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North Downs

I took myself off to complete what was meant to be a fairly easy 6-mile circular walk of the Wye Downs, North Downs, today. It turned out to be certainly more than 6-miles and a bit of a detour from the directions I had downloaded from the North Downs national path website. But Wye is where I started - and where I ended up, so it was all good. I hadn't slept very well last night - finally getting to sleep in the early hours, having battles the humidity. I woke with a headache and thought ugh at the prospect of trains and hills. But I'm so glad I did. I returned back into St. Pancras for 5pm, feeling tired but restored and as though my spirit had undergone expansion.

The winds up on the Downs were, in the first hour or so, quite wild, making the long grass dance back and forth; the clouds were fast moving, as though the sky was still looking for somewhere to fix its blanket of shade.



Wye is a tiny village, having given the world the 17th century woman playwright and author Aphra Behn. (A short piece I wrote on Behn a few years ago can be found on the Guardian website/books section.) It was a short walk from the station to the church, from where I found the path that brought me to the bottom of a footpath, alongside a field, that steadily inclined up to a forest.



I sat and admired the view before entering the forest, ruminating on how the Red Riding Hood fairy tale was such a fixed part of my own psyche - that and the odd news stories proclaiming attacks and bodies found in England's idyllic forestry.


I also recalled an image of a forest surrounded by black and yellow police tape, set up by an artist for an exhibition some years ago; a statement on how violence was becoming synonymous with these wooded idylls. Yes, the chances are a million to one, more even, but I found myself staring into the dark wood - as though in a doorway of a haunted house.


Within a few steps I had chanced upon a heavy log and carried it with me as the new relay baton to be delivered once I had reached the finish line of safety. There was a steeper incline in the forest, adding to the pronounced knots of tree roots and sharp stones. I emerged onto a narrow road and passed through a kissing gate - eventually arriving above the landmark of the Crown; a chalk crown made by students at the turn of the last century for the then monarch's jubilee. I sat up here awhile and marvelled at the view of the patchwork quilt of greens. The weather forecast had said rain around noon - but not a drop came my way. Instead the cool and by turns warm winds were the perfect conditions. Another half hour and I had reached the Devil's Kneading Trough.


This was a majestic dip on either side, yet almost like a giant grass 'V'. I sat and ate my lunch here, thinking how fortunate I was to have come.


I wasn't thinking that an hour later though, when I took a wrong turn, ended up in a field of thistles and nettles, cursing aloud. But I retraced my steps and then took the country road the 3.5 miles back into Wye. All in all I walked for a good 3 hours.



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