Our (first) walking year
It was on 26 October 2017 that the Longer Walks Group set out for the very first time, a circuit around Totteridge. In the 12 months since then, we have completed 17 walks totalling 175 miles, and would have managed a bit more but for the extreme heat of July forcing a cancellation. Add to this the mileage covered by the London Loop walkers in their ten outings and almost 250 miles have been covered in our first year.
As the year has gone by the walks have become more frequent and more ambitious. From an initial monthly walk, we now complete two walks (plus 2 Loop walks) per month, while the distance covered has edged up from 8 miles, to an average of 10-11 miles, with 2 walks reaching 13 miles in length.
We have ranged far and wide, from the Thames estuary in the east to the Chess Valley and the Chilterns in the west. While south of the river, the Kent coast, the cliffs of Sussex, the North Downs and the Weald have all witnessed CEDU3A boots. Our walks have taken in some iconic areas, Ivinghoe Beacon was climbed in May, Box Hill was conquered in June, while our recent two day break in Sussex included a walk along the much-loved Seven Sisters.
The group also sampled a number of Long Distance Trails, including the Ridgeway, North Downs Way, The Saxon Shore and the Thames Path.
By the time we celebrate the end of 2018 with our ‘Solstice Stroll’ and festive meal, plans will be well underway for 2019. After a very successful two-day residential based in Eastbourne, another mini-break is planned, while come the Spring, our second walk of every month will see us attempt to complete the entire North Downs Way.
Broxbourne Woods National Nature Reserve
Our luck with the weather continued, as cloudless blue skies created a perfect autumn day for walking. We started at Bayford Station with a short roadside stroll, east into the village of Brickendon before striking north to reach the delightfully named Owls Hatch cottages. Here we turned south east, following wooded paths and bridle ways that skirted the edge of Highfield Wood, before plunging into Broxbourne Woods, Hertfordshire’s only National Nature Reserve. At this time of year, there was a beautiful display of autumnal colour to be enjoyed, as we were expertly guided along the forest tracks.
Towards lunch-time, the tranquility was disturbed by the chattering and shrieking normally associated with the fauna of a tropical rain forest. Then appearing through the branches to our left came the frightening sight of a Velociraptor on the attack, while ahead could be seen a prowling T. Rex. We were following the edge of the Paradise Wildlife Park and its animatronic dinosaur display, but suddenly our U3A group morphed
into a year 4 school visit, and several members of the party had to be reluctantly dragged away before we could continue the walk. Fortunately we were close to the small village of Wormley West End and our lunch at the ‘Greek restaurant in the forest’, otherwise known as The Woodman and Olive.
After lunch our route turned to the west, as we followed a large loop through another section of the National Nature Reserve. So far we had seen little in the way of wildlife, but suddenly a large bird appeared out of the trees, which some of us were able to identify as a barn owl before the bird took before flight at our approach. We were now close to Brickendon, and soon reached the village green and the short walk back to Bayford Station, where a perfectly timed ending to the walk had us heading back to London within 3 minutes!
Faversham to Whitstable
The weather gods continued to shine on the Longer Walks Group, as we assembled outside Faversham station in bright sunshine, for what was to be our final seaside walk of the year. We began the walk at Faversham’s historic market square with its fascinating mix of architectural styles, regrettably walking past rather than into the Shepherd Neame Brewery on our way towards the Saxon Shore Way – a long distance path named after the line of historic fortifications that defended the Kent coast at the end of the Roman era.
Our route now led east along the coast to the village of Seasalter, famous for its salt production in the Iron Age, but now better known for the Michelin starred Sportsman pub which occupies a site which has hosted an inn since 1642. Again however any thoughts of refreshment were to be disappointed, as we continued on the sea wall before finally having lunch facing the public conveniences! The afternoon route led us onto the shingle beach, with just enough of it exposed for us to keep our feet dry, we passed rows of beach huts before reaching the oyster fishing town of Whitstable, where we celebrated the end of the walk with our favourite tipple in The Old Neptune.
South Downs Sojourn : a two day ramble
To celebrate the anniversary of the Longer Walks Group, an intrepid band of 14 souls gathered in Eastbourne, for a 2 day ramble, exploring the Sussex Downs.
Day 1 : Friston Frolics
We assembled in hot and sunny weather outside Eastbourne pier. After dealing with leaking water bottles and a successful search for a missing camera, we faced the Downs and headed off along the sea front in high spirits. At the end of the prom, the South Downs Way Long Distance Path begins its journey to Winchester and it was the inland section we now followed. This involved a steady climb of 200 metres over the Downs to the top of Willingdon Hill, where we were rewarded with magnificent views of the south coast stretching from Newhaven to our SW to Bexhill on Sea away in the SE. The route ahead now involved a descent into Jevington, the birthplace of Banoffee Pie, and our chosen lunch spot , in the shadow of the Saxon tower of the Grade I listed Church of Saint Andrew. After lunch and somewhat inevitably, we began to climb again, this time to the top of Windover Hill and 360 degree views along the spine of the Downs to the east and west, north over the Weald and south to the coast. Cue descent number 2, into theCuckmere Valley and an afternoon stop in the tourist ‘honeypot’ of Alfriston. After a stressful experience with ‘teas’ but suitably refreshed, the group now headed south along the Cuckmere towards our final challenge, Friston Forest. A short walk from Litlington, brought us to Charleston Manor and a steep flight of steps into the heart of the forest. This was followed 10 minutes later by a monster 169 step ascent from Westdean, at the end of which we were provided with the most amazing view of the Cuckmere meanders as they snaked south from Exceat to reach the sea at Cuckmere Haven. A fitting end to the day and an appetizer for what was to come!!
Day 2 : Cuckmere Capers
After a shared meal in Morgan’s Bistro (a restaurant to be recommended if you are in Eastbourne), Day 2 also dawned with the promise of further warm and sunny weather. Despite some minor grumbling about the ‘early’ start, everyone made it in time to get the 9.27 Coastliner bus. Note the time … 3 minutes ‘twirly’ for Freedom Pass holders. Cue more grumbles and an international incident with the bus driver, before we were able to set off on one of the most scenic bus routes in the country. (The most scenic one is of course in Yorkshire). Arriving in Seaford, we joined the route of the Vanguard Way, as it headed towards Seaford Head, passing on the way a Martello tower, now the home of Seaford Museum, and an angled row of colourful beach-huts.. Once on the top and continuing SE, the day’s walk was laid out before us, as the magnificent chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters were gradually revealed. For now though, we enjoyed the stroll along the cliff top to Hope Gap and then the descent to the coastguard cottages at Cuckmere Haven. Unable to cross the river, and with an incoming tide making it look as if the water was flowing the wrong way, we followed the flood bank inland to Exceat Bridge, where we crossed and headed south to re-join the South Downs Way at Foxhole. Our capering was now over for the day! The Seven Sisters are seven truncated dry valleys (not the hills between them!) which are all between 12- 18 metres above sea level. However the cliffs between the valleys reach heights of over 70 metres. So walking them is akin to walking the track of a roller coaster. Although you never get to a great height, by the time you get to the end, you’ve actually done a lot of climbing. However our intrepid CEDU3A walkers did what all good walkers do and just took it in their stride. With a few pauses for photo opportunities and a picnic stop half-way, we all emerged at Birling Gap wondering what all the fuss was about (Saturday Walkers Club – 9 out of 10 for ‘toughness’ – you are having a laugh!). Birling Gap, was not the end. Up ahead lay more superb coastal scenery, as we continued past the Belle Tout lighthouse and then on to Beachy Head. By now Eastbourne was starting to re-appear and we soon began the descent to the promenade. Thirteen miles and 6 hours after leaving Seaford, our adventure ended back at Eastbourne pier.
Two days, 26 miles of footpaths and tracks, 12 hours of walking, 1800 metres of ascent and 14 tired walkers. Not bad for our first ‘residential’. Planning now starts for the next one!!
Leigh on Sea
This walk was conducted in clear blue skies and glorious sunshine, as we explored the creeks and coastline of the Thames Estuary. From Leigh-on-Sea, we headed upstream along the Thames Estuary Path, enjoying fine views inland to Hadleigh Castle, while in the distance the huge gantries of Thames Gateway port facilities dominated the skyline. After passing through Benfleet Marina, we reached Benfleet station and embarked on our first climb of the day, towards Hadleigh Country Park. As we climbed, superb views opened up of the Thames Estuary and on the far side of the river north Kent. Once in the country park we reached the track used in the 2012 London Olympics for the Mountain Biking competition. As part of the Olympic Legacy, this track is very popular with mountain bike enthusiasts, as several of our group seemed surprised to discover when they attempted to cross the track Our route continued through the park to reach the remains of King Edward III’s Hadleigh Castle. With commanding views over the estuary, the views from here were the finest of the whole walk and it made a fine spot to settle down on the grass to eat our sandwiches. After lunch we descended to Leigh-on-Sea, where by now the tide was in, much to the amazement of some, who claimed only to have ever seen the mudflats before. We now set off on a stroll along the seafront passing the cockle sheds of Leigh-on-Sea, the bathing pools of Chalkwell, and the well-manicured gardens of Westcliff. By now the seaside atmosphere was proving too much for some of us and a large queue soon formed at Rossi’s ice-cream kiosk. Thus it was suitably cooled and refreshed that the group completed the final stretch of promenade to finish our walk at Southend Pier.
Haslemere and Black Down
Our morning’s walk took us out of Haslemere and south through land owned by the National Trust. After crossing Marley Common, we briefly joined the Sussex Border Path and climbed steadily through heath and woodlands to reach Marley Heights. Continuing south we were rewarded with our first magnificent view over the Weald to the South Downs at High Marley. The price we then paid for the view was a very steep path down into Kingsley Copse before we reached the town of Fernhurst and a deserved lunch break on the village green. From here at a height of about 80 metres, our route tooks towards the southern tip of the area known as Black Down, which at 280 metres above sea level is the highest hill in Sussex. And so it was a steep climb that took us to the viewpoint known as ‘Temple of the Winds’, a spot with magnificent panoramic views towards the South Downs and with strong associations with the poet Tennyson. Our climbing now more or less over, we turned north to walk at across heathland, before reaching a minor road called Tennyson’s Lane where we started to descend. By now we were on the return leg to Haslemere, continuing through farmland and woodland, to enter the town via Well Lane, a major source of the settlements drinking water in bygone times. From here, we reached Haslemere High Street and a short walk to the station and trains back to London.
The Sheepleas and St Martha’s Hill
After a train ride through rather worrisome rain, a group of ten headed out of Horsley Station and were soon enjoying a walk beside the railway with the rain a thing of the past. We followed a path through fields and passed by West Horsley Church where Sir Walter Raleigh’s head and the whole of his son’s body are buried. We didn’t take the opportunity to view them however, but continued our walk through the Sheepleas, 300 acres of downland which is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Eventually our route joined the North Downs Way and then meandered through Shere Woods until we reached our lunch spot at Newlands Corner. Here we enjoyed the spectacular views south over the Weald while rejuvenating ourselves with a much needed meal break. After lunch our route continued along the NDW descending Albury Downs only to climb steeply up the sandy St Martha’s Hill. This we were informed contains bands of iron ore, and in evidence we were presented with several rocks to identify!
Having trudged up the sandy incline we reached the pilgrim’s church at the summit of St Martha’s Hill. After admiring more lovely views to the south, supposedly encompassing eight different counties, our walk continued. The NDW, now also called the Pilgrim’s Way, descended through woodland and eventually reached the Wey Valley. Arriving at the banks of the River Wey, we left the NDW and headed north alongside the Wey, which led us to a riverside pub in the heart of Guildford. The ideal spot on a sunny afternoon to stop and toast another wonderful Crouch End and District U3A long walk.
Beaconsfield to Seer Green
Having had to cancel a July walk due to excessive heat, we had no intention of letting the rain that was forecast for today put paid to this one. We did however change location from the North Downs (heavy rain) to the Chilterns (not so heavy), catching the train from Marylebone to the centre of Beaconsfield.
A short walk from Beaconsfield town centre, past the Bekonscot model village led us into Netherland’s Wood, and a short diversion as part of the group made an early bid for freedom by bolting off into the forest. Eventually we were happily re-united and continued our walk north and east on secluded paths, with the woodland canopy providing shelter from the light rain that had started to fall.
Working our way along the edge of Hodgemoor Woods, we joined the Chiltern Way and descended into the Misbourne Valley, where our route lay south towards the pretty village of Chalfont St Giles, having resisted the opportunity to take a rest. This is an area associated with John Milton who in 1655 fled here from London to avoid the plague, with the cottage he inhabited now in use as a museum. However in typical fashion, the group seemed far more interested in exploring the delights of a hostelry known as ‘Merlin’s Cave’, where we stopped to dry out!
After lunch we continued along the Misbourne as far as Chalfont St Peter, where the route turned west towards the village of Jordans. This model village is a centre for Quakerism, and also the burial place of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. This is supposed to make Jordans a popular destination for visiting Americans, although the only one that could be found today, was part of our group. We were now approaching the end of our walk, and after skirting the edge of Crutches Wood crossed a road at the entrance to Beaconsfield Golf Club, where signs for Seer Green Station pointed us to the London train.
Our first July walk started at Coulsdon South station and involved an immediate climb to the top of Farthing Down. At 150 m above sea level, the Down usually provides good views north to the Thames Valley. Unfortunately this was not so today, as early morning cloud obscured the view. From the open Downs we descended into Devilden Wood, following the tree-line and emerging into a beautiful swathe of chalk grassland known as Happy Valley, an area of special scientific interest managed by Croydon Council. We now turned to face south-west and made our way to the mediaeval Chaldon Church for our first stop of the day. This was an opportunity to see one of the earliest known examples of English wall paintings, the internationally renowned doom mural on the west wall of the church which dates from about 1200. The mural consists of an image of the Last Judgement, in which souls were being consigned to Heaven or Hell. Apparently such images were very often painted on the west wall of churches, so it was viewed by the largely illiterate congregation as they left the church.
Our walk now continued towards the south, gradually climbing until we reached the top of the North Downs at Tollsworth Manor. We were now over 200 m above sea level and were able to enjoy fine views, south towards the Weald and east and west along the crest of the Downs.
After lunch, the route continued east along the North Downs Way, before turning north and descending towards the village of Chaldon. From here, we headed across the fairways of the Surrey National Golf Club to the very edge of Caterham, following the perimeter wall of the former Caterham barracks to reach Coulsdon Common. After walking around the edge of the Common, we re-entered Happy Valley directly opposite our morning viewpoint. By now the sun was shining brightly and the temperature had risen, so our final climb back onto Farthing Down was rather more challenging than the one completed at the start of the day. Fortunately the café in the Coulsdon Memorial Grounds was only a short walk away, providing the group with refreshment before the journey home.
It was in expectation of one of the hottest days of the year that the group assembled at Box Hill and Westhumble railway station. No bicycles today, but a walker who had forgotten their boots instead! After a minor diplomatic incident with the owner of the station café concerning the use of the toilet facilities, we had our first climb of the day as we headed north through Norbury Park. A steady descent brought us back into the Mole Valley and after crossing the A24 into the village of Mickleham, we embarked on our second climb to reach Mickleham Downs and our lunch time picnic spot.
The afternoon’s walk continued across the Downs, the route dropping steeply into a dry valley only to climb steeply out again. By now temperatures were in the high twenties, so we were grateful for the shade provided by the trees, as we continued around the perimeter of Headley Heath, with only the sound of the distant M25 for company. In mid-afternoon we reached the settlement of Box Hill and soon joined the North Downs Way National Trail to head west to the Box Hill viewpoint known as Salomon’s Memorial.
Scene of the 2012 Olympic cycling road races, immortalized by Jane Austen in her novel ‘Emma’ and by Richard Thompson in the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, this is one of the most famous vistas in southern England. Although it was hazy due to the heat, we had a very clear view, roughly south over Dorking and further and right across to the South Downs, including Chanctonbury Ring and Devil’s Dyke, Sussex (a distance of 26 miles, according to the inscription on the viewing platform).
As we continued west towards the River Mole, we enjoyed very good views to Denbies vineyard just outside Dorking, before embarking on a steep descent down the 275 step flight of National Trust stairs leading to the Stepping Stones over the river. Credit where credit is due, every single one of us crossed the river via the stones, although disappointingly nobody fell in! One of our number even celebrated by having a paddle in the Mole, a well-deserved reward for walking in sandals all day.
Soon, we reached Box Hill station just in time for the next train to Victoria. We were hot and thirsty but after completing the most challenging walk the group has attempted so far quietly satisfied with our efforts.
A group of 18 were expected this month’s walk to Ivinghoe Beacon, but at the last minute we had to cater for an unexpected guest. A bicycle! A broken lock meant this most treasured of personal possessions could not be left to the mercy of the Euston station bike rack and so it accompanied the rest of us on the 9.34 to Tring and then on the entire 11 miles of the walk in the Chilterns. To begin, we headed for the Ridgeway National Trail, taking the track north through the Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve and climbing steadily all the time. Emerging from woodland into open chalk grassland, we followed the ridge over Pitstone Hill before a steep climb up the south side of Inchcombe Hole. We were now in the Ivinghoe Hills and although there was still much low cloud following early morning rain, were rewarded with views west to the Vale of Aylesbury and north to Edlesborough. Meanwhile to the east, the recently restored giant chalk figure of a lion marked the location of Whipsnade Zoo. Continuing our climb the party reached Ivinghoe Beacon, which at 233 metres above sea level is the highest point the group has reached on our walks so far.
After a photocall to mark this summit topping achievement, we took advantage of the open spaces on the beacon to eat lunch before dropping off the ridge to join the Icknield Way and heading south east.
At Hanging Combe our stamina was tested once more, as we were faced with climbing a flight of 134 steps, (try doing that while wheeling a bicycle!). At Little Gaddesden, we joined the Chiltern Way which took us into Ashridge Park and on to Berkhamstead Common. Not only was this area the scene of a mass trespass in 1866, but on the day we walked through it was being used by a film crew, preparing to shoot scenes for a new Robert Downey Jr film ‘The Voyage of Doctor Doolittle’ due out in 2019. The Chiltern Way now turned to face west, following a woodland walk to the village of Aldbury. By now the clouds had lifted and we were walking in strong sunshine, so we were forced to take a break in the beer garden of the ‘Valiant Trooper’, before tackling the final stretch of the walk across the fields to Tring Station. The bike by the way did make it back to Crouch End, although somewhat muddier than when it started!
The group met at Gordon Hill station and as there was little to delay or amuse us in the immediate vicinity set off promptly towards Hilly Fields Park. At the park entrance, our route took us downhill and over Turkey Brook (a tributary of the River Lea) before climbing out of the valley to reach Clay Hill. From here we headed north-west on a bridle path that descended to reach the London to Hertford railway. With no footbridge or tunnel, we carefully crossed the line, before another climb took us across a golf course and into Crews Hill. With lunch booked for 12.30, we had to leave the undoubted charms of the garden centres for another day, instead continuing north towards the first of our ever-popular M25 crossings.Once under the motorway, we carried on to reach Goff’s Oak, where we enjoyed a pub lunch (last one for the time being!) at ‘The Wheelwrights’. Our route now turned to the south east as we made our way towards Bury Green, where we joined the New River to head south past Theobald’s Park. By now we were enjoying typical April weather, with rain drops one minute and sunshine the next, and so it was with somewhat dizzy waterproofs that we crossed the M25 for the second time and reached the highlight of our walk, the Tottenham Hotspur training facility. Having managed to get our Arsenal supporting members away without serious incident, the group continued south, to pass Myddelton House (regrettably with no time to stop for a look) before meeting Turkey Brook again. At this point we also met the London Loop, following it and the brook through the Forty Hall Estate and back to Gordon Hill.
After what seemed like weeks of freezing cold, the group assembled at Rickmansworth Tube Station in what felt remarkably like spring sunshine. So it was with a somewhat jaunty air, we headed out of town to follow the River Chess upstream past the Royal Masonic School towards Loudwater. After about 2 miles, we briefly left the valley to cross the M25 and shortly afterwards headed south west to reach Chorleywood Common. The next stage led us across the common to the delightfully named ‘Artichoke Dell’ and our lunch stop at ‘The Black Horse’, a traditional pub with oak beams and a roaring log fire.
Victualled and refortified, the group continued across the common to cross the Metropolitan line by a narrow road bridge and descend into Chorleywood Bottom. Almost immediately we began to climb steeply out again, to join the Old Shire Lane circular walk. With lovely views over open countryside this section ended in a footbridge over the M25, before taking us on into the Colne Valley. A short section of road between the flooded gravel pits that typify this area brought us to the towpath of the Grand Union Canal at Springwell Lock. Here we turned to the north east and followed the canal towpath past the ‘Hanging Monkey’ to Batchworth, and a short town walk back to the station.
This linear walk started in the Essex town of Loughton, from where we were able to access the tracks and rides of Epping Forest. Once in the woods, we headed north east past Strawberry Hill Ponds, and followed the Three Forests Way to the Iron Age Hill Fort of Loughton Camp (which according to local legend was once used by Queen Boudicca during the Roman occupation). Shortly afterwards the route took us north west, across the Epping New Road and on to High Beach and the Epping Forest Conservation Centre. Here we walked north east to Woodridden Hill, with a steep slope down into the Lea Valley visible to our left and the noise of the M25 becoming ever more obvious up ahead. We soon reached the motorway, crossing on a foot bridge that had recently been used by wild deer for the same reason. We then reached Upshire and the neighbouring village of Copthall Green where we stopped for lunch in ‘The Good Intent’ ( a café not a pub!). The afternoon section took us through mixed farm land in the area of Copped Hall, where we were fortunate enough to have two different sightings of deer, a herd of about 20 near Copped Hall Green and a smaller group of 4 who attempted to stare us out as we climbed to cross the M25 for a second time at Ladderstile Farm. Once over the motorway we re-entered Epping Forest briefly before crossing Bell Common into the centre of Epping and the Central Line back to London.
After a week of greyness, gales and rain, the group met at Hertford North Station to be greeted by blue skies and sunshine. The fine weather stayed with us all day and made up for the sometimes boggy conditions underfoot, which prompted one walker to ask if we were doubling up as the CEDU3A swimming group. After skirting the suburbs of Hertford, our route took us through Hertingfordbury,where we joined the disused railway track known as the Cole Green Way to head towards Welwyn. After a mile or so, we joined the Hertfordshire Chain and headed south-west through fields and woodland. At the appropriately named Waterhall Farm we followed a short stretch of the River Lea, before continuing south-west to the village of Little Berkhamsted, where lunch awaited at the Five Horseshoes. This marked the most southerly point of the walk, as we now headed north east along theHertfordshire Way and climbing through Bayford Woods to reach the pretty village of the same name. By now we were literally on the home straight, as we followed the railway line north into the Hertfordsuburbs, before crossing the historic centre of Hertford to return to the station and the train back to North London.