(Image: Camping at Hale Farm, Chiddingly)
Walk: The Wealdway
Dates: 24-27 May 2019
Distance: 80 miles
Slept: Gate House Wood Touring Park (12 miles) / Camp Manor Court Farm (37 miles) / Hales Farm (60 miles)
Planning: OS map app / RambleFest.com
(Image: the approach to Camp Hill, East Sussex)
Gravesend has some good ‘bones’; you can tell from many of the buildings in the older part of town (which also houses the grave of Pocahontas, whose young life ended here), but the first two miles or so through and out of town, on my countryside amble from the Thames Estuary to the South Coast, did not make for the most promising of starts. As soon as you’ve cleared the thundering traffic of the A2 and crossed over the UK’s sole high speed train line though, you’re into another world – and pretty much stay there until you can see Eastbourne’s pier jutting it’s way into the English Channel.
(Image: the village of Golden Green, Kent)
I had the most fantastic walk this bank holiday weekend: flashes of electric blue as dragonflies darted around my ankles alongside the River Medway, Burne-Jones stained glass glowing in the mid-afternoon sunlight in the church at Bidborough, the Coldrum Longbarrow, where our ancient ancestors were burying their dead back in 3985 BC, the chalk infused soil of the North and South Downs sandwiching the rolling landscape of the Kent and East Sussex Weald, the wood that inspired AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories (I had that damn song ‘but the most wonderful thing about Tiggers’ stuck in my head for half the day, but failed to spot one. Or Eeyore), the hillside chalk image of the Longman of Wilmington and a beautifully basic campsite, unmentioned on the OS map or any research I did for camping on the trail, right on the Wealdway at the exact time when I doubted I could walk much further on the third day…. it was a good way to spend a bank holiday.
(Image: The Longman of Wilmington, South Downs National Park)
I read a line in another blog that described the Wealdway as an exploration of the South Country. I’ve never heard that expression before, but I really like it. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the moors and dales of the north of England, the bays and the cliffs of the southwest and Wales, but in the past six months I’ve been walking much closer to home, getting out on trails that are a short train ride away. And the truth is that, despite the south east being such a populated part of the UK, there are still vast swathes of it where you can walk for hours without seeing another person (as I did this weekend), where the rolling hills in soft morning light are just as lovely as other, more famed views, and where the country pubs are equally as welcome a sight. Walking in ‘the South Country’ has much to recommend it, and the Weald really was a revelation.
(Video: the consequences of walking across fields very early in the morning! Near Gun Hill, East Sussex)