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Kent – the Eden Valley

Penshurst has a direct train service from London bridge every 30 minutes and takes 1 hour.  So it is easy access to a beautiful part of the Kent Weald across rolling countryside taking in fields, meadow3s, orchards, fruit fields and many little streams.  It is rather wet this time of year.IMG_20141217_095551 IMG_20141217_095604 IMG_20141217_101947 IMG_20141217_102010 IMG_20141217_102016

The first section goes to Chiddingstone which has lovely Tudor buildings still in active operation as homes, a pub, shop, church and a fantastic cafe with the best cakes in the south.

Just before Chiddingstone the path crosses the River Eden which is quite a feature across Kent.

Back at Penshurst the big feature is the opulent Penshurst Place, the home of Viscount de ‘Lisle, previously Sidney, and which has been in the family since the 16th century.


East Surrey & the Weald around Lingfield

50  minutes from London Victoria lies Lingfield with its famous racecourse deep in the East Surrey Weald south of the North Downs.

A circular walk taking in Dormansland and Haxted goes through lanesIMG_20141210_095742 and fields and across the River Eden.  In December this year the fields were rather muddyIMG_20141210_104645 and the the crops had died back, making for a truly ‘wintry’ scene.  Local farmers are ploughing over the path even though it is, through this field, the Vanguards Way from London to Newhaven.IMG_20141210_112011When we walked the route last April it was bright and fresh and quite green.

We crossed a lot of ditches and passed many ponds, draining the fields.IMG_20141210_113805

The River Eden is surprisingly strong flowing as its meanders through fields and the sturdy bridges must sustain quite heavy flows at times.IMG_20141210_115837

It is a quiet route and few people are encountered and there are no villages or major roads.

Boxhill is just one hour from Central London

We went to Box Hill this week. We wanted a quick jaunt into the country and the North Downs has been kept in good fettle for walking and cycling. As it is only one hour away so we went early and were home mid-afternoon after a 9 mile hike.IMG_20141206_122744It is still surprising that within easy commuting distance are woods and lanes like this one to ‘Lonesome Cottage’.  It really is quite alone on Ranmoor Common just behind the edge of the Downs looking over the Weald.

We had a frosty sunny day IMG_20141206_120657which required gloves a lot of the time on one of the coldest days of the Winter (just started this week!) so far.

It was a circular walk from Boxhill & Westhumble station firstly through the Norbury Park Estate free for the public to enjoy thanks to Surrey County Council who bought it in 1930 and saved it from house-building.  The estate is an a hillside overlooking the Mole Valley and Box Hill and has thick woodland of beech, ash and cherry, typical of chalky downs.  There are great views across the Weald to Juniper Hill.  Some of the Yews are 2000 years old.  After the wood yard of the estate from where its own charcoal can be bought the track turns away fro the down edge and across common land and woods towards Polesden Lacey along deep-cut lanes which can be muddy.

Polesden Lacey is over 700 years old and the current building went up in 1824 and was a haunt of royals and aristocrats in the early 20th century when owned by the Nazi-admiring Grevilles.  The National Trust took it in 1942 in lieu of tax.  The trail goes past the house and onto Ranmore Common also under the National Trust and thence back to the downs edge onto the North Downs Way with magnificent views south across the Weald.IMG_20141206_133658  The NDW runs from Farnham to the Kent coast and is part of a longer old trackway from Devon.  Below the downs lies the Pilgrims Way used by Bronze Age merchants and drovers and where Geoffrey Chaucer set his Canterbury Tales.

The return journey to the railway station goes through the vineyards of the Denbies Estate producing bubbly and still wines.IMG_20141206_134520  Unfortunately the estate blocks the Downs and the NDW detours somewhat clumsily inland around the estate to return to the Downs to reach Westhumble.  The station is a work of art with pillar capitals and corbels and, best of all, for walkers and cyclists a cycling shop and cafe in the station buildings.  While waiting for the hourly train to Victoria they serve hot drinks and refreshments.IMG_20141206_142732

Balcombe and Ardingly, West Sussex

Just 1 hour from central London on the fast Thameslink train to Brighton is an area of the High Weald that is beautiful to walk in. The reservoirs at Balcombe and Ardingly fit into narrow steep valleys and are full of noisy water birds. The slopes around have a lovely mix of beech, oak and pine.IMG_20141128_122205

Muddy track along the reservoir

Muddy track along the reservoir

Part-way round the 9 mile circular walk is the national trust owned Wakehurst Place and gardens run by the Royal Botanic Gardens as well as the Millennium Seed Bank.

Trains run from London Bridge hourly on the Gatwick and Brighton line and drop you in the centre of the village of Balcombe. There is a suburban half-hour to get to Ardingly reservoir and once there a long water-side stretch follows with just the occasional fisherman and lots of birds making quite a lot of noise which is intensified by the regular forays of the local buzzards. IMG_20141128_121735IMG_20141128_112540

From the reservoir lanes around farms go to Ardingly and St Peter’s late medieval Church with one of the biggest yew trees in the cemetery.


Bales of fleeces left to rot

Bales of fleeces left to rot

From here is a stretch of mixed woods to the estate of Wakehurst Place where the Victorian craze for rhododendrons has played itself out with the elimination of all other species. The section of the Wakehurst modern gardens and woods as managed by the Botanic Gardens maintain their medieval form with the rhododendrons removed and are lovely to walk through but the dreary tea-room and shop are best avoided by the walker: the coffee is pretty awful and the shop display is depressingly dull. Wait til you get to Balcombe and warm up with a cuppa at the tea rooms which you will pass by a half mile before returning to Balcombe station.

Hever & Chiddingstone – Kent


Kent is a favourite county for us.  It is nearby and living in south London it is easy to get to, as far as anywhere is easy to get to from the Smoke.  It is green, rolling and has good train services.  We try to get there and back by train to cut the hassle factor.  Road is often a nightmare.

Hever is about 1.5 hours from our home in South London with a half hourly service from London Bridge.

We’ve done this walk many times and variants of it.  A great attraction in the summer and autumn are the plentiful blackberries and sloes.  In November these are all gone as are the jousting crowds at Hever Castle.  This week there was tree lopping and winter clearing tasks in the managed woodlands.  In the Nature Reserves the summer vibrancy has faded to dark dying and drippy undergrowth – I like this.  We had a dry and even warm day for our walk which was good as it was a bit muddy..

IMG_20141120_131107IMG_20141120_132448The secret reason for favouriting this walk is the fabulous tea and cake stop along the way in Chiddingstone where they make their own cakes and serve top-notch tea with great enthusiasm.  It’s worth a detour.

The Tour De Mont Blanc – in pictures

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June 1944 – Normandy Landings & The French Resistance

I planned a three week walk through Provence without once thinking of what was happening there 70 years ago during the occupation by the Germans.  The French Resistance was the stuff of war films when I was young but I have not thought much about it since.  Two years ago I was walking in the Correze in west central France on Remembrance Day and I learned from my hosts in the chambres d’hotes that they too had not reflected much on the losses that the British suffered in the war.  They were surprised when I quoted the numbers to them.

This year I was walking north across one of the main centres of resistance to Vichy and German rule in southern France 1940-45.  First in Marseilles I saw this plaque prominently on a wall in the centre of the city put there in memory of the people of Marseilles who disappeared, were killed and who died in Nazi camps and were victims of the Nazi evacuation of the old port on 23 January 1943.  It is a striking portrait of families labouring and grieving.


A few days later north of  Jouques and set high above the River Durance was this splendid monument to the losses suffered by the French at the hands of the occupiers, listing the names of those who had been killed. 20140513_121143

A few days later further north I set out from St Saturnin d”Apt 20140517_093350to Sault and discovered that the mountains and plateaux were a focus of the Resistance.  The struggle against oppression was commemorated by a series of plaques and posts.  The first one was on the road just north of the town toward the Plateau de Sarraud which explained how important the plateau was in the struggle against the occupiers.20140517_091559

As the trail rose steadily in full sun away from the wide and verdant valley of Apt through the dense trees and towards the plateau there were further plaques describing clashes between local activists and the Germans and crosses 20140517_114121marking the spot where French fighters were killed.  This one records the killing of four combatants on 1 July 1944.20140517_114148

On the plateau itself was a plaque describing how it was used by the RAF to land its planes and to take people out of the country to Britain.  The plaque recounted how on one occasion there were too many for the plane to take off and the agonising decision was made to leave some behind.  The Germans arrived and shot them and also the local farmer who had helped in the evacuation.20140517_124130

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Not all resistance fighters were killed on the spot.  Many were deported to camps in Germany where they died.  This plaque in Sault records the death of two local fighters – Gustave Roux and Henri Grangeon – who had been taken away to a camp in Mathausen in April and August 1944.20140517_161307

Several days later, north-west of Nyons I walked to the peak of the mountain, La Lance (1336m), which was another important centre of the Resistance, to La Roche St Secret.  These plaques in La Roche St Secret recount the activities of the ‘Maquis de la Lance’ in 1943-44.  On 11 November 1942 the area was occupied by the Germans and more than 300 young people refused to collaborate with the German Nazis and the Vichy Government.  They organised themselves as the FFI (Forces Francaises de l’Interieur) and made an important contribution to the liberation of France.  One plaque maps the ‘Chemin des Maquis de la Lance’ being a map of the area and the centres of Resistance activity.

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A significant memorial is this one:20140518_141456Marceau Emile Marin was killed on 1 June 1944 at the age of 38 by the ‘sinister’ French SS, part of the 1st Regiment of the Brandenburg Nazis.  Clearly there was a local French SS against whom the resistance fought.

On arrival at Romans sur Isere on 27 May I was fortunate to witness a civic ceremony in memory of those killed and deported in WW2.