Return to my childhood realm
Well, this walk was a little bit later than planned in lots of ways. Originally this was the route for Walk 17, but the village at the start and end point was in midst of some major water works with lots of disruption, so we decided to swap routes for Walk 17 and 18.
I am also VERY conscious of shorter days now and I’m keen to help myself by leaving just one walk to complete after the clocks change in a few weeks. I’d therefore ‘booked’ this Walk for 6th October. However, our eldest daughter, had to have a minor emergency operation and the 6th of October saw me heading up the M1 as Neil was heading back down on a parent ‘team tag’ to be with our daughter as she recovered. She is much better now if still a little sore.
So Walk 18 was eventually rescheduled to 16th October. This route would start and finish in Downe. I grew up here and my parents have been involved in village life for well over 50 years. In fact even though my mum moved closer to us 4 years ago, she is still strongly connected in lots of ways to this place and was the perfect person to consult about my planned route. Mum, helped write the history of the Village for inclusion in the original leaflets for the circular walk around here.
We were meeting our friend Pete, outside the Church (where Neil and I got married 30 years ago) at 9.30am. We hadn’t seen Pete for years, but we’ve stayed connected and have been following his own Charity challenge last year where he completed a 100 mile walk over 4 days to raise funds for Air Ambulance.
As with all the walks – I map the route in advance for distance and then I commit landmarks and decision points to memory. My Macular Dystrophy makes navigating by maps and apps on the go difficult – but it is essential to ensure we hit the 20 miles. The three of us all set our tracking Apps and headed out from the village centre towards the next village Cudham.
As I’ve mentioned I grew up here – my dad was the local village policeman (complete with pushbike) and village life was a key part of my childhood. In fact, both my sister Sandra and I were May Queens – so technically I was revisting my ‘Realm’ on this walk..
We walk out past Downe Hall where the May queen celebrations used to take place in the grounds. Its a stunning property and I always have a little skip in my step as we pass here remembering the country dancing we used to do as part of this – not Country and Western, but English Country Folk dancing and Maypole dancing. I still remember the moves for ‘Rufty Tufty’ and those who know my coordination skills can imagine how the intricate Maypole routines went with me involved!
There is definitely an overlap with Scottish dancing as I discovered at the weddings of my Scottish friends – especially Strip the Willow. That particular dance always was the Grand Finale of these May Queen days with all the family members joining in. I wouldn’t recommend trying to tell a Scot its part of a traditional English folk ceremony though, they are quite possessive about its origin.
Neil obviously has spent a fair amount of time in Downe over the years, but had never headed out along this direction before. Armed with my facts from mum I tried my best to share the history without overloading my walking buddies straight away. We headed past the drive for Downe Court Farm (we would be finishing the walk along this later) past a random Highland Cow, towards the footpath that would lead us to Downe Bank.
I haven’t yet explained that Downe was home to Charles Darwin for 40 years. It was here he returned to from the Galapogos Islands and wrote the Origin of Species. The area has numerous links to Charles Darwin and Downe Bank is a place he came to study Orchids and the link with pollination to support his theories. Obviously not Orchid season at the moment, so I will definitely head back here again.
Alongside the ‘official’ history of the area , I had some things to share with Pete and Neil that only locals would know. Such as the ‘Wild West’ out post that used to be round here when I was younger – a place where people (proper grown ups) came and reenacted living as Cowboys. You’d sometimes seem them moseying to the saloon bar of the local pub , in full cowboy gear, tying their horses up outside. No sign of them these days though.. I’m not sure Pete and Neil believed me. They didn’t seem to believe the WW2 bomb craters I pointed out either – ‘how do you know that’s what they are’ – ‘I just do – you can tell..’
This was a reminder of our proximity to Biggin Hill Airport and its historic connection to the RAF and the Battle of Britain.
We walked down Downe bank and then back up towards Cudham Shaws , a girl guiding activity centre. We crossed the busy lane here and headed through fields to Mace Lane confidently ticking off the route landmarks and decision points. Having climbed back up a hill here there were beautiful views across the fields towards Chelsfield. Ahead of this climb though we were to see a sign that we would keep seeing in different places along this walk
We started walking across the large crop field that would bring us round towards Cudham Church and recreation ground – the next landmark. The field had recently been ploughed and in the far distance a tractor was spraying the ground. We decided to walk around the field on the grass verge and not across the footpath to avoid whatever was being/had been sprayed. Always happy to capture some extra mileage with a diversion we kept to the edge – Neil and Pete busy catching up, myself keeping Ruby close and away from the main field. We turned the final corner and I realised the crop sprayer was heading straight towards us – it was spraying the edges first and we were on a collision course. I sped up with Ruby to make it to the kissing gate and called back to the others to do the same. It took a bit longer for them to realise what was happening but they piled through the gate with seconds to spare. A little bit of rural drama.
We were now in the heart of Cudham. Again the Church a dominating feature and a place where my primary school held many of its Christmas concerts (I went to school in Cudham not Downe)
We decided to walk around the perimeter of Cudham recreation ground (extra mileage) and we were now settled in to a nice relaxed pace. Neil spotted the kids play area and became a bit animated – he had a picture of me on one of the swings when I was in my late teens and was trying to find it buried in the history of his facebook page. We decided to recreate a new version…
Photo recreated we headed off now onto a more familiar walk. After my dad died my sister, Sandra and I (and Ruby) completed a 9 mile walk from here to raise funds for the hospice that supported the family and cared for dad. It was a route I really enjoyed and have brought some friends back to walk variations of it over time. There’s one particular bit that gives great views and I hoped my plotting was right to include this.
We headed out the back of the recreation ground towards Knockholt this time.
This walled path opens out into fields filled with cattle and we headed towards the woods that would skirt the edge of Knockholt, Halstead and Pratts Bottom and where we turned towards the outskirts of Cudham where we would pick up my friend Clare (you’ll remember her from previous walks) at around the half way point.
As we walked down the farm track towards the woods a Spitfire swooped overhead – too late for any of our cameras!
The path here was shared with a bridleway and was very churned from the horses – soft mud underfoot making it slow to navigate. Neil was regretting not bringing his walking boots here. We worked our way through and out into New Years Wood. We came out past the cattery here which was noisily guarded by some big dogs and into the lovely woods here for a while. A traditional caravan nestled amongst the trees.
Its around here Neil realised his App wasn’t working – when he’d been scrolling facebook for that old photo it had paused and restarting it lost the miles we had walked in between. No problem – my App had plenty of battery as had Pete’s although Pete’s was recording the walk in Kilometres.
We were in new territory now – we managed to find the footpath across a large field that would lead us towards the right path. I was struggling with my App and route on the phone now, not able to get my blind spot out of view to see the little you are here marker but everyone was patient. I worked through the view ahead of me instead looking for the stile back out of this field.
Here the plan was to bypass a stretch of footpath and walk down a farm track to join the lane to bring us straight to the footpath with that ‘view’ I wanted to capture. However we were slightly off route and ahead of us the woods had work going on with signs to stop access. We wandered down a different track towards that lane only to be greeted by a locked gate. There was just enough room for Ruby to scoot under but we had to climb over – some more elegantly than others…
Headed down the track now and confidently into the woods to pick up that path. Although we had headed down the wrong path tempted by its signage convinced we were right. I passed my phone and App to Neil to get us on track again. I have to comment here at Pete’s calm whilst Neil and I were squabbling over the app, route and map. Well maybe squabbling is a bit strong but a definite marital debate ensued. Its tough to follow a route someone else has mapped when you are picking it up cold part way round and we were actually not on the route anymore. We tried a few paths to see if the magic arrow joined the planned route – but we had weak signal so the arrow stayed still. So we resorted back to standard map reading and drafting a new route back along the road and found the right path around the next bend.
Out on the right path we came out on to a familiar junction. Again this had been a decision point and I was a bit disorientated as I forgot we reached here from a different path. Neil now was definitely taking over the navigation – the route was mapped – I could call out the decision points he would make sure we went the right way.
We headed in to Norstead Manor Farm, where another police dog training sign greeted us – as did three very noisy dogs barking at us all the way up the drive. Ruby was a bit unsettled, but we were here for a reason – ‘that’ view. From this driveway you get a clear view across to the London skyline. It was easy to see but not so easy to photograph on a grey day – zoom in and you may get a feel of what it is like!
Its worth a mention that actually this walk kept us in London. These villages are all in the London Borough of Bromley and despite their rural life and location they would be subject to the new Tier 2 lockdown measures from midnight. Downe had in fact been featured on the news the night before because of this.
Anyway – time was ticking on and we should have been meeting Clare now but were still a little way away. We pushed on passed the buildings here and into the field where we had to pay the price for that view – the hill down and up! I must emphasise the up is MUCH steeper than the photo looks..
A straight forward navigation here out to Snag Lane and across Cudham Lane and we were now almost at High Elms Country Park where we had arranged to meet Clare by the cafe. We were later than planned, but I had added Clare to ‘Find my’ this morning so she was able to track us and just as we were deciding which path to venture up the steep hill (again) to the main Country Park trails we spotted Clare and Maple her labrador heading towards us. Technology wins on this point!
Fresh legs and a fresh face joining always helps with picking up the pace, even if we had just come up a second steep hill and we headed towards the cafe for a lunch and loo stop, taking in the remains of High Elms Mansion on the way. This was the historic home of the Lubbock family – one of whom was responsible for the introduction of Bank Holidays for us all.
We stopped a bit longer than intended eating our packed lunches and grabbing a hot drink from the cafe. We had walked 9 miles and if we were to finish with daylight we had to get moving.
When I plotted this route I had decided to make use of the lovely walking around the High Elms estate and ‘freestyled’ some loops around the paths. However when we were setting off I was concentrating on the next decision point and landmark which was to cross the adjacent golf course. I hadn’t expected Neil to be taking on the navigation and be diligently following the freestyle scribbled route I’d made which to me meant ‘walk around here for 2 miles before heading off’. Clare and I have walked here before so we were getting confused at Neil’s random route choices that double backed and looped away from the Golf Course we had to cross. If I’m honest we gave him a bit of a hard time – so I apologise now Neil as I realise you could never have understood the code for ‘freestyle’! However Maple enjoyed the many visits to the old pheasants well and we all now definitely know that there used to be a horse racing course here !
Anyway – we headed across the Golf Course through the ‘secret’ path shielding us from golfers, crossed High Elms Road by the old Clockhouse and came out into North End Lane. A quick scoot across the road to pick up Bogey Lane (stop sniggering children) and then into Farthing Street towards Holwood. These small lanes and roads a reminder of the ancient networks connecting the ‘big’ houses of the area.
Now we were heading to walk past Holwood House and up to the Wilberforce Oak & commemorative seat. Holwood House was designed by Decimus Burton ( remember him from the walks around Tunbridge Wells?) and was built on the site of the home of William Pitt the Younger.
We climbed up the hill here towards the Oak , which is actually currently a small replacement tree that grown from an acorn of the original – in fact this is the third generation of the original tree as the last replacement was hit by the Great Storm of 1987 – by chance we were there on the 33rd anniversary of that storm.
The Wilberforce Oak was the site of the conversation between Sir William Wilberforce with Mr Pitt where it was agreed to formally bring forward the abolition of the slave-trade at the House of Commons.
You can see above here the reference to Seismograph service – which used to be based here. I had wanted to work here when I left college – largely because they monitored seismic activity and I thought that as there weren’t many earthquakes it would be a quiet job!
It was about 4pm now, and sun was due to set at 6. We still had another part of the loop to complete and decided not to head a bit further on to see the remains of Caesars Camp (an iron age hill fort links back to neolithic times ) where Caesar is believed to have camped for 2 weeks c 55BC. We can pop back another time..
We headed now to get through the last few wooded areas whilst daylight was with us. Retracing our steps back down the hill to Holwood and then crossing into the field opposite and towards the end of Biggin Hill Airport Runway.
Stepping out of the footpath between the houses into the field you see big end of runway lights (not great for my eyes!). A private jet was coming in overhead lining up to touch down on the runway. The field itself had the last of red poppies dotted amongst the stubble and a view across towards the transmission towers of Crystal Palace & West Norwood (or maybe Paris…). A conversation about the old Crystal Palace ensued and I love the flow of knowledge that comes from my friends in these discussions. No google needed – it is always relayed with so much more sense of reality and connection somehow.
So now we were walking the perimeter fence of the Airport. Not an easy walk as the footpath was on a narrow strip between the security fence and the woods. The view across really showed part of the famous ‘bump’ of the runway – its not completely flat.
It was here that adjusting my sleeves to use their built in gloves I realised my app on my watch had stopped. Uh oh! Neils was off from earlier and Pete’s was measuring in Kilometres (not ideal when you are undertaking a 20 mile walk). A quick calculation (again friends who know the conversions without google) we realised I’d lost just over half a mile of records- I restarted and we pushed on – frustrated at myself. Then right on cue – as a distraction we heard a plane getting ready to take off – not a jet – the distinctive thrum of a spitfire – just as the runway had come into eyeline. One of those special moments on a walk.
We all stopped in our tracks – none of us thinking of reaching to take a picture..
We had a choice here – on towards the edge of Biggin Hill, by my old secondary school or across another golf course and shorter route to the end. A quick consultation of apps, distances and conversions to miles and we decided to head out on the longer route. It also meant I’d have an opportunity to maybe sneak a look at my old childhood home and that of my grandparents who had lived opposite.
We were in the woods now and it was noticeably much darker than you’d expect at this time so we started to move a bit quicker. Maple found a random animal limb we managed to discourage her from bringing on the rest of the walk and it seemed to help us all pick the pace up again.
Suddenly – we came out of the woods through a field along an alley that brought us out by the home of my childhood friend Caroline (no doubt the family had long moved away). I listened to my first Japan album there one school lunchtime. Changed my whole musical direction that lunchtime. Funny the things that suddenly burst out of your memory.
We headed past Charles Darwin School where my sister and I (and some of our cousins) had attended – it was brand new the year my sister joined completely state of the art facilities at the time. It seemed strange walking past – although to be honest I’d sneaked past those gates a fair few times before!
We came into Jail Lane – perfectly timed to meet the R8 bus at the narrowest point (the bus to Downe only runs hourly) and we then turned again towards Luxted – where I’d lived.
Chatting with Clare we crossed the first of 3 fields only to be greeted at the stile of the second by a large horse. We seem to draw them to us on these walks! I’d been telling Pete this morning about these encounters with horses and how if you have minimal horse experience it can be intimidating. So there we stood face to face with a snorty bouncy horse who had numerous friends in the field with him. Clare quickly stepped forward and calmed the horse encouraging him to jump around the field whilst we led the dogs quickly through into the woods. Thanks Clare!
We were now at Downe Scout Camp (or Activity Centre) somewhere so familiar to me I was surprised the others knew little about it – eerily quiet at this time of year the outward bound facilities all empty. We stopped for a bit to grab the last of the cake we’d brought and give the dogs some more snacks. We then set off down and then up Birdhouse Lane to arrive at ‘the corner’. My familiar bus stop, postbox and Phone booth by my house. a bit hesitant but encouraged by Neil we walked to my old house and stood right by my grandparents old house. Its a strange feeling and a million memories circulate here. I’m glad we paused and revisited.
We headed back up to ‘the corner’ and walked the path behind my old house towards the village. The path here suddenly opens into big fields with big skies – a real childhood memory. Pete kindly took a photo of the ‘strawberry shed’ here. These fields used to be full of strawberry plants and that little shed bordered the lane and we would stop there to buy fresh strawberries. I’m glad the shed is still there even if it looks a bit unloved.
Now the field leads around the farm building and to the field opposite Down House (no e) – home of Charles Darwin. Apparently you never see birds on the roof – no one knows why and there was once a group of people in this field specifically observing the roof for long periods at a time to confirm this fact ..
We stepped out of the field to have a quick look at the exterior – again Neil has driven past his numerous times but never stopped and taken it in. Sometimes its easy to overlook things right in front of you.
I had switched the route here as it was getting dark in the woods – and usually would always bring people up by the Sand Walk and the Elephant Tree to Down House. The Sand Walk famous for where Darwin walked to think and finalise his theory. It was here you found the Elephant Tree – maybe if you held your head a certain way you saw an elephants head in the shape of the tree trunk. Its suffered over the years but was always a landmark on our childhood walks. I wonder if its still there now..
So back on the footpath now towards Downe Court Farm and that driveway from this morning. The field here skirts Christmas Tree Farm and its teeny ponies galloped up so charmingly to say hello as we walked past they made me giggle – a contrast to the horse earlier!
So just about 6pm we arrived back by the Church and the tree in the centre of the village. A calculation and we had just under a mile to get to 20 miles (all those diversions add up – or rather they don’t!). Pete had to head off and so we took a photo of his app and restarted Neils app in kilometres – we needed to have walked 32.2 km to hit the 20 mile marker. We were at 30.95.
Pete gave Clare a lift to her car and Neil and I set off for a last walk around the Village centre with the dogs. This was fine as I had some things I wanted to do in the village. Firstly we dropped a letter off on mum’s behalf through an old friends front door, then we walked in the fast fading light towards the cemetery. My dad, grandparents and uncle are all here and I had brought some flowers for the grave with me. I took a few moments to tidy the grave up and clean the stone and lay the flowers.
We then headed out around the village , looping the recreation ground as the streetlights came on then headed up to the old village pond past the historic houses here that were once home to members of the Wedgwood family.
The village is beautiful in the evening. Especially in autumn with the leaves just starting to change and the lights glowing through.
We turned and headed back towards the Church just as Neil’s App registered 1.3 Km. 32.2 Km done. 20 miles done. Walk 18 done!
Clare pulled up in her car and we decided to head into the Queens Head for a quick drink before heading home – there’s always more to chat about…
I hoped you’ve enjoyed the stroll around my realm .. I tried to convince my walking partners to recreate my coronation parade , seeing as Neil was keen on recreating old photos. However, it wasn’t to be. so I’ll leave you with the original.
So, wow, WALK 18 finished. Two more left for this challenge but I am now battling daylight. Walk 19 is already planned for next week before the clocks change.
As part of this challenge, I’ve been looking to revisit memories and particularly views that I have always loved. Its something those with progressive vision loss are encouraged to do – capture the vision memories. For me autumn is a special time. I love walking with all the stunning colours around us. This walk had the first sense of autumn appearing in the trees – so I’m hoping walking at Bedgebury Pinetum next week – I can grab its spectacular autumn display. I’ll need to be quicker than today as it closes at 5pm, but I already have a number of friends offering to join me at various times throughout the day so lots of fresh legs will hopefully make it easier! Do let me know if you’d like to join too.
Here’s that gentle reminder of the main objective of this challenge and how you can show your support. A donation to the Macular Society, however small, will enable them to continue to fund their support services and specific research into Macular Disease. You can simply click the link here and make a donation:
Please support if you can – and thank you to all who have donated and encouraged me on this challenge.