22 August 2019
After our sodden sixteenish miles last week and our equally wet weekend hill adventure, this week was all about shorter walks and hills. On Monday morning it was nice to see clear blue skies when I set out to meet Kim at Woodmill. The downside to the blue sky was the heat, even before eight in the morning, but I guess you can’t have everything and we were only planning to walk eight miles anyway.
The tide was out, leaving the river here a thin shimmering line sandwiched between large expanses of mud and seaweed. The swans were still stretching and waking up and the park was empty. Near the reed beds the cygnets were stretching too, but too far away for decent photos.
At Woodmill I met Kim. We set off towards the hilly part of Woodmill Lane together, glad to be dry for once. There were hills ahead but Woodmill Lane wasn’t one of them. Before the climb began to get hard we turned off into Manor Farm Road and headed back towards the Triangle. We could have simply walked back along the river but, as we’d be coming back that way, I thought a change of scene would be nice and four times along the same stretch in one day is too much even for me.
This road follows the line of the river, but at a distance. It’s a gentle incline at first, then it undulates a little before climbing again towards the end. The river path is nicer but here we had houses to envy and childhood memories. Kim told me about the strange man who’d tried to tempt her with tales of puppies when she was small. Luckily, she hadn’t believed there were any puppies and had run away.
We climbed Cobden Avenue, not really a hill at this stage but steep enough to get our hearts beating faster. Then we wound our way down through the hidden cut way near Deep Dene and onto Monks Walk past the locked gates of St Mary’s College. There were memories of walking on those fields with my daft dog Norton when I was young. He’d run in huge circles rounding up imaginary sheep until he wore himself out.
Another hidden cut way, between the college and my old junior school reminded me of another strange man. This one had no puppies but flashed my friend and I a glimpse of his nether regions. At six years old we thought it was funny but our parents, when we told them, weren’t amused. The subsequent visit from the police was far more traumatic than the incident and we were banned from the cut way after that.
Although we’d been climbing most of the time since we left Woodmill, the real hill came as we reached Hum Hole. Kim was amazed to find such a leafy woodland trail so close to the main road but surprised I dared to walk it alone. The sun was getting higher in the sky now and the shade was welcome as we marched up towards the village.
It was the only real hill on this walk but, with a gain of over a hundred and twenty feet in half a mile, it made us work. At the very top, there was a short but welcome wait to cross the road and a quick stop at my doctors to order a new prescription for Commando. Then we headed back down towards the village with the climbing behind us.
For every up there is a down and, without the former, you can’t appreciate the latter. The downhill walk back to the river seemed easy. After the heat of the streets, we certainly appreciated the cool breeze along the river on our way back to Woodmill.
Out first long walk on this marathon training business was eight miles. Now, eight miles was our short walk. As the long miles get ever longer it’s surprising how the perception of distance begins to change, even if the hills never seem to get easier.
Today, a trip to the dentist took me to another horrible hill. This time I’d be tackling it alone though. My dentist is a couple of miles from my house. Parking nearby is a nightmare so I tend to walk there and back. Walking there involves climbing the Big Hill a gradual, slightly undulating walk and a sharp descent. Today I was trying not to think about injections and drills because I was having a cracked tooth repaired.
With the nasty bit out of the way it was quite a relief to leave the dentist behind and set off towards home, even if my mouth was still numb. Usually I choose my homeward route to avoid the worst of the hills. Today, with Clarendon in mind, I thought I should probably tackle Chalk Hill. First though, I wanted a little wander in Hatch Grange. This may have been a procrastination technique.
Having said that, there was a climb up the hill towards the armada beacon. When I got to the top and looked down though, I spotted a new chainsaw sculpture so I walked back down again to inspect it. It’s been a while since I last walked here so the sculpture may have been there a while, but it was new to me.
As I stood looking at the intricate carvings of leaves, butterflies, squirrels and owls I tried, unsuccessfully, to remember the tree the sculpture was made from. Like the totem pole sculpture near Windhover Roundabout, I supposed it will eventually rot away, but I like the idea of the dead tree having a new purpose in the meantime.
Smiling, I climbed back up the grassy hill and looked down towards the avenue of lime trees. This land was once a large estate, owned in the fourteenth century by John de Hache, hence the name Hatch Grange. These trees were planted by Wareford Fletcher, one of the later owners of the estate, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and line the driveway to his house. Sadly, the house is long gone and a great deal of the land he once owned is earmarked for new houses.
Much as I’d have liked to explore further, I really did need to be getting back home, so I climbed down onto the path and slowly headed for the gate. Beautiful as the trees are, the best time to see them is autumn so I will probably return in a few weeks.
As I left Hatch Grange behind I was sorely tempted to take my usual route home, the one that cuts through West End Copse and avoids horrible hills like Chalk Hill. In the end though, I knew I needed to get as many hills into my short walks as I could so, steeling myself, I began to climb.
To my mind, the measure of how difficult a hill is is not the distance covered but the incline. Chalk Hill, at less than half a mile, is a short hill, but horribly steep. It starts off fairly innocently, lulling you into a false sense of security, but, around half way up it gets much, much steeper. All in all it rises one hundred and thirty one feet and, like the much longer Woodmill Lane, it has a sting in its tail. The steepest part of all is right at the top.