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The building above? No, we don't have a ruined abbey on the North Downs Way, well at least not on this bit. This is a folly at the entrance to one of the gardens along Chestnut Avenue.

Doves in Merstham


The Millenium Stones, Gatton Park

A North Downs Way Diary


As the day light hours start to get shorter and  shorter the areas of countryside that we can easily access and still have time for a decent long walk close to home are getting restricted, luckily most of the North Downs Way is nearby with some sections less than 30 minutes by train from our local railway station at Catford and the area we monitor less than an hour's drive away, perfect for us to continue getting in the miles as winter and the dark evenings approach.

It's the first week of October and the temperature is starting to fall, but only by a few degrees. September had record temperatures for the month, it is still nice and sunny just a bit of a chill hanging in the air.

It's funny what you can find just around the corner, after thinking that there wasn't a nice cafe or tea room on the section of the trail that we monitor and we are missing out on the opportunity to get a cup of tea either during or at the end of our walks, we found one, or to be more exact a Vineyard with a tearoom - of sorts! You can actually sneak through the hedge as the North Downs Way passes, walk through the vines and pop into the cafe or if you prefer the road it is only less than half a mile off the route.

There is a history of wine making and vineyards in southern England going  back 2000 years to Roman times  but the one at Godstone Vineyard is fairly recent, established in 1985 on an old hop farm. In addition to the usual tours they offer a novel 'Adopt a Vine' where you can have your own personal vine and then receive a bottle of wine at the end of the year made with 'your' grapes, a unique gift but quite an expensive way of buying a bottle of white wine.

Sadly the friendly but slightly slow service means that it is not a place to go if you are in a hurry but well worth popping in for a pot of tea or bottle of local wine.

The vines are harvested between the end of September and early October, so we stumbled across them just in time.

Happiest person of the month: Kevan on spotting the grapes to your left.  His whole face lit up as he started to envision bottles of wine...........Needless to say when we popped into the tea shop mentioned above, Kev came away with a bottle of wine carefully packed into his rucksack and then went on to grumble about how heavy his rucksack had become.  He will be looking for them to deliver to the car park next :-).

"Just out walking the dog in my wellies". Yes, the paths are starting to get a bit wet and muddy, making the going a little bit slippery especially across the patches of chalk, we still  meet a small number of people out on long day walks or spending a few days doing parts of the trail but the number of dog walkers has increased, usually clad in wellies popping out for a little walk with their dog (s).

Where we park on "our section" of the North Downs Way - there is also a 5 mile circular walk, quite popular with dog walkers.  After completing our 14 mile trek, we headed back to the car, to be greeted by a dog walker, saying "have you just completed the round trip".  He seemed so disappointed and less than impressed when we said "no, we've just done 14 miles on the North Downs Way"  - "what you didn't do the circular walk!" - now that would have been impressive! We will have to check it out on a short day.

Outdoor clothing company North Face are now one of the trendy street wear brands worn by some young people in London who have sadly never seen a mountain stream but our fashion prize of the month goes to the lady we passed along a muddy track with her handbag and  pink Wellingtons, just goes to show you do not need all the 'gear' to enjoy a walk along the NDW.

Mid-October and we are still in shorts and T-shirts, not because we are 'showing off our tans' as one group of ramblers we passed remarked but because it is really mild, however this  does mean that the mornings are a little misty but thanks to the good weather we still managed to do the full length of our warden section, there and back, 20 miles, in a single day. Unfortunately we still haven't managed to do the dog walkers circular 5 mile walk.

Oddly, even though it is heading towards Autumn (or technically is Autumn) we are now seeing more people on the North Downs Way than we did during the summer, including, much to Lizzie's surprise, someone she works with.  Perhaps it is the mild weather, or like us people are starting to look for walks a little closer to home.

The trees are desperately hanging on to the last bit of green, the forests aren't ablaze with the reds, coppers and golds you would expect at this time of year, Autumn still hasn't set in.

As the leaf canopy slowly thins it is getting easier to spot more birdlife and our old friend from our walks along the North Downs Way the Green Woodpecker, however one green bird caught us a little by surprise. For the past 18 months Kev has been going on about a 'flock' of Parakeets he sees flying around our local park, we even had one in our garden a few months ago and saw about a dozen flying around Kensington Park in central London, well it seems that they are now spreading out into the countryside as we heard their recognisable squawk and then spotted one flying around above the Downs - no pictures yet for proof unfortunately.

With all of the sweet chestnuts, hazel nuts, and grapes  around, it is easy to imagine Ray Mears foraging around for roots and fungi, sparking his bush craft flint over some  'Old Man's Beard' - the white fluffy seed head of clematis,  an ideal camp fire material - and knocking up a three course meal washed down with some freshly pressed Kent cider.

The big one on the left, Hoof Fungus, is also known for it's combustible properties, remnants have been found preserved with the remains of ancient settlers in the UK and it would have been used as a highly prized 'tinder box'. A long lost tradition, nowadays a box of matches and a stolen Vauxhall Astra will do the job.

So is Autumn later than before and could it be due to global warming? Kev has his own as yet unproven theory.

....It is the middle of October 1066, William has just defeated Harold in  a field outside Hastings and is hot footing it across to Winchester, the capital of England - yes really - when he is met in a wooded clearing by a group of local Kent leaders. The remaining Men of Kent are brandishing green boughs in the wood. William, not certain how many men he is facing, decides diplomacy is the best policy and gallops off but only after agreeing to allow the Men of Kent  to keep all of the privileges they enjoyed under the previous regime and making a slightly bigger, mental note to tax all woodland once he had the crown safely on his head. The tax, when it came, was based on the amount of people it could support rather than the size of the wood.

This implies that conditions must have been very similar to what we see at the moment and Autumn is no later than in 1066 because if the land was experiencing the usual Autumnal conditions we expect  it could have turned into a very early sketch from Monty Python - William riding up observing the men 'hidden' in the wood brandishing bare branches. 'You don't scare me you silly English Kniggits,covered in dead leaves and waving your little twigs in the air!'

Of course it could be that this event took place a long time after the conquest, before it or the wood was full of evergreens!

British Summer Time came to an end, the clocks moved back and there are less daylight hours, officially we are now heading towards Winter but the month finished as it started, extremely mild, almost summer-like and wet!

One consequence of this is that Autumn hasn't really happened in the south,  we have been deprived of a little bit of end of year colour - the trees are hanging on to their leaves, everywhere is still quite green and you have to look hard to find a splash of Autumnal colour. A little bit in the suburban back gardens of the Surrey countryside but no great splash of colour yet across the forests.

We went in search of a tea room and as you know the little bit of the North Downs Way we are monitoring is sadly bereft of an accessible place to stop so this gave us the excuse to wander west and visit Gatton Park. Earlier in the year when we walked the entire length of the North Downs we had literally rushed through in a blur, it was raining and we had a train to catch a few miles away in Merstham. This time, on the final day of British Summer Time, we just sat and took in the final rays of sun, slightly mesmerised and enjoying the views ... over Reigate! OK, it may not be wild countryside, but as we sat supping our tea with the sun slowly ebbing away a rich warm feeling came over us, no Kev hadn't spilt the tea! What a great summer it had been, for the most part the sun was our constant companion, let's hope we are not seeing the last of it just yet!

A few miles along the track we had passed a modern sculpture symbolising stone circles laid out by prehistoric tribes, now we sat watching, like our ancestors, the final rays of light and warmth sinking in the distance hoping for it's speedy return. 

There was even a van in the car park playing some odd hippy version of Bob Dylan songs, I guess that it may have been their own versions and at this point it would have been nice to have added that they were accompanied by nymphs or fair maidens dancing merrily through the trees, this part though wouldn't have been true. So in the interests of accuracy it is better to say that there was only a middle aged, bare chested male hiker who passed by when I was getting Lizzie's cup of tea.

He wasn't dancing but looked very happy. Why I never have the camera ready when opportunities present themselves is one of life's little mysteries.


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