I’m Jane, and I’m blogging about my experience of Macular Dystrophy and the challenge I am undertaking this year to raise funds for the Macular society.
In the summer of 2012, I was on holiday with my family, feet up, relaxing, reading a book. I kept getting a smudge on the left lense of my sunglasses. it was really irritating and whatever I did I couldn’t seem to clear it and the left hand page was difficult to read. It took a while, but I eventually realised there was nothing on my glasses – the smudge was in my eye itself.
The fear that whelmed up inside me was palpable. I kept closing each eye to test my vision and hoped that I simply had an eyelash or bit of dust in my eye. The smudge remained.
This blog will give you the background to my diagnosis, the prognosis and adaptations I have to make as a result of my condition.
I will also share tips from the Macular Society for good eye health as well as keeping you up to date on both my training and the 20 Walks too. I hope you find it interesting, informative and, at times, entertaining!
Walk 19 was one of the few from my original, pre covid, 20 walk plan. We walk here regularly this time of year – the maintained trails an escape from the ankle deep mud that appears on our local foothpaths. For this walk we had created a plan of 3 connected loops that brought us back to the entrance of Bedgebury and meant friends could drop in and out of each loop throughout the day.
However, Bedgebury closes its gates at 5pm so the schedule didn’t allow for any prolonged breaks and required us to be on the trails by 8.30am. The weather was looking fabulous and I was genuinely excited to be out in the Forest all day.
A bit of traffic caught us out and so we were a few minutes late starting, but our close friends Graeme and Tracey were already waiting for us in the car park raring to go. Neil and I switched the apps on and we headed into the forest to start the first 8 mile circuit.
It was a gorgeous morning and autumn was definitely now taking hold across the forest and there was a beautiful light mist catching the sunlight.
We quickly fell into step and Tracey and I set the pace, with Neil and Graeme chatting away behind us. Its funny how quickly you fall into a natural rhythm walking like this and the miles start falling away. We headed off the main family trails now to follow the wider route around the forest.
Neil realised he hadn’t reset his app after the faffing at the end of Walk 18 – so he was still measuring our progress in KM’s not miles. Not a major problem, but meant we could have more mental maths challenges later in the day as we refined the last loop to hit the magic 20 miles.
As we were approaching our furthest point out in the forest, we were approached by someone who had lost their dog. It was a rescue dog they hadn’t had very long – we took his number as we hoped by being out in the forest all day we may have a chance of spotting the dog. Unfortunately we didn’t, but I hope they were reunited.
It was getting warmer now. The sun was pushing through and soon jackets were consigned back in to rucksacks and we were enjoying that beautiful light catching the autumn colours around us.
This section of forest, is my favourite at this time of year. The colours are all around you and shortly the ground is a carpet of the leaves too. I made it a point to ensure we walked everyone through this section today. It was different each time with the subtle change in light.
We were at about 6.5 miles now, yet it felt we had only started a few minutes before – love how company speeds the time by that way. Graeme and Tracey needed to be back to the car by 11 and it was now around 10.30. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the 11am part and had been focused on the distance and the fact that we were picking up our friends Sharon and Margo at 11.15 for the next loop. Nothings a problem though so a quick jiggle to make it a slightly quicker route back and we managed to just about hit 11am and exactly 8 miles as they got to the car! Loop one done!
Margo was already in the car park by our cars and just then my phoned buzz to say Sharon had arrived too. We all headed to the Visitor Centre (and its loos!) so we could have a quick stop.
We all met by the visitor centre, and like a well coordinated team set off in step for the start of this 8 mile loop. It was definitely warmer now and we had clear blue skies lighting our way. We headed back towards that favourite spot and unsurprisingly it called for a photo stop.
We started heading off again and I paused to grab the picture again of the light in the trees. With my light blocking glasses sometimes I see colours differently, so before lining up the shot, I lifted my glasses to check it was as it seemed. Almost instantly I got that tell tale rainbow arc in my right eye.
The start of an ocular migraine. These have always been in my left eye until recently. In the past few months I’ve started getting them in my right. Always light triggered and always start where my visual field is compromised. However, they are less dibilitating. They grow in size of the space of 10-15 minutes and the area inside is blurred and obscured. Then it reverses and disappears.
I still grabbed the photo – not bad given I couldn’t see properly!
It was bloomin’ annoying to have an ocular migraine strike in my favourite part of the Forest , distracting me and forcing me to keep my head down for a bit, but I took comfort knowing we would be back here later.
As it eased, I rejoined the casual chatter as we continued on the walk, blue skies framing the views and glasses firmly fixed to my eyes now.
My phone buzzed and it was a message from Pete who had joined us on our last walk. He was heading over to meet us for the last loop of the day. I wasn’t quite up to reading and messaging so left this with Neil to coordinate the next rendezvous.
The light was really special and out on these quieter trails you get that great sense of space as trails lead off in every direction.
There are some vistas that just stop us all in our tracks (excuse the pun) and its great to have the time to just stop and drink it in. If we’ve all stopped, I reach for the camera on my phone to try and capture whats caught our eye. Neil likes capturing the picture of me capturing the picture..
So now we rejoined our familiar trails and usual dog walks and were heading back to pick up Pete – doing our best to get this second loop to 8 miles. Neil’s feet were starting to complain and it was then he explained he had put on his old trainers and not his ‘proper’ trail trainers this morning. The only explanation he had to offer was ‘sabotage’ as they had both been sitting next to each other by the front door.
We paused to give the dogs a treat – we were at 14 miles for Neil, Ruby & I and 6 miles for Sharon and Margo – so a little snack break for all seemed sensible.
So on we went and headed back to that favourite spot from the other direction this time. Again a subtle change in light and it offered another stunning view.
It was just coming up to 2pm and we said goodbye to Sharon and Margo by the Cherry Tree Avenue that gave them a direct path to the cafe and a coffee and the 8 mile mark.
We turned back towards the car park to pick up Pete. Just as we met my app buzzed 16 miles – Neil’s buzzed some sort of KM equivalent..
So now we had just 4 miles to finish. We would head out now to other parts of the forest and then turn into the Pinetum itself, where I was hoping we would get a fantastic autumn display from the specimen trees around Marshalls Lake. I’d also planned a ‘finale’ for this walk by walking through the Cathedral of Trees – a special spot hidden in the pinetum.
Again the route took us back past ‘the spot’. I haven’t mentioned that you get a glimpse into the Pinetum itself here and the glow of colours catches you as you walk along
As we turned the corner here we went through the gate this time into the Pinetum and walked towards Marshalls Lake. It didn’t disappoint and its main display isn’t even starting yet!
I’ll let the pictures do the talking!
We were over 19 miles now yet we took plenty of time to enjoy this area. We were feeling so lucky that we had caught perfect sunny skies alongside the autumn weather, although Neil’s feet were struggling and he seemed to be morphing into some sort of flamingo with one foot permanently in the air when we stopped
We headed across the little bridge and a small group were gathered looking into the water. They pointed out a large carp just on the surface – if you look closely at the photo of the tree reflected in the water here you can just make it out..
So now we had crossed the lake and stopped to capture those amazing reflections. It wasn’t hard, perfect conditions made for an easy photo.
So now we headed up towards the Cathedral of Trees. Pete pointing out that its name gave him high expectations of something that didn’t yet seem to match the general direction I was pointing at. Neil still hobbling along behind desperate for the end of Walk 19.. We got to the unassuming entrance and peeked into the gap – Pete confirmed it was worthy of its name.
We walked through and back out into the main paths of the Pinetum watching others walk past without knowing it was there. We set off back towards the visitor centre and the other end of Cherry Tree Avenue. Despite Neil’s protests, I made a quick trip to the end of the avenue to capture it in this wonderful light and as we arrived by the cafe 20 miles (32.2 KM) buzzed on the apps. With over an hour before closing we could even grab a cuppa. Perfect!
Walk 19 done.
So a small reminder from Neil, that footwear is very important on these walks. Do not pick up your old trainers (furthest from view) that you use for nipping into the garden, or you will end up with a VERY big painful blister. Get those nice bright ones on instead – you can’t miss them!!
This walk flew by with the continuing loops and change in company on each section. Don’t be fooled that it was a gentle stroll though, however pretty it looked it came with its fair share of hills:
So this was the penultimate walk for the 20, 20 challenge. To be frank, I had to go back and double check it really was Walk number 19 as I can’t believe I’ve actually got so close to completing this.
A HUGE thank you for all who have supported so far – whether through a donation or joining me on a walk. Your generosity is very much appreciated and the donations really are making a difference in challenging times.
If you would like to support by making a donation – you can do so here:
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:
This week was National Eye Health Week, and I was determined to try and fit a walk in. Sometimes, though things don’t go to plan. I had originally planned this route to be Walk 18 or 19 when I would need to be mindful of finishing in the dark. However, the start point for my original planned route for this week was subject to complex road closures and diversions so I decided to switch walk 17 for walk 18.
That wasn’t the end of the switches – work challenges and weather forecasts meant a late switch of days, and then even more switches to start times to make sure we made connections for the journey home. We were meeting two friends along the route so each change meant a cascade of recalculations and tweaks to meeting points and timings. This could end up a logistical disaster.
Friday morning arrived and so did the weather we were planning to avoid. We headed to the station with numerous layers and spare clothes – well I did, not so sure about Neil, for once his backpack was smaller and lighter than mine. It was raining heavily, cold and a strong north wind blowing. Autumn was here.
Our planned route saw us following part of the Thames Path again. This time we would start at Hampton Court Palace and walk into London, the 20 mile marker being roughly Albert Bridge.
We made our connection at Waterloo and arrived at Hampton Court Station at 10.45, where we met our friend, Simon, just over the bridge.
Simon was joining us for part of the route down to Richmond , and a few miles later, at Kew Bridge, we would be joined by another friend we hadn’t seen for a ridiculous amount of time, Sarah. After some technology juggling this morning Sarah was tracking our approach, but we had estimated we should be with her at 2.30.
We started the walk on the North Bank and followed the Thames Path towards Kingston. Straight away you are at the gates of Hampton Court Palace and in the grounds was a trumpet player being filmed. I have no idea why, but I will see it as a fanfare to the start of this walk..
We hadn’t seen Simon since early February, so the first few miles were spent catching up with each other. The river was speckled with swans and houseboats and the north bank here is dominated by the impressive grounds of Hampton Court Palace.
I’ve discovered through this challenge that I love a river walk. Life seems to unfold around you as you walk along the banks and there is generally a sense of peace and calm. It would be interesting to see how this went as we approached the finish and headed into the bustle of central London.
We don’t usually bring Ruby on a City walk as she much prefers to be off lead and away from tarmac paths. I had dipped in to parts of this walk at various times over the last 5 years – just a mile here and there, and I was fairly confident there would be opportunities for her to be off lead. It turned out she rarely needed to be on the lead at all – probably just half an hour in total for the whole walk.
The path here is wide and there is also an extra path that cyclists use, so plenty of space to enjoy the view as we pass along the route. The first village was Thames Ditton – somewhere Neil used to work in the early nineties, so we spent some time trying to spot his old haunts there.
We soon arrived at Kingston , where we crossed the bridge to resume our walk on the South bank from here.
From here we were walking towards Teddington Lock, Ham and Ham House. In researching this route I’d spotted a potential diversion by Ham House into Richmond Park to a spot that had the only legally protected view in England. If time allowed we might try and include this.
We were back out into open space again very quickly. This route, was really very pretty and apart from skirting Kingston town centre, it felt as though we were in the heart of the countryside.
Its around here we started getting the signs of the many boat clubs we were going to see along this bank now – right until we passed Putney. The boat houses along the river, with the boats all racked up outside.
Ruby appreciated the launch slopes though – a good opportunity to grab a quick dip !
I dropped back for a while to see if I could pull up the details of that detour. As you will now know, juggling the right glasses for navigation is never straightforward and as the sun was peaking out I decided to consult Simon and see if he knew how to head to that viewpoint.
Simon knew this area well. He knew the spot I was describing and also knew how to get there. We were now at Teddington Lock. A generational reference here, but instantly I started playing that Thames TV theme in my head.
The weir here was very hypnotic – in fact I almost missed the locks and forgot to snap any pictures. Without google to hand we started discussing weirs, their purpose and why this one was here. Luckily we had our local guide on hand for this stretch and ‘Simon says’ was now to become a feature. Teddington Lock is the point where the non tidal Thames stops. Simon also says that the name Teddington came from “tide end town, but sorry Simon I can’t confirm that on google.. You lose a point.
Its probably worth a mention that Simon and Ian are close friends. Ian you will remember was our guide on walk 15 through London. We teased Simon that we would be scoring his guiding skills on this walk..
We started a diversion around old Ham – it was a lovely area with a real mix of architecture. However time was a bit tight for us to make it to that viewpoint so we decided to save it for another time and turned towards Ham House and the river.
We soon came to the entrance of Ham House – where we paused to let a lady lead a horse out of the driveway and try our hardest to get a view over the wall of the adjacent manor house. We were speculating again about some of the buildings around here and Simon was telling us about some of the schools in the area. Particularly the German School. I had never heard of this before – a school that follows the German academic curriculum so students can slot back into the German education system.
We arrived back at the river, right by the ferry crossing point to Twickenham. It is a very very small ferry and a very very short crossing point. We were walking now opposite Marble Hill House (unfortunately bedecked in scaffolding) towards Petersham meadows and Richmond. Simon started racking up the guiding points here with his history. Simon says: Ham House and Marble Hill House are said to be built opposite so sweethearts could look across the river at each other
Along the path here you get a beautiful view of the houses at top of Richmond Hill- where, Simon says, Mick Jagger has a house and also you can see Star & Garter House. Its here that the Royal Legion poppies used to be made. Now its luxury flats.
We arrived at Richmond Bridge at quarter past one, and it was here we said goodbye to Simon. We were 3 miles from Kew Bridge, roughly an hours walk. So decided to stop for 10 minutes and grab a snack before moving on.
This area had a lovely buzz about it. The buildings here were lovely and the river seemed to be a real focal point. Its also the site of the largest plane tree in London – a new fact for Simon’s repertoire
So just Neil, Ruby and I for a few miles now. We were walking alongside Richmond Old Deer Park towards Kew Gardens. This was an old training ground for me. Five years ago I was training for the Moon Walk, and my friend Maureen lived along this stretch of the river then. I used to meet her after work and we would walk from Kew Bridge to the footbridge and lock at Twickenham and back on the North bank via Syon House. It seemed strange suddenly finding myself back on this path.
You definitely knew you were on the tidal stretch of the river now – the tide was definitely out. We glimpsed the view through to the big glass houses along this stretch as well as a number of other classic vistas. It was a real reminder that this part of the river with all its historic houses and palaces once was the main route for the ornate Royal barges transporting Royalty and nobility in and out of London.
Time was ticking on – it was almost 2.30 and we had Kew Bridge in sight. A quick check of the phone and we could see Sarah was heading to the bridge from the station. This walk was expected to be a trail of logistical dramas – but so far it was all going smoothly. Worth noting that the ‘Find My’ app is brilliant in these scenarios! We climbed the steps to the bridge and there was Sarah walking towards us. We were also exactly at the half way point.
We headed down the steps on the otherside of the Bridge and picked up the path and conversation with Sarah. Such a lovely way to catch up walking and talking. This conversation started with a whole raft of coincidences with Sarah. From discovering we are reading the same book to the fact that she grew up in a town Neil had been planning to visit earlier this week.
It was still incredibly leafy along this stretch and yet around the paths we were definitely sensing more buildings behind those trees as the river widened around here. We broke through those trees and then we came out into an urban landscape.
We had arrived in Barnes. Boat race territory. There would be no mistaking this for the next 4 or so miles. The river soon gave way to the numerous boat houses attached to public schools and universities.
Whenever someone joins us along the route with fresh legs, time and miles fly by. Sarah had travelled from Hertfordshire to meet us to walk these 6 and a bit miles with us and it seemed no time at all before we were at Putney Bridge where Sarah would be leaving us to head home.
We decided it was time for a proper stop. We had well under 4 miles left and our journey was due to end at a Thames Clipper stop so we could take a swift trip down the River to the Embankment and our train at Charing Cross station. It was 4.30 and the first boat from our stop was at 6.35 pm. So we stopped outside a pub for a much needed refreshment.
I haven’t mentioned much about the weather since we set off from hme. We had been really lucky that we had avoided the rain since we started walking and the skies were clearing. The wind however was getting stronger (and colder) with each mile. We chose to sit outside by the river and it was definitely (well by our guess and the weather app) gale force now. All the layers were on and that 30 minute pause, however welcomed was a blustery one. We set off towards the railway bridge where Sarah would leave us and Ruby’s ears were being blown all over the place!
There was no mistaking now that we were in London. The Shard could be glimpsed (but not photographed) on the horizon and the path was now lined with new housing developments as we approached Battersea Reach. One last piece of green space for Ruby at Wandsworth – the paths still secure enough for her to walk off lead too.
The light was shifting now, and I realised how walking with the sun behind us West to East was much easier on my eyes. Even with the sun low in the sky, I hadn’t been too bothered until now. As we hit all the development here, the sun started glaring off the buildings. It was painful, but as we had a good pace and a deadline to catch the boat we were moving quickly and it was soon behind us
Around here as we approached Battersea Bridge you had the real sense of the old river life hanging in amongst the new. It was also the first time we kept being diverted away from the banks for short periods.
I mentioned earlier we were expecting this walk to be a logistical challenge. Mileage and timings were rough and as usual we had contingencies up our sleeves. The flat level route meant we were feeling good – that usual final 5 mile pain was just a niggle and more importantly it looked as though we wouldn’t need the contingency route.
We climbed up the steps onto Albert Bridge at 18.15 with less than a quarter of a mile to hit the 20 mile marker.
We crossed the bridge and headed to Cadogan Pier where we planned to catch the clipper at 18.35. As we got to the pier our apps clicked 20 miles – perfect! It was 18.20 – even better. The sun was setting and the view back along the river was wonderful.
The boat arrived and we boarded – heading off down the river past all those landmarks from Walk 15. It was a fabulous way to end this walk – and this will be one of the top walks to recommend to you all.
Walk 17 done!
This walk had a sense of urgency : possible lockdowns; nights drawing in ; weather being unpredictable; challenging logistics.
It was lovely though and hopefully we can now get the final 3 walks sorted without issue !
So this challenge is all about raising awareness of macular disease.
Two weeks ago I started experiencing new symptoms: vibrating vision. It was scary.
I couldn’t get through to my consultant and the support team at Moorfields but I got support through the Macular Society.
This challenge is to raise funds for the Macular Society- many of you have supported me already and I have tried to thank you all personally but some of you have chosen to stay anonymous- so thank you again!
If you would like to support this challenge please share these blogs and you can make a donation here
South West Coastal Path : Slapton – Start Point – Strete – Slapton
This is a beautiful walk – You can take Bill Bryson’s word for it, if you don’t believe me:
‘The view took in the mighty sweep of Start Bay, which is surely one of the very loveliest in England’.
So we unexpectedly found ourselves on an impromptu staycation in Devon. It was our 30th wedding anniversary and we had been searching for a cottage where we could take Ruby and have a few days to ourselves. We couldn’t find anything at all available. Then a chance conversation with a friend led to us grabbing this short break in South Devon.
With days drawing in, and coronavirus rules tightening again, I’m keen to keep on schedule. So a plan to hit the South West Coastal Path was made. I’d been keen to walk this (or rather parts of this) for some time and it was on the original 20 walk list. The path itself was roughly 3 miles from our cottage. A chat with our hosts though made it clear that this would lead to an epic hill to finish, on a day that would be full of epic hills. So we decided to take the day before to explore this part of the walk. So a leisurely 7.5 mile warm up walk – with a truly epic hill to finish nearly finished us off before we started Walk 16.
Neil then pointed out we really should finish where we could grab a pub meal and so all things considered we decided to drive into Slapton for the start and head confusingly to Start Point.
I always map routes in advance to get a guide for timings and terrain. This one was showing a completion time (without breaks) of 8 3/4 hours. We decided an early (for us) start of 9.30 so we were able to stop along the way and still get back with some daylight in hand.
As is often the case, footwear almost instantly needed some readjustment but the view across Start Bay from here showed us our first destination point – the Lighthouse at Start Point. Its always great to have a visual ‘target’ on these walks.
I will warn you now, but make no apologies, that this blog will be full of photos. It would be wrong not to share these. We had perfect walking weather, sunny spells with a gentle breeze. It didn’t take long to head down the hill to Slapton Sands and pick up the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) with its acorn symbol guiding our way.
A level walk towards Torcross, with the sea on the left and Slapton Leys nature reserve on our right. This part of the coast has a fair amount of history. The tall stone memorial here commemorates the villagers of South Hams who were asked to leave their homes with 6 weeks notice in 1943, so the area could be used to practice the D Day landings.
Arriving in Torcross as the Leys stop, the car park holds another memorial to the D Day practice and the tragic loss of life from Operation Tiger. This exercise was overseen by Allied commander Eisenhower, and used live ammunition to ensure the conditions were as realistic as possible. This exercise was so secret that not even the men involved knew what was about to happen.
By chance there was a German patrol fleet in the Channel that picked up the vessels on its radar and started attacking the flotilla. This created carnage and pandemonium with 700 killed. This was not the end of the disaster though. As the boats started landing and faced the live shells another 300 troops were killed within minutes. This was more than were killed in the actual landing on D-day at Utah beach.
Whilst I knew there had been rehearsals for D Day, I did not realise the extent of the tragedy that surrounded them.
After a pause to read the information boards here and absorb the history, we headed along the seafront at Torcross to start the climb up to the top of the cliffs and on towards Beesands.
Once you have got this climb underway, it is here that you grab that view that Bill Bryson made reference to. I will share the view here towards Start Point and you will have to wait til we return to get the views back across Start Bay towards Slapton Sands.
This up was swiftly followed by the down towards Beesands, back to sea level and the walk towards the next climb up to Tinsey Head.
So we crossed Beesands and started the climb up to Tinsey Head. The path was very pretty here with trees making a tunnel as we walked. Neil unfortunately assumed he had a tinsey head and forgot to duck under the branches. There was a sudden yelp behind me and Neil was on the ground with a bleeding head. A quick check it was nothing severe and no concussion evident, we carried on – this time ducking under the branches.
The views from here were wonderful, really captivating – just look over Neil’s shoulder in that picture above. It was about now my phone beeped. We had friends, Helen & Steve, that moved with their family to this area last year and we had shared our iPhone location so they could track our progress and potentially meet us for part of the walk later on. They knew from our location we were on a tough uphill and were sending encouragement , along with a tip for an easily missed point of interest at Hallsands – our next passing point.
We missed this info point on the way up, but we found it on the return. Hallsands was a village lost to the sea in 1917. I’ll pick that story up on our way back.
So now we were progressing back up and along the headland towards Start Point.
All I can say about this stretch is apart from steep hills, is its simply view after view.. I’ve said it before that this is the reward of hill walking – amazing views.
The path ventured out on to wide pasture with a sudden diversion where the cliff had fallen away. The cows didn’t seem bothered about it , nor the stream of walkers flowing through their field.
We finally reached the car park at Start Point. You can , if you are inclined, avoid the steep walk and drive here to get the view. You won’t though burn off the cream tea by doing that..
If you look carefully in that picture above you can make out the coastal path across the landscape. We started our walk off picture on the far right. You can get the sense of the climbs, when you realise we returned to sea level at each beach on the way.
So here we had to do some mental maths for route planning. IF we had walked here from our cottage we would have been at the half way point, but as we came from Slapton village we were a few miles short. The plan was to walk out along this headland to the Lighthouse and back (1/2 mile each way) then head further round on the coastal path turn and retrace our steps. When we retraced though we would not walk to the lighthouse again, but continue past. We therefore had to calculate at which mileage point that turn needed to be made. It sounds simple, but a bit hungry and tired we got rather confuzzled and couldn’t agree. No bickering just us both trying to over explain our own calculations.
We got distracted though as all around us the sky was suddenly peppered with birds of prey swooping into the ferns. I’ve not seen so many so close before, all hunting and diving right in front of us. Here’s the picture that we thought would not be usable at all, its of two birds – one inconsiderately dived in the ferns as I clicked though:
So after the walk down the long path to the lighthouse we found the sign that said it was closed. We were looking forward to a lighthouse visit. Another coronavirus impact. Disappointing, but understandable.
So we started the trek back along the path and turned back on to the Coastal Path with a plan to keep following the acorns for another 3 or so miles – we were still computing that turnaround point.
The change in landscape as we rejoined the path was amazing. The path narrowed and closely followed the cliff edge – the one with a sheer drop and no fencing. Those that have walked with me will understand the gravity of this. It was so narrow and close to sheer drops that Neil actually put his rucksack on properly.. Yep it was serious walking here. A few scrambles too and we came out into a wider area where we could stop and grab a snack before pushing on.
Quote of the day from Neil ‘You wouldn’t want to be falling off here”.. We kept Ruby close as she was keen to explore. We had put her on the extending lead for this stretch but it prompted a debate. She’d been unsettled by the terrain and kept heading back and forward almost looping us up in the lead.
We had options ahead – carry on on this narrow cliff top path with sheer drops and a stressed dog, or turn inland and loop back to Start Point – not our start point, the Start Point.
I’d promised mum that I wouldn’t walk close to crumbling cliff edges on this walk (oops too late) and we were conscious that retracing our steps and passing those walking towards us was going to be difficult. We decided to walk round the point we were at and assess the path ahead. The sign said it all.
It was really tempting though. Look at this water and views, it would have been incredible – maybe next time, without a nervous dog trying to trip us up and social distancing challenges on narrow paths..
We reached a fork in the path by Great Mattiscombe beach where we could walk across country, not sheer cliff tops, and took the turn. Frustratingly we were only around the 7 mile mark here and the route took us up again to the pasture above the cliffs. It was narrow but felt nice and secure. It was getting busy with people heading down to Mattiscombe beach from the Lighthouse car park, loaded with body boards and picnics – maybe carrying on the coast path would have been easier to negotiate after all!
So now we retraced our steps knowing that we would need to find another 7 miles when we got back to the memorial at Slapton. From the advance route planning there was a Plan B which was to walk the SWCP towards Stoke Fleming and Dartmouth. Plan B was now in action.
So we picked up the SWCP again here and started back towards Slapton. Coming in this direction you really were constantly rewarded with that amazing view of Start Bay. Heading back towards Hallsands now we made sure we found the Lost Village this time. It was much easier to spot from this direction and lots of information here to take in.
The village was devastated in 1917 by exceptionally high tides and a particularly fierce storm and strong winds. 128 people lived here and by midnight four houses were gone. The villagers grabbed their belongings and gathered up on the cliff tops. The devastation continued and by the end of the day only one house remained – 29 had been taken by the sea.
This however, was not caused by freak weather alone. The village had stood for many years protected by a large pebble ridge, but this was caused by the works completed to extend the naval dockyard at Plymouth 18 years earlier. The building plans involved taking sand and gravel from the sea in this area – a total of 660,000 tonnes was removed. The assumption was this would be replaced naturally over time, however these shingle beaches were actually formed by ice age deposits. As a result this dredging was removing the natural defences for the village and exposing it.
Whilst there was no loss of life, the loss of homes , belongings and livelihoods was devastating. The village ruins have been left as a reminder of the impact of man meddling with nature.
There’s a little side point here. These 20 mile walks could easily be done with blinkers on, striding the miles away to get them finished. Not pausing for views or discovering the history of the areas we are walking. To be honest – when you are facing walking time of over 8 hours any stop is adding to the time on your feet and its something you become aware of. However, the amount of knowledge that can be gathered by these pauses and from the information boards is a great thing. I find it fascinating and you get a greater sense of history of each area. It also means I have something to share with you in each blog – not just how many steps we’ve taken and how we ached or got lost. A small disclaimer though – these ‘history’ points are always a brief summary from what we have gleaned to include them for this blog.
So back now towards Beesands – again retracing steps gives the views a completely different perspective. I wonder if anyone has walked the SWCP in both directions to see it from each ?
As I mentioned at the start, this break was a bit impromptu. I had planned to do a walk this week, but with a day spent travelling too we had to manage our work around our time away. It was getting quite warm in the sun now and so we decided to grab a brief stop at the Cricket Inn at Beesands so Ruby could rest – (see below , she was sending signs! )and Neil could make a couple of work calls.
Refreshed we walked along the shingle beach and up the steep incline before heading down into Torcross. The thing about an out and back walk is that you know on the way out that every welcomed downhill section , will become an uphill on the return. This had been the steepest downhill on the way out – so we just knew it was coming.
We climbed back down those steep set of steps from this morning out onto the road in Torcross and as we turned the corner were greeted by our friends, Helen & Steve with Martha and Fraser. We hadn’t seen them for a year and they had headed over to walk for a short while with us. Its always a great way to catch up – walking and talking. It also means the miles fly by for us with fresh legs and faces keeping us company.
So now we walked back along past the Slapton Leys Nature Reserve and parted with our friends at the point we would have expected to turn back for the last 1/4 mile to our car. We were only 12.5 miles in though – the biggest ‘underestimate’ to date on an adapted route, but we were on the SWCP so we could just keep walking and turn round at around 16 miles and we should be roughly right. We waved farewell to our friends as they headed for a swim in the sea and we headed towards Strete and the steepest climb. Helen snapped a picture of us (which we rarely get one of the two of us on a walk) but we realised it was by a bus stop – I promise you we definitely didn’t get the bus!
So along we went towards Strete now. It was very busy round here and lots of traffic negotiating the small lane we had to walk on to join the SWCP here. Again the beach was beautiful but the path was incredibly steep. Steps had been helpfully cut in places, but these have enormous treads for my little legs and often are more of a challenge for me than walking up a slope.
These climbs often lull you into a false sense of security. Starting gently and offering teasingly pretty views to entice you further up. This climb was reminiscent of mountain hikes we had done – zig zagging relentless up after up at each turn. We weren’t going to give up and turn back though ( I knew because I asked..) we are on a challenge and this was all part of the deal. Just what you need at 14 miles in.
Now we were right up at the top of the cliffs again looking back along the bay to the headland with Start Point lighthouse on the horizon. It was here Helen said that when they followed us on the tracker app we appeared to fall off into the sea.. Bloomin technology!
We walked along into the village of Strete. A pretty place and some fun things spotted in the garden of one house.
This village was also impacted by the D Day practice with a row of village buildings being destroyed with the live ammunition.
Our plan was to continue here for another 1.5 miles, but we were now on a narrow road with no pavement and a ridiculous amount of traffic in both directions trying to pass each other. We decided that this was going to just slow us down and with legs now starting to tire after the big climb here the last thing we needed was to stop start like this. We reluctantly turned back to retrace our steps back to Slapton Leys and make a decision there based on how many miles we would need to complete.
So down the very steep path now – not easy still with height of these steps and my knees were complaining. The light was beautiful though as we shifted towards evening light and of course we had the views to keep us going.
So back through nature reserve again towards Slapton Leys. Is was busy here with people taking an evening stroll. We arrived at the turning to the car at 16.5 miles – we needed to find 3 miles on an out and back – the SWCP sign above my head said Torcross 1.5 miles – so Torcross and back it was.
Back again at the turning for the car we still had to find an extra 1/3rd of a mile (darn those inaccurate mileage signs), so we headed into the Nature Reserve to walk along the Leys. The reed beds here were used for thatch in this area and the reserve is now home to Otters. No sign of them for us. The familiar obsession with the mileage ticking over before we headed back to the road for the uphill walk back to the car and our start point.
Then the 20 mile marker went off on my phone just as the car came in to sight. It attracted some attention from the sheep in the field right by us.
So we had done it Walk 16 and part of the South West Coastal Path – woo hoo!
We headed in to the village for something to eat and Neil synced his app which would give the graph of all the ups and downs to share with you (and hopefully entice some extra donations!).
We are in a rural place here with limited signal – the sync crashed and his data was lost to the cloud. Luckily by recreating our route exactly on OS Maps App I can recreate the ups and downs for you. We also managed to finish this 30 minutes faster than OS Maps predicted – that felt like an extra achievement..
So a beautiful walk on a lovely day. Just 4 more left to go, but this walk was a real reminder of the shortening days and the need to plan routes that suit the limited daylight hours.
For anyone who wishes to make a donation to support this challenge to raise funds for the Macular Society the link is here:
I’ve been really looking forward to this walk. It felt as though it was a milestone for lots of reasons; not just being three quarters of the way through the challenge, but also that we were venturing back towards normality. I hadn’t been to London since Walk 3 (8th March), and that was also the last time I’d got on a train.
This walk had also been planned by our good friend, Ian. His knowledge of London history is exceptional and he shares so many fascinating facts.
We decided not to bring Ruby as she much prefers running free than being on a lead in a busy city – especially for 20 miles. We therefore arranged to meet our daughter Hazel at London Bridge who was going to dog sit for the day and meet us at the end of the walk.
Ruby was a little bit confused at us putting on face masks for the journey, but she was happy enough although clearly slightly embarrassed at my accidental over coordinated ensemble.
A swift handover at London Bridge and we jumped back on the train to make our connection over to the start point at Vauxhall station. The grey clouds were clearing and the sun making an effort to come through.
We met Ian at 10.30 and set off across Vauxhall Bridge towards Pimlico. The view from the bridge showed us the new American embassy and the background of Battersea Power Station. We turned off the main road to quieter streets heading towards Lambeth Bridge. However, none of this walk was going to be a straight route, this was all about short diversions to show us parts of London that are easily missed and full of history. Walking past quite unassuming buildings, Ian was sharing so much information about the area, and the history of the buildings. Once you knew this, you could see clues everywhere – from the Blue Plaques, to street and building names.
I couldn’t possibly share all this detail in a blog – you’ll have to join one of Ian’s walks for yourself, but I’m going to pick up and share some highlights with you.
Here’s the first, Vincent Square.
This is part of Westminster School’s sports grounds. Look at that view across to the Cricket Pavilion. This was a real surprise find, made even more surprising as we headed off around the corner and the area suddenly felt familiar. I was getting some deja vu and realised our accountants office was right in front of us. We had walked so close to this before but coming from Victoria or St James’s had managed to miss this gem in all its glory. This was about to become the theme for this walk – all the bits of London I’d missed before.
You can’t visit this area without mentioning the Regency Cafe. Its legendary and has been used for settings in many movies and TV series including Layer Cake and Rocket Man. Its kept its interior styling and whilst a peek through the windows saw that this now included perspex divider screens, it still has lots of charm ( and usually a very long queue).
So now we were moving from Pimlico to Westminster, along Horseferry Road, which now after walking with Ian I realise takes its name from an obvious historic purpose. Again an alternative route now through Smiths Square, where the buildings were beautiful, and with a keen eye – you can spot some hidden history – such as this ghost sign from the second world war:
Another quick detour now, and rather aptly for a walk seeing secret London, we were going to visit the MI5 building. Only from the outside and just to see the incredible entrance, whilst ignoring all the security cameras looking at us. Definitely worth a view if you are in the area, best not to stop too long though..
Now we headed out and across Lambeth Bridge. Ian here pointed out arches on the banks that were used to transport clay to the Doulton factory that used to be sited here. This small area was a plethora of history and if you walk on this part of the river you will uncover a lot of other history from the plaques here too – I’ll leave you to explore those.
A street back from the river and Ian showed us the old Doulton offices. The showcasing of the craftmanship was incredible. Its there to be found, just tucked a bit out of sight.
So now whilst we’d walked further, we were only really half a mile from our starting point. We headed back towards the river and the iconic landmarks ahead of us – Lambeth Palace and the Palace of Westminster opposite.
Before we headed back over Lambeth Bridge towards Westminster, Ian pointed out a detail on the two bridges we could see. I’m not going to spoil this in case you walk with Ian in the future, but if you walk with me I will definitely pass this on!
We headed through the gardens towards Westminster. Whilst I had been here before a few years ago with my sister, I hadn’t approached them from this direction before. It had a totally different feel and sense of perspective. The gardens have lots of interesting features including a Rodin statue. All there for discovering. Great vistas making for some great photos. Ian’s story of his school project on the Sufragettes, which he’d recently rediscovered in his loft , was perfectly timed for the arrival at Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue.
Out now skirting Parliament square towards Westminster Abbey. Here our attention was caught not by the obvious , but by the trees by the Abbey. Ian, again impressed us with his knowledge – Indian Bean Trees ‘I think’ .
Here we really are in tourist central – touching distance of a lot of the big sights and it was definitely busier around here. Ian though takes us straight out onto less walked paths. Out along Birdcage Walk and up through a small flight of steps, Ian answering my question easily on why its called Birdcage Walk. Again, obvious really!
This diversion took us to the Guards Chapel. A place I had passed but never visited. Its modern style has a history behind it and it was very moving to understand this.
We returned back to Birdcage Walk and down towards Buckingham Palace – now we were ticking off the iconic London sights at a pace. Approaching from Bird Cage Walk again gave a different perspective – and my attention was not for the Palace itself but the view down through St James Park.
Down the Mall now, past Clarence House , St James’s Palace and a stop at the Police Officers Memorial – again easily passed but the memorial book is definitely worth a pause and read, then into Horseguards Parade.
Ian here is telling me how he used to cycle through Downing Street as a lad as a shortcut – would not be possible now, but perhaps this is why these signs below are here!
Now we headed back towards the Thames, learning again obvious history, such as why the Embankment got its name and the signs of this that are easily missed. We were walking back towards Westminster Bridge where we crossed and headed off along a very busy South Bank.
More snippets from Ian that sparked discussions as we turned off of Westminster Bridge, and we navigated through this busy section out towards the Millennium Bridge.
Here we took a small diversion to avoid the crowds where Ian knew of some great street art and then came across Egyptian geese right outside the Tate Modern. As you do – never seen either of them before and yet walked here loads..
From here towards Wapping, the paths and passages are full of more and more interesting names. Also though, we were keeping an eye on the tide. If the tide was out we hoped to mudlark.
Ian shared some secret pub locations – unfortunately most still closed as reliant on office trade, and then more detailed history on this stretch of the Thames and its surroundings. Along this stretch there are plenty more plaques and even mosaics detailing the history of the area.
We took an impromptu diversion to St Magnus the Martyr which used to stand at the old entrance to London Bridge. Inside the Church hosts a model of how London Bridge used to look. No pictures as they were eager to close!
Not far from Tower of London here, and the riverside had the perfect Coronavirus dining capsules from the Coppa Club.
Despite our attempts to bypass the ticket people we were not able to walk riverside past the Tower of London through to St Katherines Dock. Still walking around Tower of London adds a few more towards the miles..
So through St Katherines Dock and the iconic Dickens Inn and out towards Wapping.
Now the river noticeably widens and there is no escaping the original use of the area as you pass warehouses and old docks. This includes some of the old Dutch barges that now form a community of houseboats.
These areas also show their history through street names and buildings ; whether its historic toll signs or acknowledgement to the benefactors that supported the communities here, if you keep looking around you you spot something of interest.
Now we planned a refreshment break in Wapping. It wasn’t easy to get in to any of the pubs, despite them having outside space, but we did eventually get in to the Prospect of Whitby. Social distancing and hygiene rules meant we could only stand at a table in the garden as the others were undergoing ‘cleansing’ and had to be kept clear for an allotted amount of time. It was particularly cruel after 14 miles of walking to have to stand and miss lunch in exchange of a packet of crisps, but these are strange times. However, I did gain an interesting fact from the pub which I’d have missed if Id been sitting down..
We were now in mudlark territory and exciting news – the tide was going out. Ian knew just the spot and we headed there ready to be ‘eyes only’ larkers.
We were met by some unexpected guardians – a bevy of swans. That is what you call a group of swans – I checked google. One decided it was his job to check us out – we let Ian handle that as it was quite initimidating and Ian seemed more experienced.
Anyway the swan soon backed down and Ian guided us through all the things you can find washed up here, along with the history of why and how they came to be here.
From animal bones, to bricks, crockery, clay pipes, oyster shells and buttons: we had quite an impressive selection in the short time we searched. All left behind of course and a swift departure as the river police cruised past checking closely on what we were up to. (You need an official licence to Mudlark)
Now we headed towards the Rotherhithe tunnel. The plan had been to take the short journey under the river by train to Rotherhithe from Wapping – but there were no trains today. We walked down to the Grapes at Lime House Basin (remember this from Walk 1 ?), only to be turned away as it was full. So we started to retrace our steps back to Tower Bridge to cross the river and explore Rotherhithe.
So back now up towards St Katherines Dock and those wonderful views up to Tower Bridge:
Across Tower Bridge and a left turn down towards Rotherhithe now. We were heading towards the Mayflower pub and capturing some important history here as well as the superb views back up towards central London.
In the photo above I was convinced these doors were green, and have spent 10 minutes checking my camera settings before I remembered I took this wearing my light blocking glasses. They apply a yellow filter to my vision to remove glare and so colours change – it can be quite disorientating! Anyway what beautiful BLUE doors!
There were more signs of schools set up by benefactors this side of the river too – this one attached to a ‘Watch house’ next to the graveyard. Ian explained that was for the watchman to keep an eye out for graverobbers.
One thing you haven’t heard me mention much in this blog is mileage. We were of course tracking the miles, and it was only now that we started to plan in detail. We had about 2.5 miles to go to get to the 20 miles, and we needed to be back at London Bridge to meet Hazel & Ruby. We needed to work out how far back it would be and adapt the last part of the route – luckily there was a sign. Literally, a historic one right in front of us, you may need to zoom in!
Decision was made, we would be walking through Southwark Park and Bermondsey to add the extra half mile. As we walked , Ian explained so much about this area – pointing out Scandanavian Churches that had been built for all the international sailors and also how this was also known as London’s larder due to the number of food factories that were located around here.
Ian also knows where you can find lots of Street Art – I’ve not shared much of it, so you can discover this on your walks for yourself!
This area of London, has close connections for my family. My maternal grandfather was born and raised here and it is so fascinating to discover all these details about the area I did not know.
Ian explained that historically Bermondsey was referred to as ‘Area G’ from its zone reference on the Luftwaffe maps. It was a big target suffering significant damage during the blitz. The residents, proud of their resilience, took the name of ‘Area G’ and used it as a symbol of pride, often using it to name their businesses , some of which you may still spot. Again, with a knowledgeable guide, you can see many reminders of this history that are easily overlooked. This plaque is on the road now known as the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Many of the railways arches along this stretch are now home to craft breweries, hence its new nickname.
So now the end was in sight – 20 miles about to bleep on the walking app, and a day spent in the company of a good friend who had given his time not just to walk with us on this challenge, but to make it an incredibly fascinating and interesting day.
Thank you Ian.
So walk 15 completed. I must admit that walking on tarmac is rather unforgiving – especially as all my walking footwear is specifically designed for the country trails. As a result I’m a bit clunkier than normal today.
I am now three quarters of the way through this challenge – and with walk 15 out of 20 done, I should be feeling really optimistic that the challenge is almost completed. Yet there was a real nip in the air on the way home yesterday. Its getting darker earlier, and summer is definitely disappearing.
The next 5 walks will be autumnal and even wintery. No doubt there will be challenging conditions underfoot – the return of the mud and puddles and time pressure with shorter daylight hours. Each walk, as you’ve realised brings its own story. There’s always a story.
If you would like to support me on this final part of the challenge, the simplest way to do so is by making a donation to the Macular Society through the link below.
The Macular Society is unusual in that it directly funds research, and with resources and funding stretched at the moment, donations help keep that vital research going to find a cure for Macular Diseases.
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!
Its been just over 2 weeks since the last walk. Back now to a more realistic timetable for these 20 mile walks, as life gradually eases back into the usual routine.
The original plan for these walks has long since been consigned to the bin and so they are now being plotted a few days before we head out and require far more on route navigation. I was going to say thank goodness for the OS Map App for this – but it did create a hiccup this time.
Anyway – lets tell you about Walk 13. After a bright and sunny few days Tuesday was warm but cloudy – on paper ideal walking weather. Neil, Ruby & I were joined on this walk by our friends Nicola and Maggie. Nicola has already featured on Walks 1 & 3 , so needs no introduction to you all – but we hadn’t seen Maggie for a very long time so it was really lovely to have both their company on this walk.
The plan lately, has been to venture out in different directions from our home here in Matfield, Kent. So discovering new paths and extending familiar ones to head out that bit further from our usual dog walk. It also keeps down travelling time to and from start points meaning we can clear some work before heading out and (in theory!) adapt the walk when we get closer to home to hit the 20 miles without having to walk around in circles at the end!
Today’s plan was a walk around local villages heading out towards Goudhurst and back in a figure of 8. We set off all chatting away as we caught up on each others news, and after almost 3/4 miles Neil realised he hadn’t set his App to record the mileage. We always have two running in case of any tech issues , as I want to ensure I post proof of each walk for all you wonderful people who are following and sponsoring me on this challenge. Anyway, Neil started his App ‘just in case’ and we carried on.
The first part of the route took us out through the orchards of Matfield towards Brenchley. We bypassed the villages sticking to footpaths and quiet back lanes to head to the crossover of the figure of 8 of this route. This is a familiar dog walk but this time we headed down a new path and a quiet lane to avoid a field that we knew was home to a very large bull. On this lane I managed to bag a rather beautiful (if slightly weak) Faces in Things cottage :
As you can see it was really rather cloudy and it was already starting to feel muggy. We were only around 5 miles in at this point and I was already feeling very sticky so layers started to be shed. We walked out through the sweeping apple orchards towards Furnace Lake and on towards Horsmonden.
We shortly arrived at Sprivers, Horsmonden. A National Trust estate. The house here is not open to the public but the woodlands and fields around it are. We decided whilst we were ‘fresh’ to loop around the grounds to gain some extra mileage early on. Its no hardship as its well kept grounds and woodlands and the house itself is beautiful (and available for weddings – if you are interested). The name comes from the early owner of the estate, Robert Sprivers when in 1447 it was one of the medieval manors. Subsequently the Courthope family – who gained their wealth from the local iron industry (hence Furnace Lake) took ownership in 1700 and added the Georgian frontage that remains today. (thank you Google…)
Loop completed we were now out onto the new part of the walk for us. Heading from Horsmonden towards Goudhurst village. Goudhurst (as with most local villages here) sits on top of a big hill – so cunningly I had plotted to skirt the edge of Goudhurst and head back on a different loop to avoid actually climbing the hill.
It was very muggy now and I was navigating on the hoof. I try and remember key decision points on any new route so I’m not walking with my head in the App and missing the beautiful countryside. I’m roughly aware when the footpath will split and which one we should take – but its not always so straightforward to spot.
This new route took us into something we hadn’t come across before. A stunning Kentish Hop field. The hopbines spread out in all directions and created archways to walk through on the path.
Somewhat distracted and a little a bit excited about discovering a hop field – I’d missed the decision point here. We had a quick stop for water whilst I fired up the OS Map app and checked where we were to the route. When you aren’t walking on an official trail , as we have done on some other walks – such as Cuckoo Trail, Forest Way and Oyster Bay, you become very aware that local footpaths are often just that. They don’t readily connect up to take you where you planned. Many footpaths around villages have evolved from historic routes – from farm worker cottages to farms for example or small hamlets to the local school or church. They weren’t intended to be part of a full network. So walks like this mean you have to keep the route in mind to avoid hitting a dead end.
It was then that I realised the battery on my watch was draining fast. It was freshly, and fully, charged when we left home . So far on every walk it has always lasted the full walk, and then some, and had become the creator of the definitive ‘log’ of each walk. Now, it was linking to the OS Map App on my phone so whenever I was spot checking the route it was draining my watch battery. Not normally an issue but as Neil’s App was, of course, running nearly 3/4 of a mile behind mine we had something new to keep an eye on.
Route sorted we found the gap in the hedge and headed out into a vineyard! Not quite the garden of Kent these fields – more a fledgling off licence- first beer and now wine!
We were now at a footpath crossroads and heading on towards Goudhurst. A 4 way crossroads should be straightforward but in reality they are not always a proper ‘cross’, so whilst I knew we wanted to go straight ahead – I had to head up each path a bit to confirm what was straight ahead. I should add I can map read (brownie badge confirms this) and spent a good month or so three years ago refreshing map reading and compass skills ahead of a highland walk – but when you are walking locally and only occasionally referring to an App and not a paper map, you are constantly resetting and relying on the magic ‘you are here’ arrow to tell you which direction you are facing. I don’t know why but I instantly get confused and start spinning in each direction to work out if I am where I think I am. I should have more faith in my plans as we inevitably head off in the original direction I’d thought was right!
This path gave us a wonderful view of Goudhurst on the (hilly) horizon. If you look closely you can make out the square tower of the Church.
It was at this point we mooted an idea. Going off plan and into Goudhurst village for a short refreshment & loo break. It was the first walk since Walk 3 that this was going to maybe, actually, be possible and even with a hill we felt it was worth a try..
We were now out in open meadows and almost missed the stile that led us back towards another quiet lane to connect to the next footpath and our route into Goudhurst.
We crossed the River Teise to continue out into a beautiful collection of farm buildings. Ruby was very frustrated that the banks of the river were too high for her to jump in and cool her paws.
On the original plan here we would turn and pick up a path that led us back towards that Vineyard, but now we were heading out on the lanes and turned up Blind Lane towards Goudhurst village. The fields around us here were full of sheep and cows but this menagerie caught our eye through the hedge.
So up, and up, and up Blind Lane we climbed. Nicola has an amazing fast walking pace and its consistent whatever the terrain, so we watched her speed up the hill. I’m definitely not fast on steep hills. I can take them in my stride, without issue, but my pace will definitely ease off as I know its a potential trigger for an ocular migraine – raising my heart rate is great, but not too fast or too much.
Blind Lane brings you almost into the centre of Goudhurst. Its a very pretty busy village, and its history is also linked not only to hop growing and ironworks but also to weaving. There are original weavers cottages still in the Village by the Church.
The first ‘hostelry’ was closed. It was just past 2.30pm on a Tuesday to be fair, but the Star and Eagle Hotel looked promising. To be honest, in the current climate we weren’t hopeful for any room at the Inn but we were in luck and were sent through to the rear terrace.
My watch App was struggling. We had walked 11.07 miles on my record and 10.37 on Neil’s. I had to switch my App off and we were relying now on Neil’s. I screen shotted (is that a word?) the record, so we could confirm the 20 miles between us at the end (darn Neil for forgetting to switch his app on at the start), and we’d be keeping the mental maths going on the way home to check mileage!
Now to head back – after our detour I was now navigating as we went for a bit. So this saw us head out across a field only to have to head back down it again to find the footpath hidden in the corner.
We were now picking up where we would have turned around if we hadn’t been lured by the promise of a pub and a drink stop. There was a little bit of road work here again in the lanes – so another map check to make sure we were a) on the right lane and b) heading the right way!
We were now just a short path away from the midpoint of the figure of 8. The area with the vineyard/hopfield and Sprivers where we would head out in the opposite direction to this morning and back into Matfield through more fruit farms. The clouds were gathering again now and looked more threatening.
From Sprivers we headed down towards Marle Place. The gardens here used to be open to the public and held exhibitions of sculptures in the grounds. Even from the outside its still very pretty from what we could see peeking over the wall. The road leading to Marle Place and its grounds are dotted with idyllic cottages often with lovely wild cottage gardens.
Out through a field of horses, into another orchard and onto a lane. Back on familiar territory now.
The skies now were looking very ominous, but made for some beautiful pictures. It was around 6pm – the weather forecast had predicted light rain around 7. We had just under 4 miles to go – it would be tight to avoid the rain.
Originally – here we would have looped back into Matfield, and out again towards Cinderhill Woods and the last half mile home. It was getting a little confusing with Neil’s data being behind and constantly calculating the ‘true’ amount left to cover, but we decided to walk up towards Matfield Church instead and down to the footpaths that leads us back to those woods.
What we hadn’t considered was our way could be blocked..
Now as lovely and seemingly friendly this lovely horse was – she had her boyfriend also hanging around who seemed, well, lets just say, he seemed unlikely to let us pass without incident!
I tried – I stepped onto the stile and stroked her nose – let her sniff the backpack – clearly apple and polo free but she still seemed reluctant to let us through. A short debate – send Neil over first.., maybe someone who felt ‘horsey’ could try and encourage them away from the path so others could make a run for it… did they seem bothered about Ruby? We then just decided to head back and walk down the lane instead and take a risk free route to get back to the kettle quicker.
So back we went. Now it was here that Nicola surprised us with a throwaway remark as we walked down the lane: ” I would definite call this a fairy lane if I was driving down here”. To us it felt similar to all the other lanes we had walked but something about the way the trees hung over the lane appealed to Nicola’s “spirit “- or as Neil said ” I think its either lockdown or her hats too tight”..
We were now at the entrance to the woods, but Neil’s calculations meant we had to head up a steep slope through the cobnut orchard to gain a longer loop of the woods. At least it was familiar..
Then as we came out of the woods, at just about 7pm light rain started falling. Neil’s App buzzed to register the 20 miles in full on his App although we were still a 1/4 mile from home (maybe we didn’t need that last steep slope!) and we were soon at the gate. 20 miles plus done (mental maths says actually 21 miles ish..)
A quick sorry to Maggie for not discovering a Cherry Orchard on this route, but lovely to have both yours and Nicola’s company – thank you for joining us!
Here’s the data (note the hills please!!) followed by the link to the donation page (you know, just in case…). Again a big thanks to all have supported – it really makes a difference to the work that the Macular Society can support.
If you would like to support this challenge you can make a donation here – Thanks for following my challenge 🙂
Walk 12… The 5th 20 mile walk in 26 days (even I think that is bloomin’ ridiculous!) Weather had cooled down, and our daughter Hazel had time off work and wanted to show her support and walk with us.
To be honest, even on the morning of the Walk – this one was in the balance. As you know if you’ve been following my blogs , Walk 11 had been tough and over the weekend I had had another, much stronger, silent migraine. It left that afterglow and I had been sleeping deeply for 10 hours for a few nights. A sign that my brain was rebooting and sorting itself out, a consequence of those lovely bright sunny days that saw me battling glare constantly.
So a plan was formed. Lets keep it at a very gentle pace and close to home. Hazel arrived and patiently sat in the garden whilst we faffed and got organised. The plan was very loose – probably 2, 10 mile loops allowing a short midway break at home. We would do the less familiar loop first heading out in the opposite direction to our usual dog walks.
Our local woods link into the Tunbridge Wells Circular walk. This is a 27 mile walk around the outskirts and villages of Tunbridge Wells so just a little too long for today. The route we ended up doing followed it a lot more than we had anticipated, and gave us some new walks to explore another time. I don’t think we were ever more than 4 miles from our front door on the whole of this walk but much of it was new.
We headed out through the village to the woods for a change, to gain some extra mileage early on. We passed a lovely small lake/ large pond we had discovered for the first time a month or so ago and the goslings that were tiny then were now much bigger. There was also Heron there perched looking for fish.
We headed out into the Orchards. This was going to be a theme for this walk discovering orchards – the first one was full of Kentish Cobnuts, and the nuts were just becoming visible. We have a cobnut tree in our garden, but its a battle each year to beat the squirrels to the bounty.
We headed through the farm itself towards a footbridge crossing a busy road. Many of my friends know I love a ‘faces in things’ , when I see one I have to take a picture. I was thrilled to find such a great one on the farm – although it was clearly specially doctored, it still put a smile on my face and became a marker point later on our return home.
Today’s plan for the first 10 mile loop was to explore the Pembury Walks. Our daughters used to go to Primary school near here, and so we drove through this area a lot for many years. We never thought to walk around here, except when joining the annual 12 mile sponsored walk each September.
These woods were a real delight. Nestled between the busy A21 and A228, they stretch out and also include a RSPB reserve. We met several people armed with binoculars. The most striking thing though was the height of the trees here. I’m not exactly tall (5ft 2″ on a good day) but being amongst these trees I felt like a toddler in comparison.
There were also some incredibly beautiful old trees in all kinds of wonderful shapes – we all were getting a little distracted and reaching for our phones to capture the photos.
We were due to loop back here towards home for this first 10 mile loop but we all agreed that we wanted to explore some more and just see where we ended up. A change of plan and now we were firmly making it up as we went along for this 20 miler.
We always make sure we have a battery charger for our phones and a rough idea of where we are by using OS Maps. Whilst walking on a whim is great, it can also add lots of miles to your walk unexpectedly as footpaths don’t always link up as you’d expect and you need to keep the odd marker point in mind. We decided we would head towards Tudeley and Capel and then pause to sketch a rough plan back towards home.
We came out into Half Moon Lane and followed the footpath through Knowles Bank towards Tudeley. The panoramic views on this stretch were stunning. Walking through the path here we were greeted by sheep and horses. It was incredibly quiet and we had the place to ourselves.
Perfect walking weather now and with the wide open fields and meadows we were rewarded with view after view. The first meadow we came across was tinged with pale blue from Flax plants. All gently moving in the breeze. It was really captivating , so we wasted a fair amount of time here taking it all in.
If you look closely in the above picture you can see Hadlow Tower. This featured in our virtual Walk 6, and always marks to me my mums house as she lives just underneath it!
We spilled out now onto the road and walked past one of our favourite local restaurants, Turmeric Gold, before heading back into the fields and onto the Tunbridge Wells Circular again. We had a decision point here – whether to turn left or right along the road. We went with the shorter roadside journey as this stretch of road is busy and limited pavement and we were instantly rewarded.
We walked into a meadow that had lots of swifts swooping around, but was absolutely full of little creamy lemon butterflies. I tried to capture it on video for you all (not very successfully!), but you can hear all of us being absolutely stopped in our tracks by the sheer scale and sight of it. Walk 12’s Vision Memory.
Even Ruby loved this meadow. There was definitely something magical here that got us all a little bit bouncy!
We headed out now through a gap in the hedge, around another field and through a walled pathway onto the Somerhill Estate at Tonbridge. This is a private primary school and the fields were full of children in their class groups all keeping ‘bubble distance’ from each other during the lunchbreak. It must have been a challenge for the school to manage this with a public footpath running through the grounds, but the children were clearly aware to keep away from the path.
As you head out from the school grounds, the edge of the estate here has stunning lodge houses and an exclusive fishing lake. Again this is just by the A21 and we left the estate through a patch of woodland that led us to a tunnel under the A21 – where all 3 of us gave an impromptu tunnel whoop to check for echoes.
Now was the downside of the navigate on a whim.. We had to walk up Castle Hill alongside the A21 dual carriageway towards Pembury for a couple of miles. The road was dualled a couple of yeas back, and alongside it a new cycling and running/walking path created. It was surprisingly quiet when the traffic was beneath the banks but the fumes were evident and we just put our heads down and picked up the pace. No point moaning.
As soon as we could we headed back in to Pembury Walks. A rough plan again to head to Pembury Old Church and then out next to the girls old school across to Capel and then the woods by our house. Again the woods here at Pembury delivered some more surprises.
The Church itself was closed. We hadn’t visited it since the girls left primary school ( nearly 15 years ago!) but its such a pretty Church with interesting carvings around the door , i will head back someday and look into its history a bit more.
We headed out across fields now. Soon to be met by the sheep taking refuge from the sun under a copse of trees.
We went back into woods for a short while now before coming back out into more meadows. This time filled with a sea of yellow.
A little bit of focus now on navigating. We needed to reach the A228 ( a very busy road) at a particular point so we could minimise walking along this dangerous stretch. The footpaths here became far less defined as they were clearly less used and we had lots of stiles to negotiate, that had no dog gates as the fields had sheep amongst the long grass. This meant carrying Ruby over the trickier stiles. She usually leaps over them , but some were awkward or missing the ‘steps’ that gave her a launchpad. She loved being picked up by Hazel and saw it as an opportunity for a cuddle refusing to get down!
But this carrying malarkey didn’t last for long as we stumbled across another orchard this time full of Cherries. Its the height of cherry season and the harvest here was in full progress..we may have ‘helped’ a little bit
We left the cherries straight for an apple orchard before crossing a small lane to rejoin the footpath.
We crossed a small road, and found it difficult to find the footpath here. Luckily Hazel’s sharper eyesight spotted the footpath marker amongst the ferns. So we beat a path through the ferns coming out into a meadow and a lovely brook that gave Ruby an opportunity for a quick dip.
We came out into a meadow again with a very overgrown path making it hard to navigate across. We could just make out the stile in the corner of the field that led us onto the busy road we had to cross.
It took a while for a gap in the traffic allowing us to cross the road, and we ended up jogging to get out of the way of the traffic so we could get back to the safety of the footpath. From here we were back in the woods where we started this morning. We still had 4 miles to complete, so rather than take the direct route home we added a loop back through the farm with the ‘faces in things’ treat.
For once, this last 5 miles wasn’t too tough. My eyes (and head) were fine , and although the walk was very hilly, we were feeling relatively OK. I suspect as we were navigating on the go our pace was much slower and therefore we were benefiting from the gentler pace.
As we headed back through the last part of the woods we were now retracing our steps from this morning. We passed a part on the path where this morning we had seen a young family building a shelter together. Now this shelter had a small fence taking shape. They had clearly been busy.
We finally arrived back at Matfield Green and walked back towards home. When we got to the gate we were OBVIOUSLY 0.3 miles short, so we finished with a number of laps of the garden. More consequences of navigating on a whim!
Walk 12 of 20 done!
I will now ease back on the frequency of walks. A few extra joints feeling stiff today and with work starting to get busier, its not so easy to keep up this pace. Keep following me – Walk 13 will be taking place in July – just not sure where just yet!
As always a big thank you to everyone who has donated and supported me. Justgiving doesn’t give me an option to reply directly unfortunately so I will thank you again through this blog, as there has been a lot of support this month.
Please do share this blog, to help raise awareness of Macular Dystrophy and if you would like to make a donation to this challenge you can do so here:
A heatwave forecast, so we set a cunning plan. A coastal walk to capture the sea breeze and head out early in the week before the heatwave took hold. We found a ‘flattish’ route on the Saxon Shore Way – this would be the 4th walk in 20 days so we wanted to be as kind to our legs as possible. The challenge this month was more about the frequency of walks than the terrain itself.
We arrived at Reculver Country Park mid morning, we being Neil, Ruby and I. The route was nice and simple – face the sea and turn left – walk for 10 miles and turn back. We were almost immediately swarmed by midges. I was donning my Macular Society yellow T Shirt to help promote Macular Week, and it was quickly attracting midges to it.
We continued on the path to the top of the cliff, and through a protected meadow full of nesting Skylarks and headed down the steps to the beachside path. We left the distinctive towers and Roman Fort behind to explore on our return – no doubt we will need to find an extra quarter of a mile..
It was cloudy and breezy – perfect walking weather. We were walking now along the coast towards Herne Bay, from there we would continue onto Hampton, Tankerton, Whitstable and Seasalter before retracing our route back. We had thought we would be walking the Saxon Shore Way, but the signage for this path was limited and dominated by the Oyster Bay Trail. So Oyster Bay Trail became the guidepoint, and was full of interesting facts along the way – lucky for you all!
These sculptures in Reculver ,for example, highlighted the history – a Roman woman, an Oyster Fisherman and a Dambuster – the squadron used to practice over the sea here as the Towers were similar to those on River Ruhr. The route was stretched out for us along the coast – not so easy to spot the end point with the bays, but this picture gives you a sense of what stretched ahead:
Three miles in and we arrived at Herne Bay. A seaside town complete with a pier, bandstand, crazy golf and beachside gardens. In fact it was a true English seaside classic. I was also heartened to have reached it so quickly, ticking off milestones on these walks is a great motivator.
The clouds were starting to lift a bit now, and as we walked along the promenade here, we were delighted by the beautiful regency townhouses and well kept public buildings.
We shortly came across the bronze statue to Amy Johnson, and had not known of the story of her death off the coast at Herne Bay before, very tragic, and what an incredible life she led.
It just shows how much you can gain just from a simple walk. I think every walk I have done so far has shared something new to me, making the aching legs worth it.
We headed out from Herne Bay towards Hampton and the beach here was lined with around 500 beautiful Beach Huts. Every single one was in perfect condition and gorgeously painted. I knew Tankerton and Whitstable would give us Beach Huts – but these were definitely the best we saw on this walk, and worth a look if you are on a trip to Herne Bay.
It was getting warmer now, and Ruby – who usually hates the sea- decided it was time to take a dip to cool off. She kept blocking our path and trying to get us to head down onto the beach. A drink of water wasn’t enough she wanted to have a paddle. We caved in, unfortunately setting a precedent for the next 15 miles!
Refreshed we headed off again, keeping the sea on our right and headed round the bay towards Tankerton and Whistable.
We arrived at Long Rock – a site of Special Scientific Interest and a wildlife haven. It meant we could divert from the cycle path which was becoming quite busy at this point – a sign we were nearing Whitstable.
The view across the bay here showed the beach huts of Tankerton coming into view. Another milestone on this route. It was also the only time we found a sign for the Saxon Shore Way..
As Tankerton approached we got the first glimpse of Whitstable – the East Quay on the horizon and ready for us to explore.It was far less crowded than usual with the restaurants closed.
You can’t visit Whitstable without a look round East Quay. I’m allergic to shellfish so I don’t get too excited about the place, but its still a lovely area to be on a beautiful day.
We had to retrace our steps back out through the Quay and towards West Beach. We still had to head as far as we could along west beach and if my plan was right we would hit 10 miles just as we hit the private restricted areas by Seasalter.
Its really picturesque along here with lots of rejuvenation having taken place. The old Fishermans huts are now available to hire for overnight stays and the area really feels cherished.
You can see by these photos that the clouds had now cleared. It was a glorious day and felt much hotter than the 21C it actually was. The wind had dropped and my T shirt was packed away in my rucksack. We were almost at the 10 mile mark now, and gave Ruby another paddle and play in the sea whilst we grabbed our snack bars and bananas.
Time to turn round, and a quick pic to share on social media for the halfway mark – just to remind everyone we were out and walking today ..
Then, a moment after we turned to head back it appeared. The dreaded aura. The sign of an ocular migraine. These are ‘silent’ migraines – I get no headache or pain but I am incapacitated by them. I have to stop allow the aura to pass and then prepare for the afterglow or hangover that it gives. An inability to focus, inability to find words when speaking – face blindness where I can’t recognise people but know their voices and a general clumsiness. It can last up to 36 hours in bad cases and something that really ripped through my life last year, until they cam back under control. In fact this blog has taken a lot longer to write as I have the afterglow lurking and have to keep pausing and rereading. These are effectively a brain reboot – often caused by a reaction to light and glare. As my brain is constantly filling in my blind spot and struggles with bright light it just needs to reset itself and this aura is the first sign.
We paused our walking apps and headed to the beach again (Ruby was thrilled..) Used my rucksack as a make shift head support and lay down for half an hour shielding my eyes from the sun to wait for the aura to pass. It took about half an hour – grabbed some more water and another energy bar (I always crave sugar after one of these episodes) and we set off again. This time I was holding on to Neil as the disorientation it really confusing and I can easily lose sight of him and not recognise him again in a crowd. Ruby always seems to hover around me though as though she can sense somethings up.
There was no point whinging – the car was 10 miles away – at least a 3 hour walk, and so a steady stroll back was the plan
Obviously I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this, but these walks are a challenge and are to highlight what it is like living with Macular Disease. For me an ocular migraine is my nemesis, but I still have most of my vision and limited restrictions in my day to day life. I do have days where I complain, (OK sometimes I complain a lot!) but its largely from frustration and I find a way to adapt.
It also reminds Neil why he has inadvertently become a participant in this challenge. To support me in the event of this happening. He was now chief navigator – keep the sea to the left until you reach the towers, and photographer. I would be the annoying art Director.
This is one of the funny things post aura. You start noticing details that you wouldn’t normally – like I have a heightened sense of awareness around me. Probably just because of shut up talking for once and concentrated more on whats around me.
So here almost straight away were the first photos requested – along with my garbled requests why they would be good
It was good to navigate back out of Whitstable and Tankerton to quieter areas. I think this photo shows that I struggle in this afterglow (I’ve decided its a better phrase than hangover!), it seems that I use 3 times as much energy as I’m constantly orienting myself as well as undertaking the physicality of a 20 mile walk.
I’d like to say we headed back at speed, but that just wasn’t true. Lots of pauses for water and shade to keep hydrated and the reflection of the sun off the sea was penetrating my light blocking glasses constantly.
For some reason I just had in mind that Herne Bay was just 3 miles from the car and I focussed on getting there as a major milestone. I also had a constant thought about the steps back up the cliff to Reculver but did my best to ignore those.
Neil was struggling a bit with the heat now too. Ruby had another dip to cool off – another break for water and another push to get to those lovely beach huts.
Herne Bay – 3 miles to go – back past the clocktower and the BiPlane bench for Amy Johnson – the inscription lept out at me this time – those heightened details again.
So now we could see the end goal – the Reculver Towers on the headland ahead. It was great to see the end point, and feel it coming tangibly closer. I hadn’t had that on a walk since early March in London, where the London Eye kept popping into view around the route.
You can see now how clear the skies were – thank goodness we walked on the coolest day forecast this week. There was the hint of a light breeze now but we had hit the usual wall for the last 5 miles. Every step is now felt – we clock up around 42,500 steps on these walks, and that sheer repetition takes its toll regardless of warm ups and stretches.
We kept moving and soon the beachside path stopped and we were faced with the vertical steps back up the cliff where the meadow , Towers and our car were waiting.
I made another big push and headed up the steps and promptly felt faint. Another 10 minute pause with my head between my knees as I took on more water. I forced myself up – it was less than a mile now and being up on the cliff there was a lovely breeze and I felt so much better. Those heightened senses reappeared and the meadow was filled with yellow butterflies and skylarks rising full of song. Another wonderful vision memory and an upshot of the afterglow.
You guessed it – back near the car and 0.2 miles short so a walk up to the Towers and Fort – luckily I was expecting this, but it was not exactly a crowning moment- more a final slog with the highlight of realising the Towers were a classic ‘faces in things’
20 miles done. Walk 11 of 20 done. 4 walks in 20 days done. This was tough – it should have been a breeze.. Macular Dystrophy doing its part in Macular Awareness week to remind me it can make anything a challenge when I least expect it.
Today, 23rd June, I should have been at Moorfields Eye Hospital for an assessment of the progression of my Macular Dystrophy. Its non urgent not because its not debilitating, but simply because there is no treatment or cure. This is simply a monitoring appointment that gives me an idea of how fast it is progressing. Everyone progresses at a different pace and I am doing all I can to keep healthy, exercise and eat well to help – hence these walks.
This week is Macular Week, where we are all trying to raise awareness of the spectrum of conditions and diseases that affect the Macular. This is why I am walking 20, 20 mile walks – to raise awareness and encourage people to donate in support.
I genuinely appreciate all the support from my friends, family and a whole raft of people who have been in touch to encourage me. Thank you for all your donations. Some of these have been anonymous so I haven’t been able to thank you directly.
I still have 9 more walks to complete and every donation gives me a real boost. Please do share my story as much as you can this week, using #macularweek to help raise awareness, and if you or someone you know would like to make a donation, the link is here.
So halfway through June, we’ve completed Walk 10 and are now halfway through the 20-20 Challenge. Its been a bit relentless in pace this month as I was keen to catch longer days, good weather and quieter routes.
This walk was planned originally to be a 20 mile linear walk from Tonbridge Castle along the River Medway to Aylesford Priory. However as I’ve already highlighted logistics are a challenge at the moment as we can not share car journeys, so each walk is beng adapted to an ‘out and back’ or circular route.
We therefore set off from Yalding and headed to Allington Lock, just outside Maidstone.
The starting point was just outside Yalding by the canoe launch points at the lock.Its quite a busy stretch of road but it offered parking which was key as the usual car park is currently closed.
A short walk towards Yalding station, past a field of Llamas, brought us to the riverside path. Already river life was underway here with someone having a Kayak lesson and others preparing their boats for a day cruising the river. Although this path follows the railway track most of the way, it was incredibly calm and peaceful.
It was a muggy day again, and the skyline had many threatening dark grey clouds gathering so we were hoping to miss any downpours. Just a few metres along the path we were rewarded with beautiful river views and a Heron taking off. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera – but I can’t capture everything for you!
There was a real community all along this path – from the kayakers and small boat owners through to the fishermen and those that had made their homes along the riverbank. There were several small caravan sites along the way – one was not for permanent residence but the others were. They all had beautiful views across the banks and on a lovely day many were sitting on small verandas outside.
The scenery and landscape was constantly changing. From woodland to fields and wide reaching views. These first few miles were incredibly peaceful and the river was a delight to walk beside. Many of the trees here were exceptionally old but in good health , although there were also several that had fallen across the path adding extra beauty to the trail.
We were now moving from Nettlestead into Wateringbury. It was bustling around here and we had two route options from here to Teston. We decided to continue following the path at this point and save the alternate for our return. We crossed Bow Bridge to pick up the path and below us we could see the swans gliding on the river.
Also below us was a guy on a stand up paddle board – we seemed to keep pace with him for the next mile or so. Our route took us up above the river now towards the hamlet of Tustham and the paddle board kept coming into view when we had the river back in sight.
This little hamlet was gorgeous. The initial path had a sign with a rather formidable warning, but proved to be out of date thank goodness. I know very little about this place, but the views were stunning and the buildings looked idyllic. It also hosts one of the World War 2 pillboxes that can be found along the river Medway.
From here we followed the lane back towards West Farleigh & Teston. Here we crossed the river over the Grade 1 listed bridge that dates back to the 15th century. This bridge is only one vehicle wide and without a footpath. It has little bays built into it on each side so you can tuck out of the way and admire the river view.
We joined the path again along the river . This time we not only had the railway running parallel, but also the A26. However, it felt a million miles away as the river was in a small valley beneath them, just dotted with fisherman along the banks.
As we continued along the path towards Maidstone we headed through a narrow section. There were a lot of Coronavirus signs here making you aware that you would not be able to social distance. Its the first time we have seen these on our walks. It does seem that the authorities here are rather keen on signs – I’m still making a mental list of what the etc could be on this sign!
The path here switched to tarmac and the banks of the river were lined with an eclectic mix of houseboats. Many also had a small garden alongside all lovingly tended and the vegetable plots were very impressive too. Again there was a real sense of community here and the river here was lined with large old trees.
We were now just over a quarter of the distance on this walk, but already felt we had seen so much more than on our last few walks. We now reached East Farleigh and again it took on a bustling atmosphere as we approached the bridge and lock.
From here on, we were approaching the outskirts of Maidstone, and both sides of the river were now lined with apartments or houses. The houses had gardens that swept down to the riverbank – many had built decks so they could sit or fish at the waters edge.
It wasn’t long before we could see the Archbishop’s Palace on the opposite bank signalling we were in the centre of Maidstone.
There was a definite change of atmosphere. The banks of the river were lined with benches and these were largely occupied by groups who seemed to have turned them into makeshift pubs – complete with pub umbrellas.
We had to head away briefly from the river to navigate the large central roundabout by the Crown Court and then rejoin on the opposite bank to head out the other side of Maidstone.
We had just 2 miles now to get to Allington Lock which would take us to just over the 10 mile marker and be the turning point. However, just under a mile from here we were greeted with this – today is the 15th June..:
Typical! Lots of planning to make sure we didn’t have to walk around by the car when we arrived back and now we were going to be 2 miles short!
We turned round as alternate routes were through residential streets and we made the decision to walk past our car and along the path in the other direction when we got back to Yalding.
Close to this turn around point there was evidence of rejected bounty from some magnet fishing abandoned on the riverbank.
We also decided to stick to this bank of the river for as long as possible to bypass the bench drinkers. This meant an opportunity to look round the grounds of the Archbishop’s Palace a bit more.
The weather was very changeable now as we retraced our way back along the paths. It was very very muggy and we were feeling that oppressive heat starting to drain our energy and resolve. Probably coupled with the fact we knew we had to walk past the car when we got back and find a further 2 miles.
However the light was beautiful and the river was shining on the route back.
It seemed to take a lot longer to head off the tarmac path and back on the natural paths. Ruby took every opportunity to jump into the little streams that flowed into the river – cooling her paws and tummy in the clear water.
This time we walked through Teston Country Park and past the lock back to Wateringbury.
As we were now on the opposite bank we could just see a few landmarks from this mornings walk through Tustham – particularly the WW2 pillbox.
So we found ourselves back near Wateringbury and then on through the fields towards Nettlestead. It was so much quieter here, and as we approached the final field we were greeted by such a magical sight as the air was filled with floating seed heads just bobbing around us. The video doesn’t do it justice but gives you an idea!
So now we were back by the car. Poor Ruby was keen to get back in it , but we still had 2 miles to clock up. We walked past the car towards Teapot Island and headed along the Valley Walk towards East Peckham. We knew we had to walk a mile out and it felt like the longest mile we’d ever walked!
It was clear the path here was not used so often as it was much narrower and overgrown. We were listening hard for the app to shout 19 miles so we could turn back towards the car. It was a lovely route, but our tired feet weren’t truly appreciating it.
Finally the app buzzed and we turned and headed back.. I was really quite achy now. Three 20 mile walks so close together were starting to take their toll . Even though we stretch, rest and recover in between, its a reminder that it is very much a challenge. Neil’s comment of the day was ‘Why didn’t you say 20 Kilometres..”
If only lockdown hadn’t played a part, we could have finished this walk here on the banks of the river with a lovely glass of something cold and some delicious food – but it was not to be this time.
We ambled back to the car, and of course (!) we were still 0.04 miles short (grrr), so we walked past the car – much to Ruby’s annoyance – and back again til we got the 20 mile beep.
20 miles done. Walk 10 of 20 done.
Halfway there and new trainers now on order as mine are starting to wear thin and the canvas has holes appearing now.
Despite the struggle at the end, we both loved this walk and I hope that maybe I can do the original planned 20 miles of it another time – I will check the route is fully open first!
As always this is a reminder that these walks are part of my 2020 challenge to complete 20, 20 mile walks to raise funds for the Macular Society. If you would like to encourage me (and I need it at the moment!!) please do consider making a donation, however small, if you can here: