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A North Downs Way Diary
Mid - September and the South East is still revelling under the sun, an Indian summer is keeping the temperature way above the seasonal average, at least there have been quite a few heavy showers and thunderstorms to prevent the land from drying out. It is almost tropical.
Autumn should be around the corner but even though the leaves are starting to fall it still has a very summery feel. Forest floors are littered with sweet chestnut, hazel and beech nut shells rejected by squirrels frantically hoarding up for winter. Horse Chestnuts dropping from branches and their conkers bouncing out on the ground, or on heads as you pass underneath!
Herbs such as marjoram, thymes and shrubs cover the areas of open downland, bright orange Small Heath butterflies flitter about in the sun searching for the last scraps of pollen.
Hedgerows are full of bright red berries, sloes, elderberries and blackberries a home brewers paradise!
The shooting season is now into it's first full month, and although we haven't encountered any activity around the trail yet the noise of distant gunfire is a sign that it may not be too long before we encounter a shoot - luckily this pheasant was only flying off after being startled by Lizzie passing by and survives for another day.
At this time of year we are not meeting many people along the Trail, just a few families having short walks from one of the car parks along the trail, dog walkers and the occasional group of school children doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award, we are likely to come across many in the following months so we will now refer to them as DOE'rs. All relatively normal characters but there was something very unusual about this guy walking past.
He definitely left his personal muddy footprint on the stile!
One group of DOE'rs we met came from Sydenham Girls School, we passed their mini-bus parked waiting to pick them up. No, behave at the back! That isn't it in the photo, education standards haven't fallen that low yet!
Having noticed that a group of the girls in front of us had taken a path which would take them in the opposite direction to the place where we saw the mini - bus was we asked the teacher whether the girls should have been following the North Downs Way to get to the car park. 'No' replied the lady 'Why, do you need help?' Kev's reply was 'well no, but some of your girls might, unless you have devised a circular route for them, they are heading off in the opposite direction' The other supervisor then got out the map saying that actually they should have taken the same route as us and set off to find them. Hopefully they all got home safely!
One of our jobs as Wardens is to replace or add waymarkers. Getting slightly confused walking up a field with no distinct path we decided to add a waymarker to the stile at the top so that its "yellow" glow could be seen when walking up the field, drawing the walker to the right stile. After a lot of deliberating of where to put the marker, Kev started hammering. I casually looked down and saw a wasp buzzing away near the post, but didn't think anything more of it. But suddenly Kev was dashing away from the stile yelling "get away!".
The one wasp had multiplied into a swarm, unbeknown to us, the post Kev was merrily banging away at had a wasps nest underneath it - the wasps getting increasingly angry with their home being bashed at decided to take their revenge - on Kev! The wasps swarmed around him - into his boots, onto his clothes (but fortunately not up his shorts). I was fortunate as I had been standing on the other side of the stile so only a few wasps came after me and as I kept perfectly still they soon flew off.
Kev however was getting badly stung by the wasps that had flown into his boots. He clambered over the stile to join me and we hastily walked up the path away from the stile, stopping at the top of the path so that we could apply first aid to his stings. We always carry a full first aid kit even on short walks which includes a device called 'click-it' which sends an electric pulse through the skin to combat stings, sounds drastic but it works. Kev later took his rucksack off and there were still wasps on him. We managed to flick them off.
That was definitely a scary experience, and to think that we were worried about the herd of bullocks grazing in the field below the Oxted steps!
The pain is worth it though if it helps people find the right path. We came across two guys walking up a section of path where the correct path wasn't really clearly defined and a little overgrown, we had just added a waymarker and cut back the overgrowth to reveal the correct path so instead of taking the more obvious incorrect path they had saved themselves a bit of a detour.