all four feet at the same time which always makes me laugh.
Then the flock of curious youngsters gathered and crept closer until one of the stags stretched forward his neck and bellowed, causing them to pause. He moved into the centre, whereupon the second, smaller male departed. The others continued to stare, their ears pricked. It reminded me of the grounds of Knole House in Sevenoaks where I grew up and where I first saw deer roaming like this. Further on, three more lazed in the shade of a great oak until I disturbed them. They had fawn spots on their backs and white bottoms with black stripes down the middle!
The red brick Elizabethan Manor house, Roydon Hall was on my left now, with its stepped roof edges and old-fashioned chimneys. Apparently it has an escape route below the cellars, but it appeared to be boarded up although the the lawn was newly mown.
I expect they call this prison-like fencing, ‘managed land’.
There was a square tower with a turret and lake to my left (though later I thought perhaps it was plastic-covered crops) and satellite dish to my right.
This was the only slight incline and at the top was what I assume was a folly. Its yellow stone and Grecian columns were set amidst lush foliage in the midday sun.
As I strode down the lane, two women and four walking poles approached me to ask directions.
Several miles along the road took me to the St Mary the Virgin church at Nettlestead with its simple 13th century tower and possible Saxon foundations.
Set in an equally charming churchyard, the building was started by the magnificently named de Pympe family. It has six notably large windows commissioned by Reginald de P.
At the top of each window stand angels with curiously feathered legs. (taken from the history leaflet)
In addition, I was shocked to read that
The original glass of this window with the rest of the 15th century glass in the church suffered damage by impious hands at a time unknown. (Taken from the plaque)
And furthermore, that the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in July 24th 1895
… was well nigh “a visit of surprise” so short was our prior notice… And here let me say at once how troubled I am to think that in the hurry of the moment some members of the Parish Church Committee were overlooked. (From an account in the church).
Not far away was an entrance to the Medway river path where I stood back as a cyclist whizzed past.
It was a gentle stroll back to the Hampstead Marina alongside various water crafts including one propelled by a man with a long white ponytail and no shirt, sitting behind an infant in a baby seat and a woman who talked incessantly.
Tall trees shushed a plane and helicopter and the smells were all fruity or woody, wet or damp.
On arrival there were three men with two boats watching as a fourth opened the lock. I joined them as the water slowly filled the space between the gates, fascinated as they floated through and boarded for “a couple of miles down and back, and then a pint!”
I retraced my steps to The Boathouse for a half of Shepherd Neame’s Autumn Ale. I was admiring the hops when a couple stopped to tell me what they were and that they had been hop pickers years ago. Hundreds used to come from London to join the workforce at the picking season.
The sign said,
Cheers! Yalding has always had a strong connection to alcohol! At one time it was producing more hops than any other parish in England. It is also famed for its cherry orchards and the (sic) remains of the Medieval Vineyards have been found in the area. The various crops have been used to produce wine, beer and cherry brandy..
You can download the pdf of the walk leaflet here. It is pretty good and contains useful and accurate photos of fields with superimposed arrows showing where to go. The second paragraph of number 2 is a repeat so ignore this.