Since the late 90s, the de-la-Haye ancestral seat has been on the outskirts of a small village on the borders of Surrey, Kent and the Sussexes. And by ancestral seat, I mean a small, farmer worker’s cottage and when I say late 90s, that’s the late 1990s. Still, you get my drift…
The ‘Rona and ensuing lockdown, partial lifting, tiering, rumoured circuit-breaker, and whatever comes next, have meant that the vast majority of us have been at home much more than BC (before Covid). Throughout April, again like many millions of us, I was uber busy establishing my home office, doing my bit to build the business as a viable virtual entity and baking and eating. When I look back, I reflect that all I did in April was work, sleep, bake, eat, repeat. I’m delighted to report that I smashed the national average weight gain of the Corona stone by a gut-busting 124 per cent.
May brought with it gorgeous weather, lighter evenings and futile attempts by me to fit into my summer clothes. I chomped my way through my final Bosh Boys’ choc-chip cookie – those zesty circles of delight are so addictive – laced-up my old trainers and started walking. (You’re not fooled by the “old trainers” line are you? You know me well enough now to be confident that I totally had to order three pairs of new trainers – pink, blue and green, thanks for asking – before I could contemplate hitting the tarmac.) Very slowly, but always upliftingly, me and Steve (my husband) started to explore our patch. We’ve lived here 23 years and discovered more about our local area in the first 23 days of walking than in all the previous years.
We stumbled across – literally – an airfield. Yup, an airfield. Three kilometres from our front door and you are standing in the middle of an airfield. Almost a quarter of a century living here and we hadn’t spotted this! It was the orange wind socks that gave it away. In the other direction, and on an exceptionally blowy day in May, we found Dry Hill trig point (Google trigonometric surveying, if curious). For a cartophile like me, this was thrilling. The highest point around, site of an Iron Age hillfort, a Scheduled Monument and just 2.8 kilometres away. Returning from Dry Hill we came across Matthew’s Bug Hotel, a landscaped resort for local insects, including porticoed entrance and detached solarium. We’ve walked past the bug hotel heaps of times this summer and every time I wonder who Matthew is. I hope he’s enjoyed this bit of woodland as much as I have.
We’ve bravely crossed fields occupied by cows with menace in their eyes and followed a path across another that had a sign on the gate advising caution as police dogs trained there. We decided against using the permissive right of way across a local field that had a bull for a resident, although I subsequently read on a local community page that he’s very docile and fine with walkers. Maybe next time.
Some days, we’ve channelled our inner River Phoenix à la “Stand by Me” and crossed the main railway line to London at two different pedestrian level crossing. On other days we have, or rather I have, gone full Roberta Bobbie “Daddy, my Daddy” Waterbury and waved hello to passing trains from the Mill Lane bridge, though not with my red bloomers. I’ve had two toots and several waves back.
We’ve played Pooh Sticks at Pooh Bridge in the Five Hundred Acre Wood, the inspiration for A A Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. We’ve walked and cycled past Gulledge Farmhouse, which is Grade II* listed, but which now looks to be unoccupied and seems to stare at you from blackened windows. It is well on the way to Seriously Spooky classification. We’ve crossed the entrance-way to the 15 Century manor house used as a filming location for both “Anne of the Thousand Days” and “The Ghost Goes Gear”. On a bright Sunday morning, and with both Steve and my mum for company, we strolled to the ruins of 17 Century Brambletye House. Another bright weekend saw us puffing up the slope of the Greensand Ridge to Toy’s Hill but it was so worth it for truly spectacular views over the Weald of Kent from the top. As well as menacing cows and (allegedly) docile bulls, we’ve seen horses, sheep, goats, deer, llamas, ducks, geese, swans, pheasants, a heron, two owls, a very inquisitive fox and more squirrels than you can shake a stick at. We also inadvertently trespassed at Lingfield Racecourse, but legged it before the Rozzers could collar us!
Covid has ruined so many plans this year, and it’s not finished with us yet. Very unexpectedly, I’ve found exploring locally has been a silver lining. In anticipation of further confinement, I’ve spent a couple of hours this week elbow deep in OS Explorer maps. A Grade I listed windmill and Octavia Hill’s cottage currently top the “to do” list. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to concede that a pair of those cute and oh-so-environmentally-sound Allbirds boots rank pretty high up the list too – well, I can achieve anything in the right pair of shoes, even a winter of lockdown! ~ E