Walking from RobertsBridge round Bodiam Castle - November 2010 Bodiam Castle, surrounded by autumn trees

With the weather forecasts shaping up to be alright (obviously a bit of a gamble in November), we headed down to Kent to try walk # 20 in the TimeOut guide - Robertsbridge circular. We opted for the shorter version of this route (technically walk 20a), as it's quite a long drive from London, and with the sun setting much earlier at this time of year (before 4:30pm, in fact).

The walk itself was quite pleasant, and turned out to be a 9 mile stroll, rated 4/10 toughness (probably about right), taking in the spectacular Bodian Castle, with a very welcome tea shop, about half way round. The navigation was a little more difficult than some of the routes, and at times I was very grateful for the 1:25,000 OS map #136. The highlight of the route (aside from the Castle) were the trees, which were showing off a beautiful range of colours in their leaves. We finished the walk just out of daylight, which included a bit of a power-walk for the last leg. Fortunately the very last section of the walk was back along the route setting out, so there was no drama finding Robertsbridge again!

Given it's such a long drive from town, I think we'd probably take the train if we ever head back down. I'd be really tempted to go back in summer and to make a full day of it - arrive mid-morning, do the longer walk and finish up in one of the local pubs before heading back on the train to town in the evening (most likely trying to stay awake)...

Cadsden Circular Walk - September 2010 View across fields to Chequers, with Coombe Hill monument in distance

In an effort to enjoy some of the (now slightly less frequent) good weather, I headed out to the Chilterns to try a circular walk starting from Lower Cadsden. The walk is from Christoper Somerville's website and was also published in The Times, on Saturday 6th June 2010.

The walk itself proved to be a throughly pleasant 7 ½ mile stroll (which took 2 ½ hours without any breaks), through the rolling hills of the Chilterns (which we're starting to know quite well by now), passing close to Chequers (pictured left) before climbing up to Coombe Hill Monument, and circling back through Dunsmore, Little Hampden Common and Cross Coppice. Many thanks to the Plough Inn at Cadsden, for a good lunch before the walk, and a very welcome cup of coffee afterwards, despite technically being shut!

Walking in Badby - September 2010 alt text

With Sunday forecast to be good weather, Jules and I took advantage of the flexibility the car to head up to Badby, Northamptonshire for a walk around the three local villages.

Walk number 597 from the "AA - 1001 Walks in Britain" turned out to be a 6 ¾ mile walk (rated difficulty 3/3) starting out in Badby and taking in Everdon and Newham. The views from the (not especially high, but rolling) hills were quite good, as shown right, and the weather was very kind to us in the late summer. Overall the walk took us 2hrs 40 minutes, including a 10 minute break and one slight detour to avoid a field with a bull, and lots of calves.

These three villages are very pretty, with typical English thatched cottages and old churches. We had a lovely lunch in "The Maltsters Country Inn", and would probably go back if it wasn't such a long drive from London

Walking Ashridge Estate - August 2010 alt text

Determined to take advantage of the new car, and with a morning free, I headed out to Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire to try a walk from the "AA - 1001 Walks in Britain". Number 589 in this set turned out to be a 6 ½ mile stroll (rated difficulty 2/3) through some very pleasant beech woods, and some not so pleasant paths across a well used golf course (mind out for balls falling from the heavens).

Overall it was an OK walk, of a length that may well prove to be useful once the days get a little shorter, but I suspect I'll be doing some others before returning here. Still, it was nice to get out and enjoy the day.

Walking Lewes - July 2010 alt text

With the weather forecast good (actually it turned out to be superb) for a walking we headed out to Lewes in East Sussex for walk # 24 in the TimeOut guide - Lewes via Rodmell circular. This turned out to be a very pleasant 9.5 mile circular walk starting and finishing in Lewes, with good views across the High Weald and down to the coast.

There was one significant climb on the walk, pretty early in the morning (not straight after lunch, just for a change). This took us up onto the ridge at Swanborough hill where we followed the South Downs way until dropping down into Rodmell. We had a good lunch (and some of us a refreshing beer) at the Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell.

The second half of the walk followed the River Ouse back to Lewes and was much flatter, although it did afford some good views of the ridge that we'd walked along earlier in the day. We finished with a well earned pint (of very good Harvey's Best Bitter) in Lewes.

Overall the walk took us the best part of four hours, going at a fairly gentle pace, but only stopping for lunch.

Walking Seaford to Eastbourne - June 2010 alt text

For the second half of a beautiful weekend, Andy and I headed down to the south coast for the TimeOut guide walk # 28 - Seaford to Eastbourne. This is a fairly tough day walk (rated 10/10 in the guide), 13.1 miles in length and taking in the full glory (and ups and downs) of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

The weather was bright and sunny with not much breeze and temperatures into the high 20's, maybe even 30 degrees at times. With the football on (England vs Germany), the pathways were quite clear, and we were able to enjoy and appreciate the beautiful chalk cliffs (the photo to the right was taken leaving Seaford on the way to Exceat). We took our time, set off at a gentle pace, and for once remembered to take some breaks along the way. We were walking for almost exactly 5 hours, with about a hour of breaks and rests in addition.

The route is very easy to navigate, as it follows the coast for most of its length. It is important to carry plenty of water and food, and to take the opportunity to refill where possible, as the chances aren't that frequent.

Climbing Harrison's rock - June 2010 alt text

With the weather forecast very good, the days long and most of the population watching the football, we headed off to Harrison's rock in Kent to do a bit of climbing.

This was my very first time rope climbing outdoors, and conditions were perfect - warm with a clear blue sky near the longest day of the year. With a last minute rush to get a guide book and a long sling, we were all set. We left our bikes at Victoria station (oops, can't take non-folding bikes on the trains in rush hour), and headed out to Eridge. From there it was about a mile of easy walking to get to the crag. We had a go at a couple of cracks, before heading over to Moonlight Arete (which I much preferred, it being more the sort of climbing that I'm used to).

All in all, it was a fabulous evening out climbing, and a great first experience of outdoor climbing in the UK. I bridled a bit at the list of rules & restrictions covering the Southern Sandstone crags, until I got there and could see the wear and damage that had been done previously. Needless to say we took considerable care not to cause any damage after that...

Walking Saunderton - May 2010 Yellow Oilseed Rape field, with green hills in background

With the weather forecast fairly good for the late May Bank Holiday Sunday, Jules and I headed out on the TimeOut walk # 2 (Saunderton via Bledlow circular). This proved to be a very pleasant stroll through the Chilterns, with a couple of (smallish) hills thrown in for good measure, including the obligatory one straight after lunch. The route was quoted as 6/10 toughness (which we broadly agreed with, although it was only just that hard) and forecast 5hrs 20 minutes for the 10.8 miles. We ended up cutting off the very end of the walk, but overall it took us 4½ hours, without going particularly quickly. We got slightly lost a couple of times, and once again remarked on how critical an OS map is for these walks.

The weather turned out very well, more sunny than intervals (despite some cynicism from Jules), although it did turn a little windy later on in the afternoon. We had a very pleasant lunch in The Lions at Bledlow - Jules braved the Chicken Korma, which was excellent, and we suspect, home made and I had the Cheddar ploughmans - before completing the walk and catching a very convenient train back to town.

4x4 Driving Berkshire - May 2010 4x4 car at top of steep slope, about to descend

With my birthday voucher just about to expire (oops) Jules and I went for the 4x4 off-road driving experience. Not really knowing what to expect, we rocked up at the centre, and after a brief introduction to the concept we quickly found ourselves behind the wheels of a Discovery!

I was slightly surprised to learn that speed is not a factor in either the lesson, or in competition (the goal is to keep the car moving forwards at all times), and in fact we spent most of the time in first gear, in low gear ratio, without any pressure on the accelerator, with just the engine ticking over. We took turns to go around the course, and both thoroughly enjoyed the experience - always good to try something different. By the end of the session we had kind of got the hang of it, although the temptation to over-steer was too much at times!

path between fields, with dog running away

On Sunday, and with my sister back in the country (albeit briefly) we went out for a long walk around the village, dropping down to the local pub and then along the Canal.

As always Tess did about five times as much distance as everyone else, although by the end, she was quite hot and tired (I have it on good authority that she this was the longest walk she'd ever done, and that she wasn't quite her usual exuberant self for the next couple of days, presumably while she recovered). The weather was beautiful, although quite warm, and we were all grateful for the water (and bowl, in Tess' case).

Walk From Hastings - April 2010 The view westwards along the coast, showing heather covered hills, cliffs and the sea

With the weather forecast to be excellent we set out for a walk along the coast from Hastings. The journey out of central London was easy and relaxed, albeit the direct stopping train took a little longer than I'd expected. From the station in Hastings it was a short walk through the (frankly run-down) town centre and then up the Tamarisk steps to get to the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. We met Andy and Belinda at the top of the hill (their traveling strategy cleverly managed to avoid the first little warm-up), and headed along the coast. The conditions were perfect for walking, bright, sunny, but not too hot, and with just a gentle breeze to keep us refreshed. The route East from Hastings starts with the more difficult sections, and then flattens out, broadly following the "Saxon Shore Way" towards Rye. The route is #29 (Hastings to Rye) in the Time Out guide, although we stopped in Winchelsea, making the total distance 9 miles. The walk was quoted as 7/10 toughness and we completed it in 3 ½ hours.

Ruined stone gate (New Gate at Winchelsea) over road, surrounded by fields and trees

The first three miles were definitely the most strenuous, and I'm personally glad the whole walk wasn't as tough! We stopped for a sit down and a drink at the The Cove pub in Fairlight (about 1 ½ hours into the walk) , which seemed to be a pleasant pub, although we sat out in the garden to enjoy the sun. We rejoined the Saxon Shore Way out of Fairlight and then turned away from the coast to head more northerly, along the Royal Military Canal path to Winchelsea. We left the canal slightly earlier than we could have done, in order to approach Winchelsea from the South, rather than following the canal all the way to the Strand Bridge. We finished at the New Inn in Winchelsea, another good (Greene Man) pub to enjoy a well earned drink.
We had hoped to take the train back to Hastings from Winchelsea, but the time table seemed to be ... erratic .. at best (first train at about 7am, then no trains all day until about 11pm), so ended up taking a taxi back to Hastings (which between four people probably worked out about the same price as the train).

Walking London - April 2010 Flower on dark green leaves

Taking advantage of both some good weather, and an (almost) working transport network in London, Jules and I managed to get out for a couple of good walks in South West London. On Saturday we walked around Richmond park, taking a stroll through the Isabelle Plantation. We'd never been through this area of the park before (although we'd walked past it a few times), but at this time of year, it's quite special with lots of the trees in blossom. We wandered past one of the Elk in a herd of deerdeer herds, where the males had started to grow their horns. All in all, it wasn't one of our longer walks, at only about 7 ½ miles, but as a gentle and relaxing stroll it was very pleasant.

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With the weather glorious (and with no sign of the cloud of ash that was grounding flights all over Europe), we headed back to Wimbledon Common on Sunday. We started off from the top of Wimbledon village, heading towards Putney, walking past the windmill and onto to the topmost corner of the common. From there it was another 10 minutes to head down into Putney village, where we stopped for lunch (well, we didn't start that early to tell the truth!). After lunch we headed back up to the common, and made our way around the common the long way, through the golf course, and looping back to the high street, before heading back to the station (with a brief detour into Bayley and Sage to pick up dinner). Again, a pleasant day stroll, rather than a long distance walk (it was about 8 miles all in), but very pleasant nonetheless.

Walking Marlow - April 2010 Church from far bank of Thames

After waiting a few weekends for nice weather, the Easter weekend looked like a good option for our first good walk for a little while. Easter Monday was forecast as the best day, so we headed out on Time Out walk # 8 (Marlow Circular). This proved to be a long-ish 12.1 mile route starting and finishing at Marlow station. The walk was quoted as 3/10 toughness and we completed it in 4 ½ hours. On balance the toughness is about right for the effort involved (there's only one moderate hill), but the total length of the walk was a little more than we were used to, so we were both grateful for the sight of Marlow at the end! The route follows the Thames for the first third of the way, which is easy to navigate, and quite pretty. At Aston the route loops through Hambleden (a very picturesque hamlet) and then follows the path of the Chiltern Way back to Marlow. We had a lovely lunch in the Stag and Huntsman in Hambleden - Jules had lasagna and I had fish & chips), but otherwise didn't stop along the way (which in retrospect was a slight mis-judgment).

Walking Guildford - February 2010 St. Martha's on the Hill (Church in Surrey)

The plans for our first proper walking outing of the year nearly came to nothing, owing to limitations on the Sunday rail service, but after a last minute decision, we set off on Time Out walk # 13 (Guildford to Gomshall). This proved to be a fairly easy 8.6 mile linear walk in Surrey, starting in Guildford and ending in Gomshall. The walk was quoted as 5/10 toughness and we completed it in 2 ¼ hours.

The weather wasn't quite what we would have hoped, cloudy at best (see the photo), and raining at worst, but given it was mid-February one can't really complain!

The route was pretty easy to follow, going along the North Downs way for part of the route, and along a section of the Pilgrim's way. There are a couple of very impressive churches along the route, most famously St. Martha's on the hill, and some impressive views of Guildford Cathedral as you head up the hill and out of town. The (very limited - only every 2 hours) train service out of Gomshall got us back to Guildford pretty easily and conveniently.