Monday, November 06, 2006

There is something so luxurious about not setting an alarm clock and waking at your own leisure. We try and do this on the weekends, waking to the sunlight peeping in and birds wittering away in the trees across the bridle path at the bottom of the garden.

This past Saturday, however, it was an early start, but we didn't mind because we'd signed up for a guided walk near Sevenoaks, Kent. ATG does the most fantastic sounding walks in mainland Europe (mostly at some significant expense). If we ever do go on one of these marvellous creations, I suspect it will be the "footloose" variety where they don't actually lead you, but they provide you with maps and walk details, book your hotels and transport your luggage (a little more affordable than their pull-out-all-the-stops guided versions). All lovely sounding. In the meantime, we do their Saturday Walks which are delightful: they provide a guide, lunch en route in a village hall or similar, and high tea at the end. Most civilized! A portion of the cost of the walk goes to their Ad Terrae Gloriam Trust, renovating frescoes, statues etc. along the paths they frequently walk. A nifty idea.

Saturday dawned bright and chilly. Rugged up against the cold, your breathe puffs in the air and the tip of your nose threatens to drop off. Stamping on the spot while waiting to depart helps, as does hunching low into your scarf and jacket. Setting off is a relief, as we start to move.

The walk passed through the grounds of Lord Sackville's Knole Park (the house is closed to the public over the winter months). This is where Vita Sackville-West lived as a child and began her relationship with Virginia Woolf, inspiring ORLANDO. The gardens she created at Sissinghurst are lovely (we make an annual pilgrimage). I was a bit like a tourist on safari in South Africa - let me explain. On first arriving at Kruger National Park, excited tourists shout "Oooh, a springbok!" and "Look, another Springbok!" Repeatedly. Until they realize there are loads of them, and the tone becomes an underwhelmed "Just another Springbok." On Saturday I was thrilled to spot some deer as we entered Knole Park, and then some more...and more...and (yup, you've guessed it) "oh, more deer."

Knole Park is green, leafy and wooded as far as the eye can see. Extraordinary to think that in the great storm of 1987 70% of trees in this area were lost. We learned of the thriving insect and small animal life that have proliferated since, living off the great tree carcasses left rotting in the leaf mould. Sevenoaks lost all but one of the great trees from whence it took it's name. Our circular walk fell within an AONB, or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with spectacular views over the High Weald towards the South Downs. The sun shone brightly, but was slow to burn off the mist down in the valley and undulating hills rippled into the distance cloaked in shades of white and grey.

Our path passed the perfection of the 14th century moated and timber framed manor house of Ightham Mote. Such lovely woodland - we spent most of the morning crunching over fallen acorns and chestnut husks. After six miles or so we stopped for lunch in a little village school hall - wonderful salads, fresh homemade breads and soup to keep us going. Even a little tipple...

The afternoon's return circuit passed through rolling pastureland down in the valley of the Weald looking back up towards the Greensand Way. Our guide explained some of the geology of the region - the rock shows a sheen of green when freshly hewn, hence the name. We reached the twelve mile mark back at Knole Park after a profusion of stiles and cattle/sheep grills (this is farming country after all), in time to watch the moon rise in a pale perfect sphere above the ancient oaks, deer munching quietly.


Blogger Carl V. said...

It is nice to sleep in but if you're getting up for something as interesting as that walk then it is well worth hearing those annoying beeps on a Saturday morning.

8:19 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Hello Carl - while I stumbled round half asleep until I'd had my morning brew, there were absolutely no regrets once we got there: a lovely day out.

8:52 am  

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