Ups and Downs

I can’t be sure, of course, but I would imagine most of us associate bushcraft with forests and woods. Certainly if you live in north Europe.

            And, like everyone else, I love playing around in the woods. The truth is though that my favourite terrain is easily heathland and downland (not a sentence you get to use very often). I like that openness, the rolling landscape, the long horizon, the rhythm and texture of the land.

            I had the day off work yesterday and decided to go for a walk along the North Downs. My route took me partly on the Pilgrim’s Way, partly on the North Downs Way and partly my own meanderings.

            The North Downs run from Hampshire in the west, all the way to the white cliffs of Dover. It was also on the North Downs (the Surrey side) that HRH Ray Mears learnt his trade (tracking foxes). The Downs form the backbone of Kent – the county is made up of chalk, clay and flint. The Downs are comprised of large areas of grassland that were used in medieval times for grazing sheep, with intermittent woodland (yew being abundant), chalk scarps and plenty of ups and downs.

            It’s worth saying something about the name ‘Downs’. It is a corruption of the Old English word ‘dun’, meaning a hill.

            I joined the North Downs Way just north of Maidstone, near the ruins of Thurnham Castle. I could clearly hear skylarks out over the fields below, but they were too far away to be seen. I did catch sight of a wheatear, which came down about 20 yards away from me. I tried to sneak up to get a better picture, but this was the best I could manage before it flew off.

There were plenty of fox runs to be seen, and lots of pheasants hiding in the long grass and brush. And lots of birds floating on the eddies. Though I saw very little other wildlife up close. I was hoping to find some orchids, but it’s probably still a little too early in the year.

            The joy of the Downs is also the source of their curse – those rolling hills mean you are going up hill as much as down! About halfway round I took a break in the shade of a tree and had my packed lunch – cheese and tomato sarnie, pack of Quavers and an apple!

            Then I set off back uphill and back to my car.


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