exploring in Kent

A few weeks ago we headed into Kent to find some countryside. We were dreaming of trees and hedgerows, dappled forest floors and messy fields. 

We started in Hayes and followed

this

brilliant route that R found. We are very new to walking in Kent and so having detailed instructions was essential if we weren't going to spend the whole time trying to find our way on Google maps (not the best for a relaxing walk).

We started at Hayes common and headed straight into a small wood. It was the loveliest of days - bright and mild with crisp, clean autumnal air and hazy sun.

The woods were just on the cusp of changing - emerald green turning to tawny orange almost before our eyes

We came across a clearing where little mushrooms were growing on the floor, among shards of silvery bark. 

And then a field of heather, an unfocused mist of tiny purple bells.

We stopped for a little rest at Keston village green

Before heading off towards Keston Ponds where lots of people were spending a leisurely few hours fishing.

After a little while we came across our next landmark - the Wilberforce Oak, which sits in the grounds of Holwood House. The house was built on a site where William Pitt the Younger used to live, and the oak appears in an entry from William Wilberforce's diary from 1788: "

At length, I well remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave-trade."

The original oak was destroyed in a storm and the current tree was planted in 1969. The house is now owned by a London banker (weep).

After a few more steps we emerged from the woods and the landscape started to open up.

We came to a crossroads and followed the signs to Downe.

We walked through fields of ponies, grazing in the sunshine. 

After a very pleasant wander through the village of Downe, we carried on, past Christmas Tree farm where we met this shaggy old fellow. Sadly we didn't have time to go to Down House, Charles Darwin's home - a return trip will have to be made. 

These two were very friendly, and very snuffly. I fed them some long grass and a couple of blackberries. 

Although we didn't have time for Down House, we did walk through Downe Bank Nature Reserve where Darwin carried out many of his studies. Some sheep were grazing on the orchard bank.

By now it was high time for our picnic so we found a little grassy spot and set out our blanket.

Apples from our own garden! (Teacakes from Aldi)

After lunch we felt refreshed and headed off again, through a tree-lined boulevard.

More autumnal loveliness. 

And elderberries, and scrawny blackberries. 

And then out into soft afternoon light, rolling fields and wide skies. 

We passed laden hedgerows, brimming with sloes and blackberries, hawthorn and hazel.

Unexpectedly we came across a perfect blackberrying spot and picked as many as we could.

Fingers and lips smudged black, purple-stained, wild-tasting. 

A field of sheep, sun-kissed as the light started to fade, grass starting to collect the dew, shadows gathering at the edges. 

We reached the last leg at Pratts Bottom (heehee). By this time we were getting a little tired. 

As evening started to draw in, we caught the last of the light, seed heads silhouetted against the damp sky.

And finally, our destination! We caught the train back, weary and aching, wonderfully tired, rejuvenated and happy.

The walk was about 10 miles and took us most of the day (although we took our time as I had to pick up every feather/conker/pretty leaf we saw). 

It was lovely getting to know Kent a bit better, and discovering some proper countryside not far from our doorstep. I can't wait to do another one!