Monday, 21 July 2014

Taking a Break

Time for a little summertime R&R perhaps?

I'm very excited about this.  It will no way no how be easy, and I feel pretty good about it except for the one day that there are TWO 2,000 foot mountains to deal with.  I was trying to think back and I don't think I've ever done that amount of climbing in one day, but then I remember that Katahdin is over 5200 feet, and I totally conquered that and lived to tell about it, and that's probably the biggest mountain I've done as a day climb.  I'll tell you all about the adventure when I successfully return from meandering the hills.  

Off to St Bees...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Another jaunt up Box Hill, this time with a bag full of hooch

My walking obsession continues....

Recently, my friend Mary and I found ourselves both with a weekday in which neither one of us had work lined up.  After some consulting with my book of countryside walks, we decided to do a walk in the gentle downland near Box Hill.  A half hour train ride later to Westhumble Station in Surrey, we were rambling around the countryside just south of the city around the North Downs.

It was a lovely day for walking- completely overcast and cool.  It threatened to rain, but never did.  In fact (spoiler alert, I made it home at the end of the hike) arriving back in London that evening, I thought someone did me the kindness of watering my plants for me, as London got a proper soaking.  

With my OS map and compass and guidebook, we found the trail that led past a posh gated community to Norbury Park.

Deep, green quiet forest with lovely views when there was a break in the trees.  Through lovely forest of beech, cherry and ash trees in Durid's grove, past a working sawmill, and chalk grassland.  If we wouldn't have been chatting and laughing the whole time, I'm sure we would have seen wildlife.


I don't think the country house was open as we couldn't figure out how to get in, but Polesden Lacey estate had more lovely wooden trails all around it.  I want to live here.    

It's really lovely walking, and we only saw a handful of dog walkers the entire time.  Considering the park was sandwiched between two busy A-roads and we were barely outside the M25, it was surprisingly peaceful.

Eventually, we joined up the North Downs Way, past St Barnabus church.  I keep thinking that I'm going to walk the NDW in its entirety: it's broken up in easy day-trip stretches with easy trains to and from London every 10-12 miles or so.

We started walking down the North Downs.  I got distracted instantly by two walkers who looked a bit too jolly and done up to be really out waking, and stopped to chat.  "We've just been down to Denbie's", the man said, pointing down the hill.

Denbie's, eh?

Last time I was hiking Box Hill, I did see vines growing down in the valley.  I had no idea there was a big California-style chateau and tasting room attached to it.

We pretty much bolted down that hill.  Even after a 10 mile hike, I felt perfectly fresh despite the fact that I suddenly needed refreshment.  Oooh, my favorite kind of hike is the one down the hill to the vineyard.

Denby's ended up being huge, with a big car park and a cycle race finish line out front.  They give tours, there's an enormous cafe, an art gallery, a packed gift shop, and a place to taste.  And loos!  I guess if you've come that far, it's almost a public service to provide toilets.  They seem to have a lot of events and gatherings here, and even on a weekday, it was bustling.  

The wines weren't my favorite, but I bought a couple of bottles anyway, just for fun and good luck.  Although, I probably should have bought them after we hiked up and down Box Hill.  There was also a little marketplace selling beautiful tomatoes and local goodies, so we picked up some good cheese and fruit.

Then we packed up the whole mass and carried it up the overly steep Box Hill.  We had to walk a stretch along the A road for about a half mile, with the trucks roaring by, but there was a side walk and bike path and an underpass to eventually get across.

It's good to end the hike on a high note, and it was still an amazingly tough climb for such a small hill.  But the views, and the elation of doing it, was well worth it.  I could have walked another 10 miles in the woods, but as soon as we reached the top of the hill, I was knackered and ready to be done for the day.

For Sale, you say?   Hmmmm....
This kid had a bottle of coke that took off down the hill.  He started after it, panicked, and went running back to his parents with a loud wail while the bottle bounced further down the hill:

Ha ha, kids shouldn't be drinking that crap anyway.

We made our way down the hill and over the Stepping Stones.  Nope, didn't get wet this time.  They do have an alternate foot bridge nearby, but that's no fun at all.

Overall, it was a nice 12 miles of happy fine hiking, and I love setting off with these OS maps to connect a bunch of footpaths and creating a real hike from it.  I think we both had a fantastic walk, and no real horror stories or mishaps to go with the miles.  Although, the crowded rush hour train going back to the city was probably a bit unpleasant for the other passengers as I bet you could photograph the stink coming off me.  

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Horseguards, zzzzzzz.....

I had a friend in town recently.  She wanted to see the changing of the horseguards.  I was happy to oblige...

I think I had seen this once, years ago, but the memory was so bland, I couldn't really remember.  There were horses, I'll tell you that much.

While I must admit, the Horseguards palace across from St James Park, and kissing-close to Downing Street, is quite impressive.

Upon arrival, we stared wide-eyed in wonder at the grass growing.

There might be psychedelics you could take to gain introspective and liven this up a bit.  

The horses were standing there.  Then more horses came.  Then they stood there.  Then the original horses left.  There was some loud shouting, and some pretty spiffy uniforms, and presto, changeo!

Some of the horses dozed off obediently, while others stomped and fidgeted, awaiting for the clock to chime.  All were impeccably groomed and practically glowed with health, but they were almost all very plain, practical cobs.

All this British pomp and ceremony.  I just don't get it sometimes.  Although, there were a whole lot of women guards.

Oh, the Ministry of Silly Hats callled....

I was kind of hoping they would at least be up for a joust at this point.

After they changed out, the crowd slowly realized that the show was over, and shuffled away.  You heard the echoes of, "That was it?" in several languages.  This happens every day at 11 at the Horseguard Palace if this has piqued your interest in any way.

Which, I repeat, is lovely, and St James is one of my favorite Parks in the city to have a stroll and bird watch.

Afterwards, we went off to Notting Hill, where we had a fabulous lunch at Ottolenghi.  There were crunchy, well-presented vegetables!  Also, really fantastic pastries.   It's a little pricey, but it's by far the most dependable place to get good vegetable-based cuisine that doesn't involve a deep fry.  You leave feeling healthy and like you are virtuous enough to deserve that pastry!

Notting Hill is a great neighborhood to hit the paving stones in.  It's got a lot of junk markets, but also some fun finds, all in a cute pastel-house streets.  It's good for off-the-beaten-path shops as well; there is a bookstore that sells only cookbooks and a wonderful spice shop across the way from it.  Lots of vintage and up-and-coming boutiques.  It is a madhouse on the weekends, but during the week it's fairly chill.

Question:  How many is too many?

In the northern part of the street, you get a lot of really interesting street art.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Hadrian, Day 4: Better than Expected, a nice walk to Corbridge

Our last day of hiking.  This day, we would hike about 7 miles along the Wall and then turn off and hike a few miles to Corbridge, were we would take the train back to Newcastle.  

Ok, so I hate to get all complainy but the English pub in the countryside really needs to step up their game as far as food is concerned.  I wanted to cry at breakfast when I was presented with deep-fried mushrooms, and I hadn't had anything crunchy or fresh in days.  The vegetables were doubtless from the freezer, and presented with no seasoning or ceremony: just a dish with steamed broccoli and carrots and peas, very wilted and mushy and discolored.  Very sad, as I am one of those people who NEEDS my vegetables and I don't feel right if I'm not eating enough of them.  Also, at this particular pub, I asked for small roasted potatoes as a side, and they came back with a plate of roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, and fried potatoes all on one plate.  Because I need more potatoes.  Also, a microwave and a fryalator does not a kitchen make.  

Anyway.  Aside from the grim foodie scene, I am in love with the countryside here.  

I continue to amaze myself with my body's ability to bounce back after 9 hours of napping.  I can be exhausted and achy and tired, but after a good sleep, I have no problem at all getting up and doing it all again.  Sleep.  It's Magic.

I didn't know quite what to expect with our hike this day; the OS map indicated that we would be following a busy road most of the day.

We got a couple miles down the road and realized that we never gave the key back to reception at the pub.  The thing was huge, too- it weighed about as much as a brick.  A frantic on-trail phone call later and we were told to drop the key by a teahouse a little further up the trail.  Bullet dodged!  People here, despite lacking culinary skills, are friendly.

True, the road was nearby, but it was a fairly pleasant countryside walk, with nice long downhills and very few uphills.  The handful of people we saw on the trail were walking from Newcastle, and they assured us red-faced and puffing that we had a very pleasant downhill walk ahead of us.

The wall, once again, was all but disappeared on us, but there was this interesting section:

You can see the indentation in the foundation where the builders decided that they had enough of the 3 meter wide wall, and suddenly changed it to a narrower structure.    And...that was the only bit of wall we saw that day.

We passed the tiny St Oswald's Church, on the spot where King Oswald of Wales battled the pagans to bring Christianity to the North.

Mostly, we were just following the defense ditch that the Romans dug, and the wall was no more.

It was really easy walking, and despite the road being about 30 feet away, it was peaceful.  Another day's walk and we would have been in New Castle, slightly bored.

The day was pleasant enough, and we turned down a lane to explore a tiny little chapel and a house that was built from a castle.

It seemed quite posh, and they had "Keep Out" signs and high walls all around their manicured grounds.

We decided to try for another English Heritage sight nearby, Aydon Castle, but it was closed on Mondays.  Still, we wove our way through the woods and started seeing signs of civilization.

We hoofed it into Corbridge with a few hours to spare before the train swung into the station, and set out to acquire ice cream and explore.

There was a Roman fort and town here as well, Coria, but I was kind of done with the Romans at this juncture.

It ended up being really charming and sweet town- I wouldn't mind to make this my base camp if I was to ever come back to the area.  Lots of cute shops and cafes and places to eat.  If I felt we smelled nice enough to crowd into a cafe, I would have spent an afternoon drinking tea and people-watching.

There was a beautiful old church of St Andrews, made from stone plundered from the nearby fort.   A very knowledgeable lady in the church gave us a quick history, and pointed out all sorts of interesting things.

Corbridge being a border town, there was a time when the Scots would come down and raid and terrorize from time to time.  She said the black marks on the front of the Norman doorway was from the time Robert Bruce came down to terrorize the townfolk and tried to burn them out of the church.

Town explored and fawned over, we grabbed a pint in a little pub that had a beer garden next to the train station before heading back to civilization.  We ended up doing about 10 miles on this day- the light walk I thought we would be doing was hardly that, and we boarded the train fragrant and sticky.

I'm not rushing back to finish the trail anytime soon, or ever.  I'm perfectly happy with the more wild and remote sections that we tackled, and I'd rather find a new trail to explore rather than walk along a roadside and through cities for a couple more days.

What made the trail totally worthwhile though were all the museums and places to stop along the Roman trail.  It seemed weird, but I did learn quite a lot on this hike.  

My feet were fine, with just a couple small blisters, and maybe just a little tender, but I'm just thrilled that we did this walk.  Even though it wasn't difficult, I felt blissfully exhausted.