The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th March 2022, Time Out

Not so long ago, the pandemic I knew most about was the one in which my grandfather’s first wife died in 1918. Similarly, world war was something my parents spoke of as a lived experience. I learned about both in school history lessons. I didn’t really expect to live either. But we have been living with the pandemic for two years now, and global war is a definite possibility.

I feel I need to watch the news, despite the feelings of helplessness and grief it engenders. It’s something about bearing witness to the horrors being unleashed on the Ukrainian population. Emotionally, it’s draining. I have sent money, signed petitions, tweeted and retweeted. Yesterday, I took the day off from war. A luxury those in Ukraine do not have.

Celia and I set out for Coulsdon, and a walk we had found that was described as a surprising gem to find in the outskirts of London. It’s a peaceful, undulating, country route across flower strewn downland (in season), woods and fields and as a bonus, a church decorated with the earliest known English wall painting. What’s more all travel was within Zone 6. Neither of us knew Coulsdon. It would be a stretch to say we do now, as apart from the café (great) in the Memorial gardens and the toilets (vile) close by, we didn’t see much of it. We headed up hill to Farthing Down and Happy Valley, past some very attractive houses. About 400 yards into our walk we were lost. Not completely lost, but the instructions we were following did not match the terrain. We worked it out, but it was a good start in a way, as we increasingly found that the landmarks, fingerposts, numbered gates which were to guide us no longer existed. Compasses came into play.

Happy Valley is gorgeous. It is part of the Green Belt that surrounds London, a boon for those who live by it, and a barrier to further urban development. A barrier some want removed. A bit like the way climate crisis deniers and those who have long supported fracking say that with the current fuel crisis we should resume coal mining, drilling for oil and fracking. Heaven help us, for most of our politicians won’t.

Being out of the city was wonderful. The greenery, the dogs, the silence. We ambled, enjoying it all. Well, most of it. Not the mud. There was quite a lot of mud. Away from the Down some landowners make sure public access is restricted to a narrow strip between wire fences. We squelched, we slithered. The mud sucked at our boots and made our leg muscles tired. Thank goodness for the catkins, the twin lambs, for the primroses, and the buds. It was all very Robert Browning, though a month early.

Mud

We emerged from mud and woodland to a space, an enclave of neat houses and a quiet road. Children played on their bikes. Some of the houses had been done up with massive fences to stop anyone being able to see over them, security cameras and lights. Russian oligarchs perhaps. Certainly not neighbours where you’d go to ask if they had a screwdriver you could borrow.

We stopped for lunch at a dog friendly, walker friendly pub where they let us eat our packed lunches outside, and then we headed into the warm interior to finish our glasses of cider. The wind was cold, and the sections of the walk where we were in woodland provided us with welcome shelter.

Continue reading

A Walk in Kent

Last night I finally got the last of the mud off my boots. They were caked. Kent is a county that has a reputation for being dry, but the first two fields we walked across were lakes of mud. There was no escape. I’m a mucky walker at the best of times, coming home with mud splattered trousers whatever the weather, but Saturday was pretty spectacular. The ground sucked at my heels so that each step was accompanied by a distinctive squelching sound.

I’d caught an earlier train out of London than planned and it was wonderfully quiet and empty.

Empty train

The fields we passed by were covered with frost, and the sun shone benevolently. The walk, a Pluckley Circular, was organised by the Ramblers and shared between two groups which meant there were nearly thirty of us when the walk began. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve clicked on that wiki link you’ll have read Pluckley claims to be the most haunted place in the country. But how would you tell?

So I was at Pluckley station half an hour ahead of kick-off, though perhaps that should be step-off.

Station car park


The station has a legitimate claim to historical fame.

Sole survivor


An original


But it’s not actually in Pluckley. It’s a distance away from the village, over a mile. Here’s the pub that is beside the station, a pretty impressive pile, named for the Dering family who were landowners.

The pub at Dering

Dering Arms

Continue reading

Rambling

The rôles were reversed. The pigs were squeakily clean and we were covered in mud. They didn’t seem to mind, and not one of them pointed a trotter at us. They belonged to a biodynamic farm near Forest Row in West Sussex. There was a café attached that I’d like to try another day.


Showing some prescience, the walk leader had warned the East Grinstead Circular ‘could be muddy’ when she submitted it for the South Bank Ramblers‘ current programme before the rains came and came again leaving swathes of the country under water.
I checked the internet for local flooding before putting my gaiters into my bag. But the forecast was for a bright sunny day, and the opportunity to be out and about with my boots on was too good to miss. Some twenty others evidently thought the same, though as we squelched through yet another muddy and sodden field, there were moments where the ironing almost became enticing. Dirty Lane might have been named for us.

By lunchtime the muddy part of the walk was over. We had forty-five minutes in Forest Row. Some headed to the church to eat sandwiches on the thoughtfully provided benches in the churchyard; the quick witted grabbed the sunny spaces outside the village hall and lunched in the warming sun. Some went to The Chequers Inn with its flagstoned floors and smell of woodmoke, and others bought lunch in the café.
I wandered about after I’d finished my sandwiches and took some pictures. The village hall dates from the late C19, but someone had pretensions with its exterior decoration and I liked its flamboyance.
The plaque commemorating a visit to Forest Row in 1963 by JFK was a surprise. I guessed he was staying with then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan at his Sussex home. This suggests I was right.

Continue reading

Afloat Again

This is from last night, when the connection kept failing, as it well may do today too.

Due to the rain earlier today, I ummed and ahhed about coming East. I don’t like the mud/boat combination. Too much cleaning and dirty bits of newspaper are involved. So it was as the sun was setting that we arrived. The view across the fens on the approach road was beautiful.I was tempted to stop and get out my camera, but common sense prevailed. It had been a lovely afternoon and the countryside in its late autumn colours, under blue skies, was like a travel brochutre with knobs on.

We are alone. There is no one else at the marina, and from the lack of cars, I’d say no one out on their boat from here either. It could be scary but it’s not. I rather enjoyed showing Not Cat the ropes. He hasn’t been on das Boot since May, though he had a mooch about the marina a few weeks ago.

Some bad moments when I came aboard ahead of Not Cat. I wanted to turn on the electrics and run the engine for a while to get us hot water. The engine wouldn’t start. My heart fell. But I got a new battery earlier in the year, so even while I was envisaging an evening with the battery charger on and the floor up, I persevered. Hurrah! Lift off.

I didn’t think the Ginger Ninja would particularly enjoy the sound, so I left him in his box while I unloaded the car. I hope that in future I’ll be able to let him out to sniff around and then make his own way down to the boat as Cat learned to do.

Not Cat explored while I unpacked and wiped surfaces, cleaning the spider poo of the last few weeks and washing down the draining board. He seemed fine, so I guess he must have left his territorial marks, fortunately not pungent ones, back in May.

I thought the boat would be cold, but although I’ve added a fleece and the electric blanket is on to air the bed, I‘ve only just closed the windows, open to clear the condensation from cooking supper. Which I thought might also be off the menu when the gas wouldn’t light. I seemed for a few crucial moments to be facing a meal of old Bombay mix and cold baked beans.

Not Cat has had a good look out of the windows and signaled his desire to explore outside, but is now asleep in the cat bed beside me. I’ve brought lots of toys to entertain him, and I’m hoping he’s not going to be too active tonight.

As usual I had overestimated the fridge’s capacity, so I’ve got some lagers chilling outside on the gunwhale. I think, now I’ve had dinner, it’s time to pop one open. I’d hate them to go to waste.