West Peckham – Ightham Loop(s)
Walk 14 has to start with an intro to my companions:
Here they are outside West Peckham Church – the start point for this walk. You can tell its the start as they are all still smiling!. We’ve all been friends for over 35 years. I really enjoy this about these walks – incredible friends coming out and supporting and encouraging me. You may recall Clare joined up for Walk One – the one in February where we got soaked to the skin and blown around a lot of the Regents Canal. No rain today – perfect walking weather forecast. You of course all know Neil by now, my husband of almost 30 years (probably why his smile isn’t so broad!)
I’d made both Clare & Graeme aware that I had had an ocular migraine the evening before. No obvious trigger – it passed quickly but there was a remnant of ‘not quite rightness’ lurking around. So , we would be taking our time and there may well be more than the usual faff factor.
This was a new route – we know parts of it but there were some complex but crucial links we would have to find and navigate – not least of which was the halfway comfort break at The Kentish Rifleman in Dunks Green.
So we set off confidently as Clare and I had done the first part of this walk a few weeks ago. As always at a start of a walk we fell in and out of step with each other chatting and catching up.
We came to the first lane and Clare and I looked at each other blankly ‘er which way was it again?’ . A white van pulled up, clearly connected to the farm we were by and instead of an agitated ‘keep off my land’ – something that our local facebook pages have been filled with since lockdown – we had a very friendly and helpful discussion on the surrounding routes and a pointer onto the path that was hidden in the hedge just down the lane. Very refreshing – but I did ask him to stop mentioning the hills that I had been keeping rather quiet about…
Out now down a familiar path and a welcome from a small herd of cows in the field alongside us.
Our plan was to head towards Mereworth Woods and Shipbourne Forest. An area where we could be in the shade, and walk around sneakily clocking up those miles in a giant loop. The map also showed an intriguing view point – so we had to head there to get a photo for you. I thought it maybe difficult to spot the viewpoint, but it was clearly marked. Despite standing on the bench the shrubs and trees still blocked my view of the view.
As you can see, it was a gorgeous day. I had my strongest wraparound sunglasses on but the constant dappling of light through this part of the forest quickly took its toll and I had the start of an aura in my vision.
We were only a couple of miles in so rather than raise the alarm (I didn’t want to have to head back) I kept my head down, literally, and continued on following Clare. I was stumbling and tripping a little bit, but I was hoping this would settle as the light became more consistent. I finally had to confess I was struggling as we had a navigation decision to make. I had to admit that I couldn’t see or focus properly. It took a few minutes of describing the planned route to Neil for him to check the App on my phone before we got underway again. I could feel the flashy lights and aura diminishing. It still took another 20 minutes to feel fully reconnected to where I was, but it was all good, Walk 14 was going ahead as planned.
We stopped to give the dogs some water (we were now around 5 miles) and grab an energy bar and water ourselves. A quick recap of the route plan as we were now going to head back out of the forest and pick up a path to take us towards Dunks Green. One of those ‘tricky’ new bits.
Have I mentioned the hills round here… We had been walking slowly and gently up a long hill and now started a much steeper walk down to head out of the woods. We passed a small group of houses and then Keepers Cottage before picking up that main path again. This hill is called Gover Hill (although Clare , Graeme & I were absolutely convinced that the sign said Gower Hill) and is National Trust owned and maintained. We got back down to the lane we needed to cross and called the dogs close to put them on their leads.
That’s when Graeme realised he had left Rosie’s lead 1.25 miles back UP the steep hill where we had had a snack break.
Graeme’s offer to run back up on his own to recover the lead was met with a loud ‘No!’. When you are walking a specific distance – you all go together. Its all extra miles and gets you to the finish together – even if it IS up a big hill for a mile or so and even IF Neil navigates you in the wrong direction meaning you have to retrace your steps a few times.. So back up GoVer Hill we went.
So all set with the lead in hand we headed back down Gover Hill again, to start the route towards Dunks Green. We now had to do some on the go recalculations as we had added 2.5 miles to the original plan. We really didn’t want to be continuing the planned walk in its entirety now, as 20 miles is the goal.
We headed down a sunken path now, really steep on each side – the gully in the middle made it difficult to walk. We were now at that stage where general catching up chat had stopped and we were now in the realms of ‘life before google’ conversation. This was clearly an ancient path and we were all wondering of its original purpose – to drive cattle from high to low ground; a route for workers in the many big houses around here; a ‘coffin’ route from hamlets to churches.. Its amazing the thoughts and discussions you have when you don’t reach for technology and have an instant answer!
We are still in Kent on this walk, and as you will know from previous walks – this area has an abundance of fruit farms. Its fruit picking season and across the fields you can hear background sounds of radios playing among the crops. Predominantly on our walks we have been in apple or pear orchards, but we have found cherries, cobnuts and hops too. We are starting to feel quite well practiced at spotting the fruit. This time we found ourselves struggling to identify the crops. The first field had been harvested and it took some close up discovery of labels to see it was Cherries that had just been harvested.
The next field had sunshades protecting the fruit – big raspberries. Hadn’t seen this before, and they were so big and bright in colour that from a distance we were weighing up if they were strawberries or loganberries. We obviously gave them a quick taste test..
So now we could see the views across to Plaxtol and headed out to the lane that would be a short walk by Roughway to Dunks Green. A quick route check and we set off up a very steep hill. The buildings here were beautiful as were the views. We soon were looking out onto more orchards – this time packed with plums. There were several places along the route where you could stock up on fruit directly from the farm gates:
This hill was relentless. Yes the views were lovely, but it felt much further than I thought it would be. We stopped to admire a lovely very old house (to be honest it was a good excuse to rest!) and Neil commented on its name.
The house was called Rats Castle. Er.. hang on a sec, I remember seeing that on the map when I was plotting the route. We fired up the App again and – yep – we were off route. We had walked up an enormous hill that was in completely the wrong direction. So a hasty new plan to reroute along a nearby footpath and pick up the original planned route again.
So UP the footpath we went. As Neil said ‘seriously there can’t be any more UP’s around here now’. Graeme spotted an abandoned caravan he’d noticed earlier and we were back at the top of that sunken path again. We were much further back than we’d thought.
So back along the gully path- talking again about is original purpose – grabbing glimpses of the stunning countryside around us. Past the cherry orchards and the raspberries (may have actually tasted a few more..) and this time turned the correct way towards Dunks Green!
We were just over 11 miles – now about 4 miles ahead of plan (oops), but now we were heading to an area we knew. Hopefully we could adjust the route to get it right on 20 miles. We turned a corner and the three dogs found a stream and dived straight in to cool off:
We headed now to the pub to give the dogs a well deserved rest (honest..) and to grab a long drink before picking up the Greensand Way and heading in to Shipbourne.
Back on the paths now, we were instantly greeted with open fields, bee hives and interesting (challenging) stiles.. With no dog gates for the next few miles , the dogs were now on an impromptu agility course.
Now we were heading into Fairlawne Home Farm – navigating round the cattle grids and through the lovely farm buildings out into the fields at the back of Shipbourne common. This is Clare’s home territory – we walk here a lot so we felt we could easily adapt the route to ‘lose’ those miles we gained. Shipbourne Church came into sight and that gave us an added spring in our step.
We were around 14 miles in now, there would still be some uphills to master but the terrain was much gentler for the next mile.
Now, those that know this area – and have walked here before with Clare or I – will be expecting us to say we had a quick stop at The Chaser. However, we were on the final countdown – we only needed 6 more miles. We were now ‘winging’ the route to hopefully hit West Peckham as close to 20 miles as possible. This was a test of personal instinct now and also a competitive matter as an impromptu mileage sweepstake came into play- I went for 1/4 mile under..
We decided to detour up to Ightham Mote (UP people UP) to get an interesting landmark photo for you all.. you can thank us with a donation..
We couldn’t go into the gardens as we didn’t have prebooked tickets. We therefore had to continue back out through the estate grounds to pick up the footpath towards Plaxtol. It was of course a path UP. Clare and I knew it was coming but also knew it came with its reward. With all these ups you keep getting the views.
Its from here now, we kept glimpsing Hadlow Tower . You may recall that this is over the wall at the bottom of my mum’s garden. I tell her that when I’m on my big walks, I see the tower a lot and it feels as though she’s encouraging me on.
It was very warm now and the dogs headed off to the shade of a tree. It was the perfect photo opportunity although Ruby of course did not want to share the limelight..
So now we were heading back out through Fairlawne House to the back of Shipbourne common where we would retrace our steps back towards the Kentish Rifleman at Dunks Green:
The skies were really moody now. We needed less than 4 miles to hit the 20 miles and, to be honest, I felt the sweepstake was mine. We knew we had to walk one more hill to be back onto our planned ‘finale’ path into West Peckham. This whole route had been planned to have some great features for my companions right at the end.
We took a quick rest to sort our tired feet, shoelaces and rehydrate before we pushed on to Dunks Green.
Now I know what you are expecting here.. we get back to the Kentish Rifleman and stop again. Well we did, briefly. The dogs needed food and water and we needed to check this last connecting path on the App that gave us the shortcut towards Oxen Hoath. We didn’t dare step in the pub though.. we might not have got back up. Instead, we took advantage of the lovely sculpture bench opposite.
We rather triumphantly found the Greensand Way sign and headed out towards Oxen Hoath – then away from it again – then back again, then maybe down here until we found the right path. Its not always obvious which one to take and although we had several options , I had planned a GRAND FINALE so we had to keep on a very particular track..
So we found the right path out, and headed straight on towards Downderry Lavender Farm. This was going to be that wonderful magical photo for this walk, but it just shows you that you shouldn’t plan too much. It was closed. Until 2021 !
Oh well… luckily we had one last panoramic view and quirky stile for us all at Oxen Hoath. I love this view as it shows me Hadlow Tower again – from the other side this time, and the vista seems to stretch forever. We all got a little giddy at that sight.
So now we were just coming up to 19 miles and we knew we were just over a mile from West Peckham green.. even the dogs could sense the end as they ran nose to tail behind Clare on the path back towards the days starting point.
Back past those cows from this morning, through the field and then the steeple of West Peckham Church was in sight..
We walked back through that kissing gate from this morning on to the Green with 20.29 miles done. Darn it – sweepstake lost..
Walk 14 done…
Before you stop reading.. if you have found my blogs a welcome distraction, please please take a moment to share these on social media.
These walks are all about raising awareness of the Macular Society and the amazing resources they provide to support people like me with Macular Disease.
I am sure Clare, Neil & Graeme will all vouch for these 20 mile walks not being a walk in the park.. we were walking for over 7.75 hours with a lot of hills and just a half hour break. Its a challenge – its supposed to be.. This was walk 14 of 20, 20 mile walks I am undertaking to raise money for the Macular Society.
Please tell people what I am doing and why, and if you can make a small donation to help support the Macular Society and the research into treatment for these eye conditions, it would be amazing!
Here’s the link to make it as easy as possible to click and donate https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jane-woodhead20-20
If you aren’t convinced that these walks are a challenge – here’s the hill profile from this walk..