Monday, 16 June 2014

Rochester Estuary Walk

A 50 minute car journey from Harringay and it feels like you are by the sea. This walk takes you along the river Medway and its estuary and takes in a castle, quaint streets, a shoreline amble and then the flat salt marshes of Kent, all very Great Expectations. Popping into Rochester on the way back to see Cathedral, oldy worldy houses along the high street and another castle is an added bonus.

The sea covers the first part of the walk along the shore, so make sure you avoid high tide. Click here for tide timetables

The walk is 4-5 miles and takes around 2.5 hours and is a good walk for all seasons. 

How to Get There
Easy to get to, through the Blackwall Tunnel and along the A2 to junction 1 on the M2, then A289 and a short journey on the small roads to the car park at Upnor Castle. Don't be tempted to start the walk any further towards Rochester, it's a let down.

Tea and Cake 
The are several pubs in Upnor. Alternatively Rochester is brimming with tea shops, the Cathedral cafe serves lovely cream teas in a delightful garden. 

The Walk 
I'd recommend a 'there and back walk' as the circular walk is rather boring. The purple line is the route. 

The short diversion down Upnor's short cobbled street with its traditional Kent weather boarded houses is well worth it. At the end you look across the estuary to Chatham docks. Upnor Castle was built to defend this hugely important dockyard in the 16th Century. 

Upnor's Cobbled Street with good views of the river Medway at the end. 
Retrace your steps and you descend the hill towards lower Upnor via a footpath to the right of the road. Shortly before you leave lower Upnor you might come across the two London stones which mark the end of the City of London's fishermens right to fish, the smaller stone is dated 1204.  

After Lower Upnor you just walk along the beach. 
The beach walk along the Medway 
Past Hoo Marina and you keep to a footpath beside the estuary advancing along that semi industrial landscape at the margins with the power station silhouetted in the near distance, which marks the far end of the walk. 

The muddy estuary is dotted with loads of waders and other birds. When you reach the power station just turn back and retrace your steps and enjoy a new set of vistas as you return. 

The estuary at low tide with waders dotted around. 

More History 
Around a mile into the beach walk you would have come across the remains of a red brick building, another remnant of our maritime history, Cockham Wood Fort.
Cockham Wood Fort (Richard Cruttwell)
It was built in 1667 to house 24 guns after the disastrous Dutch raid on the English naval fleet docked in the river. It was the worst defeat the British navy ever experienced, threatened to destabilise England and ended the second Anglo dutch war. The tension and panic in London is captured powerfully by Samuel Pepys contemporary diaries,  the full story is here.

The Dutch in the Medway William Scellinks 1667 (with Upnor Castle silhouetted in the flames) 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Dunstable Downs

A one hour car journey from Harringay takes you to a ridge walk along the Chilterns, with skylarks serenading and spectacular views across the large fields and toy villages of the Value of Aylesbury in Bedfordshire. It's said on a clear day you can see 35 miles to Oxfordshire. Gliders take off from a field at the base of the downs and paragliders surf the currents above offering a bit more interest for kids. You can often spot red kites. Hunted to near extinction 100 years ago in the UK they were reintroduced to the Chilterns 20 years ago and are now a common sight.  This short walk also has a surprising smattering of history. 

Red Kite 
A tarmacked path runs along half the ridge walk making at least some of the walk accessible for buggies and wheelchairs (but you'd need to park at the Chiltern's Gateway Centre shop to access). 

The walk is 4 miles and takes 2.5 hours and a good walk for all seasons. 

How to Get There
Easy to get to, straight up the M1 to junction 9 and then follow signs to Whipsnade. As you begin to go down the hill after Whipsnade, you find the parking place on your right. Avoid arriving after Whipsnade has been open for an hour or so, as you'll just join a traffic jam. 

Tea and Cake 
A National Trust cafe and shop 'the Chilterns Gateway Centre' with brilliant view, sits atop the downs.

The Walk 
There are several walks you can take, you can find a longer 6.5 mile one here.  

I can never resist striding out along the ridge as the views are so exhilarating after being in the city. But if you like to feel you've earned your coffee and cake it would be more sensible to descend to the bottom of the downs and do the walk the other way round, so you end up at the cafe towards the end of the walk. 

Unfortunately blogger no longer allows you to paste the Ordnance Survey map code into a post, so a screen shot will have to do. The flag marks the start and finish, the purple line the route. The Ordnance Survey Explorer map is 181

The beginning of the walk looking over to Ivinghoe Beacon from the car park.

On Pascombe Hill looking back along the ridge you've just walked with the gliding centre below

Looking back up to Pascombe Hill with a just visible paraglider. 

From spring to late summer skylarks should accompany you along the walk, apparently 

In the 1850s a good male skylark could fetch 15 shillings as a caged songbird in the markets of London. A high proportion of the Skylarks sent to London came from a small area of Dunstable Downs at this time as the area had free access, allowing the lark catchers to work unhindered. Records show that in one winter nearly 50,000 birds were captured in this area' 

Dunstable Downs was also the site for one of the beacons which stretched from the east coast to Cornwall via London in the 16th century. An early warning system put in place when Spanish invasion was feared during Elizabeth I reign. 

Pascombe Hill juts out towards the end of the downs. From the 12th century it housed a warren providing locals, most probably the priory, with meat and fur. I was surprised to learn rabbits aren't indigenous to Britain and were brought over by the Normans from France. Warreners would have been employed to guard the rabbits. 

At the far end of the ridge before you drop down you come to Five Knolls with its distinct bumps, a burial site in the late neolithic (3,200 BC - 2,200 BC) and bronze age (2,500-800BC) and then reused by the Romans.

Geography and Wildlife
Dunstable downs are chalk escarpment with the butterflies and flowers you'd expect to see on downland. These snaps were taken in May.


Forget Me Not and Cow Parsley
Apple Blossom