Eleven of us turned up at Chislehurst Caves in South London. Chislehurst Station (zone 5) is just 500 metres away, so very convenient.
The man-made chalk tunnels and caverns cover a large area, and the map looked like a small town. The entertaining guide occasionally dodged round a corner leaving us groping around with our feeble lamps until he suddenly popped out from an unexpected direction, such was his knowledge of the paths. The caves were used as an air raid shelter in the Second World War and there was a recreation of the conditions suffered by the people – triple bunks, the top ones getting wet from the chalk ceilings, basic medical provision, poor ventilation and so on. Discipline appears to have been rigid, which with that many people in an enclosed space is perhaps just as well. The caves were also used for storage by the army.
One hour later we were outside thinking what to do, the pub being uppermost in some minds. Instead we walked down the road to Petts Wood. This is a wood owned by The National Trust, along with Hawkwood Estate next door, but does not feature in their 2019 handbook. It is in their leaflet “Around London”, which is how we came to know of it. It was more than a mile to walk there, so we did the North edge of the Wood then went hungrily in search of a pub. The first was full – natch, it is Sunday – but the second, the Crown Inn on School Road, had tables outside. The weather was fine and so, ignoring the wasps, we had an enjoyable meal.
A walk along the busy roads back to Chislehurst and then off home.
Brian U. 28th July 2019
Higham, Kent, Circular
Five EFOG members met at Stratford International Station on Sunday 21st July for Lynne’s Dickens-themed walk in Kent.
It takes little time to get the two stops to Sheerness, and about the same to wait for the one-sto-down-the-line train to Higham. What occurred to me as we walked out of the station and across the bridge to our proposed footpath was the number of butterflies alongside the railway. This may have been a lot to do with the almost-forest strip of buddleia that ran parallel to the railway lines. The relevance of that I was not to find until I looked things up – much later.
Almost immediately, we were on a public footpath, with a single row of houses on our right and fields of wheat to our left. There was a gentle incline, and although the Sun was shining and it was warm, a breeze across the fields tempered things for pleasant walking conditions. Shortly after the row of houses ended, the footpath became a lane, and we passed what had been oast houses, and had now been converted into dwellings. We realized that it was the cowls of these that we had seen above the chalk cliffs that had formed the car park for the station. We were likely walking above the railway tunnel.
We passed a nice weatherboarded and tiled-roof barn at White House Farm, and then – at something over 100ft altitude – looking behind us we were able to get some good views across the Thames, with familiar Essex locations identifiable. Clearly to be made out were the Langdon Hills, and as the viewpoints changed slightly, the Hadleigh Downs and even Leigh and Southend.
The railway station is actually at Lower Higham, which was the original settlement. We were walking southwards, so we entered the now-larger village of Higham. Lynne had already given us an introduction to Dickens’ association with the area, and – after a short visit to the (very high – but not just the tower) St. John’s Church and walking through the village – we passed Gads Hill Place. We were told that when Dickens was 9 years old, he and his father were walking through Kent. He saw the house, liked it, and bought it in 1856. It was his country home, and he died there in 1870.
Nearby, on the other side of the road, is the Sir John Falstaff pub., so we went in there for some refreshing drinks. Although, apparently, a perfectly ordinary, pleasant – and presumably much-frequented – pub, we had the strange feeling that the majority of the clients were eyeing us during all of our stay. Odd. But then it is Kent...
Resuming our walk, we climbed the lane over Telegraph Hill, perhaps named because of the one-time positioning of a semaphore station there. These were built around 1795 for the Admiralty to warn of invasion from France. Chains of shutter telegraph stations were built, including the first, which was London to Deal and Sheerness. Messages passed from London to Deal in about sixty seconds. The prominent position at Higham would have been ideal to relay messages across the Thames, such at to the Westley Heights at Langdon, and there was definitely a semaphore station at Great Wakering.
However, on the hill at Higham now is a more recent edifice, which we duly visited. This is the Larkin Memorial which was constructed in 1835 to the memory of Charles Larkin (1775–1833), an auctioneer from Rochester who promoted the Parliamentary reforms of 1832. Although it is at the highest spot at Higham – and likely where the telegraph had been positioned – it is now almost hidden from sight by vegetation, and there is no view at all. The concrete monument was in danger of collapse by 1860, but was repaired. It was renovated again in 1974, but we were concerned about some rather major cracks as we looked at it!
Leaving Higham, we walked beside a quiet road along a nice ridge, with views north to Southend and south across rolling countryside - with lots of horses - towards Hillyfield, and then southward and downhill, passing more horses and across fields of wheat and barley, to Lillechurch Farm. After a short road-walk, a track and then a footpath across fields took us to Church Street, where the small St Mary’s Church is situated. It is in a remote position on the edge of the marshes that run to the Thames, although we didn’t go far enough down the lane to experience that aspect. It is Grade 1 listed, originally Norman building, both charming and somewhat eccentric. It was remodelled and enlarged in the fourteenth century, so that the newer and larger nave to the south is where the main chancel now is. The original chancel is still maintained as such, and is separated from the nave by a heavy wooden fourteenth-century chancel screen, a remarkable survival. The stone font is Norman and apparently one of the oldest in Kent.
From the church, and initially by way of field-paths we made our way towards the village of Lower Higham, at the edge of which, in Bull Lane, we walked along a very attractive long row of – I suspect – originally farmworkers cottages. Almost all of the tiny front gardens were well cared for and individual in style.
Suddenly, it seemed, passing ‘Station House’ on our left, we were walking back across the bridge and the buddleia to the butterfly-infested Higham Station to begin our train journeys home.
About the buddleia: I really ought to research places before I visit rather than on the return. Something had struck me as odd about this long parallel strip of land, adjacent to the railway and now full of buddleia. Beyond Higham station, heading towards Rochester, the railway plunges into a tunnel. This now railway tunnel had been the second longest canal tunnel in Britain, after Standedge. The railway company took it over from its disuse as the Thames and Medway Canal, and originally ran a single-track line through it, parallel to the canal. It was BIG - the tunnel could accommodate Thames sailing barges. The strip of land, of course, is the course of the original canal.
The walk was about 6.5 miles, and Cathy, Jinan, Trevor and myself accompanied Lynne. What a nice walk!
Paul Ferris, 26th July 2019
Seven of us went to Waddesdon Manor on a cloudy but warm Saturday 13th July. All of us were National Trust members, thank goodness, because the entrance fee is £21 for non-members.
The Manor is a French style chateau once owned by the Rothschild family and built by them in the 1870’s. The timed entry system worked well as we never felt crowded and the sumptuous interior could be enjoyed to the full. It took us more than 90 minutes to get round the house, it being a large property full of Sevres porcelain and furniture reflecting the Rothschilds’ French heritage. We ignored the wine cellar on the assumption that it would just be racks of bottles, although there is a talk there every day. We had a picnic and then went for a walk around the 125 acres of grounds that the National Trust owns.
The aviary is an ornate piece of gilded architecture and the cages were so full of greenery that you wondered how the birds could fly. A Robin-Chat was giving it full voice when we arrived. We walked down to the stables but the buildings retained little trace of their original use, being converted to a gallery and restaurant. Back up to the house to view the impressive parterre and then we walked the three quarters of a mile downhill to our cars, ignoring the efficient bus shuttle service.
Brian U. 15th July 2019
The Viking Trail Adventurers Strike Again!
Not content with last year's pillage along the coast to Broadstairs from Margate, a seven mile trek on one of the sunniest days of the year, the EFOG Vikings added further to their conquest on 30th June by making their way from Ramsgate to Broadstairs - and back again for good measure! Luckily, the really hot day was on the day before, Saturday, so a nice breeze made for an altogether nicer stroll. On the outwards leg we went over the cliff tops passing through the charmingly named Dumpton Gap, where the first telephone cable was laid across the channel by the ship Fencible, which took the cable across to Ostend in 1914. It is marked by a small brick building and a yellow sign saying 'Telephone Line' but not much else for such a vital piece of history!
At Broadstairs, a mere three miles along the coast, our raiders split up to pillage, swim, explore the town and put their feet up for a short break before meeting at the inflatable giraffe to make our way back via the cliff bottom path, accessible because the tide was now low enough to navigate around various bits of the cliffs without getting wet. We passed the Ramsgate Tunnels, the largest of which dates from 1863, when it was opened as a railway tunnel serving Ramsgate Harbour Station. The line closed in 1926, but during the Second World War parts of the tunnels were used as a deep shelter in which some 300 families lived during the war to escape the devastation above. It was time for a paddle!
Along this last stretch of beach before Ramsgate harbour was a final bit of excitement: a small shark - a dogfish, unfortunately deceased but pictured just to prove it. The journey ended with some well earned fish and chips and a drink at a local pub chain, housed in the Royal Pavilion, apparently the largest of its type in southern England. It was fairly large and had very nice views of the harbour from where hundreds of little ships sailed to help save the army stranded on the Dunkirk beaches in 1940. History indeed.
Sue U. 16th July 2019
A visit to Ireland
Five of us left on Friday 15th for a holiday in Ireland from 8th to 15th June 2019. After a miserable journey – wet and traffic choked – we arrived at Holyhead and next morning took the ferry to Dublin. Paying the heavy tolls around Dublin, we drove on to Enniscrone in County Mayo, picking up Ann from Ireland West airport on the way, where a lovely five bedroom house was ours for the week.
The local towns of Ballina and Sligo were explored, then on Monday we went to Knocknarea for an easy walk, said the brochure. Easy! A difficult climb later we reached Maeve’s Cairn. At least the sun was shining! Then we had to steeply descend back to the car.
Tuesday we visited the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina then on to Enniscoe for a walk around its garden. Wednesday saw a short walk at Ballycroy then a walk on trails and quiet roads at Crosmolina. The guide lied. Walking for more than a mile along the N59 is not quiet.
Thursday was spent in Belleek Woods, a pleasant area alongside a river with a nice hotel for the essential loo stop. Friday we walked the Foxford Loop, which turned out to be a disappointment, badly signposted and entirely on roads. At least the sun was shining.
On Saturday we visited Knock to see the shrine. It is a large and very impressive site and looked quite new. We then walked around Strokestown Gardens before climbing into the cars and going to Dublin for the ferry back to Holyhead.
Brian U., 23rd June 2019
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