Monthly Archives: August 2016

Wide Rides in Windsor Great Park

The London Countryway

Over the winter of 2015/16 I completed the London LOOP. This is the ‘London Outer Orbital Path’ – a 150 mile signposted path that encircles our capital city. It is a mostly undemanding walk that I used to test myself while I continued to slowly recover from the Plantar fasciitis that developed in February 2015. While I am still struggling to recover, I have been able to push, slightly, the number of miles that I can complete on a daily walk.

As a winter walk, perhaps not surprisingly, I found the LOOP often very wet and muddy. On occasion, I was wading through knee high water or laboriously and with great difficulty, negotiating calf deep mud through horse paddocks and cow fields, where I struggled to keep trail runners on my feet. Much as I enjoyed getting out and some unexpected history, I found, away from the rural stretches, there was also  bit too much road walking for my liking. As I moved toward the completion of my LOOP walk in early 2016 I looked for a similar challenge, more suited to my circumstance. and was delighted to come across a post by hillplodder in January 2016. It was here that I first heard of the London Countryway– a ‘forgotten’ route.

Old copies of the, as far as I can see, only printed guide to the London Countryway still turn up online and are fairly easily purchased. This is A guide to the London Countryway, published by Constable and authored by the routes originator, Keith Chesterton. The guide was first published in 1978 with a second edition in 1981 (ISBN 0 09 461740 6). It is the latter that I hold.

Good enough as this is to read, too many years have passed and it is no longer a practical route. Fortunately, a resourceful guy has solved the problem. Des de Moor, a prolific walker, has devised and walked a modern equivalent. Much of it follows the original route as devised by Chesterton, however Des has ensured that his up to date route diverts where necessary to avoid hazards or obstacles that have appeared in the intervening years, or where a slight change can improve the route. Des has done a fantastic job on his route and it was a simple ten minute task to transfer his work to my O.S. sheets with a pink highlighter.

1981 edition of Keith Chesterton's A guide to the London Countryway with OS Explorer sheet 160, covering Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

1981 edition of Keith Chesterton’s ‘A guide to the London Countryway’ with OS Explorer sheet 160, covering Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell

The walk passes through three Areas of Outstanding Beauty, two National Nature Reserves, two Community Forests, a Regional Park, crosses the Thames east and west of London and follows (briefly) three canals. I have passed through Windsor Great Park in the shadow of the castle and will be walking through Roman Verulamium, quite close to my childhood stomping grounds. Set further out than the London LOOP, the London Countryway is somewhere over 200 miles long. The original was 205, the recent incarnation is quoted at 215. I can add on a few miles for station links and interesting detours. Sections are limited in length to how much time I can offer a day and where convenient railway stations are situated. Much as I would like to push it out, I keep having to remind myself I am recovering from injury.

The London Countryway map as it appears in the Constable guide. My path follows a very close route

The London Countryway map as it appears in the Constable guide. My path follows a very close route

I did find time to take a week off from work in June and complete the Ridgeway. That was a 106 mile, six-day backpacking trip and slightly eased my need for, a slightly more demanding, continuous walk. I haven’t been able to tackle the London Countryway in this manner. With demands of work and having to keep my day hikes quite short.

My 14.5 miles on the Countryway today have seen me complete just over a hundred miles so I can say that I am roughly half-way to completion. At Marlow, I left the River Thames behind me as I headed north to continue my encircling of London. I thought I would offer a little flavour of the trail south of the river.

The wide River Thames at Gravesend, I will be crossing back to this point by ferry at the end of the walk

Leaving the wide River Thames at Gravesend, I will be crossing back to this point by ferry at the end of the walk

Oast Houses, once used for drying hops, are a reminder of the trades for which much of Kent was famous

Oast Houses, once used for drying hops. They are a reminder of one of the the trades for which much of Kent was famous

I started this particular challenge in March, day one saw me setting off from Gravesend in Kent. I waved goodbye to the River Thames, knowing I would see it twice more- once when I crossed it at Windsor at around the half-way point, and again at Tilbury at the end of the walk. It wasn’t long before I left built up areas and my surroundings became more rural, albeit farmland. Mostly arable and orchards. I was headed toward the North Downs, I followed this ridge westward from Kent into the Surrey hills. Leaving the ridge of raised chalk, I swung northward, beginning the long drop into the Thames Valley.

Kent Apple Orchards

Kent Apple Orchards. March 2016

Flooded bridlepath in mid March

Flooded bridlepath in mid March

Needless to say, the weather has been changeable, not only have I moved out of a late winter, into spring and then to summer, the earlier part has also been a ridiculously wet year in the UK. I have been fortunate not to have had to deal with more than occasional rain but underfoot has frequently been very wet and muddy. In just one days walking I had snow, then sleet, then hail, then bright sun, then rain and finished off with dull and overcast sky with a biting cold wind. Storm Katie also left fallen trees in her wake. Recent days have seen brilliant sun all day.

The seasons turn- Bluebell woods on the North Downs Way

The seasons turn- Bluebell woods on the North Downs Way, April 2016

Views from the Greensand Way, just one established trail encountered on my route

Misty view across the Weald of Kent from the Greensand Way, just one of many established trails encountered on my route

The route touches  a number of recognised and established trails in its course. So far, these have included the Wealdway, North Downs Way, Pilgrims Way, Vanguard Way and numerous short, local walks. Being a largely forgotten route, it isn’t specifically signposted at all, nor is it shown as a route on maps. I am especially pleased about this as for many miles, I am simply following Rights of Way seldom used by anyone.

Harvel village sign

Harvel village sign

Platt village sign

Platt village sign- Hops and Cobnuts

Many Rights of Way are pretty old, having originally been established to permit people to move between habitations, go to church or market. The Way goes past or through  numerous small villages or hamlets. There is usually nowhere to re-provision at these (not that I need to) as most village shops have long gone, killed off by the omnipresent town supermarket.  However there are many public houses but I have largely refrained from partaking of a beverage or two until the end of a days walk. Even then, it depends if an infrequent Sunday train service permits time.

Most larger towns are encountered at the beginning and end of each days walk as I arrive or leave by public transport. Station Road, Oxted

Most mid to large sized towns are encountered at the beginning and end of each days walk as I arrive or leave by public transport. Station Road, Oxted

Close to the Pilgrims Way, another path briefly encountered, the Countryway passes by Coldrum Long Barrow. A Neolithic burial chamber of about 2500 B.C. It still attracts the attention of more modern day folk, who have adorned the nearby trees with trinkets and letters

Close to the Pilgrims Way in North Kent the London Countryway passes by Coldrum Long Barrow. A Neolithic burial chamber of about 2500 B.C. It still attracts the attention of more modern day folk, who have adorned the nearby trees with trinkets, ribbons and letters

Tower in Betchworth Quarry and Lime Works, closed in 1930s

Abandoned tower in Betchworth Quarry and Lime Works, closed in the 1930s

Coal Tax boundary post

Coal Tax boundary post. Erected in the 1860s as a loop, between twelve and eighteen miles from London, they marked the point where taxes on coal were due to the Corporation of London. Now forming no modern day function beyond a reminder of previous law, only 210 of these posts survive

I particularly enjoy coming across snippets of history on my walks. Especially when unexpected.

Some historical aspects are perhaps a little less interesting than others. Learning that I was crossing Reigate Hill Footbridge, the oldest reinforced concrete footbridge in the country (1910), left me, I am sad to say, largely unimpressed. That said, to stand beneath Brunel’s acclaimed 1838 Maidenhead rail bridge today, clapping my hands to listen to the remarkable acoustics of the ‘Sounding Arch’ was not only fun, but bought to mind JMW Turner’s masterpiece- Rain, steam and speed which used this bridge within his composition.

Poles were essential in April on the wet, slippery fields

Poles were often advisable in April on the wet, slippery grasslands

The way ahead beckons. Leaving Ide Hill in April 2016

Gorse in flower. The way ahead beckons. Leaving Ide Hill on the London Countryway in April 2016

Halibut Man, on Totem Pole at Virginia Water. 100 feet high, the 600 year old log of Western Red Cedar was carved by Kwakiutis and erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony

Halibut Man, on Totem Pole at Virginia Water. 100 feet high, this 600 year old log of Western Red Cedar was carved by Kwakiutis and erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a Crown Colony

Memorial on Chobham Common, erected 1901. This marked the occasion when Queen Victoria reviewed eight hundred of her troops (including the Light Brigade) in 1853 prior to their leaving for the Crimea

Memorial on Chobham Common, erected 1901. This marked the site and occasion when Queen Victoria reviewed eight hundred of her troops (including the Light Brigade) in 1853 prior to their leaving for the Crimea

Misty mornings in May on the Surrey hills

Misty morning in May on the Surrey hills

The route passes right by Igtham Mote, 14th-century moated manor house

The route passed right by Ightham Mote, 14th-century moated manor house

Blatchford Downs. Named after Alan Blatchford, one of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association

Traversing Blatchford Downs. Named after Alan Blatchford, one of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association

The extensive grounds of Knole Park experienced in the early morning was a delight

The extensive grounds of the 1000 acre Knole Park in the early morning were a delight

While I have had to fight my way through a handful of overgrown paths, for the most part the route has been easy, with just a few moderate to steep climbs. Some parts have been positively genteel. I carry a compass, I always do, but there has never been the need to put it to use. Route finding with a map and knowing where the sun is over the shoulder has always been sufficient.

Unsurprisingly, many deer were encountered in Knole Park

Unsurprisingly encounter in Knole Park- Kent’s last medieval deer park

After the ricjh, loamy soils of Kent, the sandy heaths of Surrey were a surprising change

After the rich, loamy soils of Kent, the sandy heaths of Surrey made for a change in terrain. Chatley Heath, June 2016

Primrose

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)

Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)

The wildlife encountered on the London Countryway has been varied and both expected and surprising. Annoying mozzies have (as yet) been absent. Mammals have been the typical- rabbits, hare, foxes, badgers, deer. More exciting birds have been the raptors- Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite. Flora has become more varied as the year has turned. There has been both the common and the, in my continued ignorance, unfamiliar, many flowers remain, sadly, un-named but still enjoyed.

A poorly named hill

A poorly named hill

 

Woodlands have changed from bare trees in the earlier part of the year to the verdant green of Broadland woods with their English Oak, Beech and Chestnut. There have been Lowland Mixed deciduous woodlands and even the odd non-native Pine Woods have not been too intrusive. Needless to say, this close to London, there have been numerous stretches of wood-pasture and Parkland.

Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) have included walking through hundreds of Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) on the Basingstoke Canal and quiet minutes watching the impressive Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) seeing off any intruder over its habitat on Chobham Common. Domesticated livestock has included new born lambs. ‘Belties’ (Belted Galloways) and Heavy Horses are always a pleasure to see. Walking mainly on Sundays, I have seen enough breeds of dog being taken for ‘walkies’ to last me a lifetime.

Pine woodlands between West Byfleet and Sunningdale. June 2016

Pine woodlands between West Byfleet and Sunningdale. June 2016

Despite being a walk through the countryside, national politics were still encountered. In the build-up to the national referendum on membership of the European Union, the Leave faction was only to evident

Despite being a walk through the countryside, national politics were still encountered. In the build-up to the 2016 national referendum on membership of the European Union, the Leave faction was only to evident

Two canals have been briefly followed so far, the Wey Navigation and the Basingstoke Canal (above). I particularly enjoyed this as I briefly worked on its restoration in the 1970s

Two canals have been briefly followed so far, the Wey Navigation and the Basingstoke Canal (above). I particularly enjoyed the latter as I briefly worked on its restoration in the 1970s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wealthy heartland of Berkshire. Polo match at the 240 acre private equestrian centre, Coworth Park, Ascot

The wealthy heartland of the former county of Berkshire. Polo match at the 240 acre private equestrian centre, Coworth Park, Ascot

Some of the areas I walked through on the London LOOP were, to put it mildly, a tad ‘dodgy’. As yet, the Countryway has been far more preferable. While my current stretch to the west of London contains land and properties probably amongst the most expensive in the country, other parts have been more typical of the, admittedly affluent, South-East of England.

the-copper-horse-george-iii-as-heroic-roman-emperor-on-horseback-depicted-by-richard-westmacot-in-1830

The ‘Copper Horse’. This huge statue (actually made of Bronze) by Richard Westmacot shows George III as heroic Roman Emperor on Horseback. When the sixteen workmen finished building it in 1831, they had a sit-down lunch inside it

Setting off on the 'Long Walk', a three mile path leading to Windsor Castle

Three Points of the Compass setting off on the ‘Long Walk’, a 2.64 mile straight path leading to Windsor Castle, and my second sight of the River Thames. July 2016

Overnight expedition for group of Duke of Edinburghers

Overnight expedition for group of Duke of Edinburghers

I am enjoying my days on the London Countryway. It has been exactly what I wanted- mainly fairly easy going where I can continue my recovery from Plantar fasciitis, but not too easy. Interesting bits of history thrown in, areas through which I have never walked, manageable by public transport and therefore ‘do-able’ on my available Sundays.

Also, just for a change, I decided to make it a charitable exercise and in the diamond year of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, raise some money. This is a fantastic organisation that gives millions of 14 to 24 year olds opportunity to push themselves and realise success. I never undertook it as a youngster but my daughter did when she was at school. While I think the DofE’s required kit list for the expedition part of the award is outdated and more than a little wanting, the award’s ethos is good.

Entitled Confronting the Countryway, there is a record of how I am getting on, with some additional photos, on my Just Giving page. I’ll do an update on the second half of my walk when I finish it.

Sicily- pen and ink drawing in holiday journal

A lightweight art kit- Sicily

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

W. H. Davies

The Leuchtturm1917 journal Three Points of the Compass kept in Sicily 2016

The Leuchtturm1917 journal Three Points of the Compass kept in Sicily 2016

I have just returned from a family holiday on the quite lovely island of Sicily- Prior to leaving, when preparing for half a month in this hot and historic location, situated just off the ‘boot’ of mainland Italy, I was considering what artists’ materials I should take with me. I am a strictly amateur ‘doodler’, attempting to occasionally capture sights and impressions in my notebook/journal.

In recent years I have been attempting to capture more of my experiences in my notebooks. Beyond a few notes or ticket stubs stuck in, I find that spending just a few minutes attempting to produce a poor drawing forces me to look more closely at my subject, noticing more, understanding and ‘seeing’ aspects that a cursory glance may have failed to appreciate. Taking a little time to ‘stand and stare’.

Three Points of the Compass walking in the Madonie Mountains, Sicily,

Three Points of the Compass walking in the Madonie Mountains, Sicily, August 2016

My artistic skill set is low. In the past, I have frequently just relied on the pen and notebook I am carrying with no supplementary materials. More recently, not only have I been looking at the lightweight and less bulky options open to me (a work very much still in progress), but have also been experimenting slightly with mediums, moving away from simply pencil or pen and into watercolours or coloured pencils. To this end, hoping to find the time to do a little drawing on Sicily, I left my usual selection of graphite pencils at home, pared down my artists’ kit but also took a few inks with me to have a play with this medium and see how they suited a lightweight set up.

Six Winsor & Newton inks were transferred to small glass bottles

Six Winsor & Newton inks were transferred to small glass bottles. This reduced the bulk taken immensely

I selected a small sample of Winsor & Newton inks and, with a pipette,  transferred these to glass 5/8 dram (2ml) bottles with orifice reducer. I also use these in my First Aid kits and, with a little care, they are robust and have never broken on me. Just for extra care though, they were encased in a small ‘lock ‘n’ lock, box and double wrapped in bags in the suitcase which went in the airplane hold.

Colours chosen were Black, Scarlet, Blue, Peat Brown, Apple Green and Canary Yellow. Amongst these, only Black is actually permanent to light in the long term but this is less important when simply doing simple washes in a notebook. All these inks can be mixed with each other, or thinned with distilled water.

For painting washes I took no traditional brushes at all. Instead, encouraging further experimentation, I took one of the 7g fine tip Pentel Aquash water brushes.

Fine tip Pentel Aquash water brush. Also available with medium, broad and flat tips, these brushes each hold 10ml of water in their 'water tank'

Fine tip Pentel Aquash water brush. Also available with medium, broad and flat tips, these brushes each hold 10ml of water in their reservoir. A gentle squeeze on the body sends a little water down to the nylon brush tip

Small, lightweight, plastic pallets

Small, lightweight (16g and 11g) plastic pallets were also taken for watering down and thinning, or mixing inks

I must say that I rather liked using this brush and am keen to experiment further. I think one of the flat tip water brushes might compliment this fine tip water brush quite well. The brush did away entirely with the need for a little water pot, which as they get smaller and made of lighter materials, can easily be knocked over or even blow away. I have frequently upset a little collapsible lantern water pot in the past. These brushes also work well with my Derwent watersoluble sketching pencils (not taken this trip). I presume also with watercolour pencils or sticks, but I am keen to experiment further using a small travel pallet of watercolours.

Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pens

Black and Brown ink Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pens

Pen and Ink- Temple of Juno

Pen and Ink drawing of the Tempio di Giunone, Agrigento, Sicily, August 2016

Eschewing my normal Faber Castell PITT artist pens, I decided to take two of the superb Sakura Pigma Micron 01 drawing pens. The 01 pens have a 0.25mm line width opposed to the 0.3mm of the S and 0.1mm line width of the XS Faber Castell. The waterproof Sakura ink shows through the pages to a lesser extent than the ink from the Faber Castell pens. I also feel that the 0.25mm width is more suited to the small notebook I was using.

I took Black and Brown ink Sakura pens, each weighing 9g, and they performed faultlessly. I also used these for my note-taking, seldom bothering to pull out the tiny 8g telescopic True Utility pen that I took for the purpose.

Incidentally, my journal on this family holiday was the Leuchtturm1917, soft-back, 121 page, pocket A6 notebook I have written about before.

 

Beside experimenting with ink, and in the end I did very little for reasons I shall come to later, I still wanted at least one pencil, so settled on the quite lovely Palomino Blackwing 602. This is a modern revisit of a classic design and is very well made. The smooth graphite is akin to a 2B. Not cheap and purchased by the box, they each weigh 6g prior to sharpening. The extendable black rubber in the flattened ferrule is replaceable.

Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil

Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil

Pencil sketching- The Telamons. Valley of the Temples, Sicily, August 2016

Quick pencil sketching with Palomino Blackwing 602- The Telamons. Valley of the Temples, Sicily, August 2016

I was able to include another graphite pencil by taking a mechanical pen with me. This was a 115mm ‘shortie’ pen made by Koh-I-Noor. This clutch pen takes 2mm leads and has a tiny sharpener under the push button. It weighs 12g with pocket clip and an HB lead installed.

Kol-I-Noor 5228 mechanical clutch leadholder

Kol-I-Noor 5228 Versatle mechanical clutch leadholder

A favoured form of transport- Sicily

Pen, pencil and coloured lead. A favoured form of transport- Sicily, August 2016

A 13g Staedtler pencil sharpener and 27g Faber Castell kneadable eraser (in case) were also taken. Lighter alternatives could easily have been used instead

A 13g Staedtler pencil sharpener and 27g Faber Castell kneadable eraser (in plastic case) were also taken. Lighter alternatives could easily have been used instead

I also wanted the opportunity to add a little colour to my drawings without breaking out the ink all the time. So took a little Koh-I-Noor plastic holder with their coloured ‘leads’ within- these waxy leads come in black, brown, blue, green, red and yellow (16g, total weight). These are Koh-I-Noors longer 120mm leads and required shortening slightly for use. 2mm coloured leads can be difficult to find and I wish I could locate a wider selection of colours.

Plastic holder and coloured 2mm leads for Kol-I-Noor mechanical clutch holder

Plastic holder and small range of coloured 2mm leads for Kol-I-Noor mechanical clutch holder

One last item I took along in my 22g Derwent pencil wrap was a 7g highlighter. This bright orange ink pen is made by Muji and features a thin nib at one end and a broader nib at the other. I use this for highlighting notes in my journal and for marking routes on maps. I notice that the design of these has changed since I purchased mine.

Two ended, orange highlighter from Muji

Two ended, orange highlighter from Muji

Derwent Pencil roll with my selection of artists materials

Derwent Pencil wrap with most of my small selection of artists materials

I am fairly content with the selection of artists materials I took. My kit was light without considerable bulk. I had opportunity to experiment with mediums unfamiliar to me yet also fall back on quick and easy materials where necessary. I had intended to include another pencil in my armoury, this was to be a Prismacolor Col-Erase 200028 Copy Not Non-Photo Light Blue. This produces a very light mark that I use for initial lines on drawings. However, discovering I had none in the house, a frantic order was placed which failed to turn up in time for my trip. Having turned up today, a week after my return, I have yet to use them but I note that production has been switched from the USA to Mexico, some have reported on a fall in quality in the pencil as a result.

Prismacolor Col-Erase 200028 Copy not NP Blue pencil. The mark produced by this pencil is barely discernible on the paper

Prismacolor Col-Erase 200028 Copy not NP Blue pencil. The mark produced by this pencil is barely discernible on the paper

Pen, graphite pencil and coloured pencil. San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palaermo

Pen, graphite pencil and coloured pencil. San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo, Sicily, August 2016

A minimal kit

A minimal kit

Much that I enjoyed using inks on some drawings, I found they simply didn’t work for me as an ‘on location’ medium. I will definitely use these again at home, but I found them unsuitable for use en plein air. I much preferred to compose a picture, a rough sketch perhaps, in the field, and spread the inks out for use across a table in a hotel room later.  If I had ever attempted to use these within the confines of a tent for instance, I would now be the disgruntled possessor of a multi-coloured ground sheet. My biggest problem though was the extent to which they bleed through the lightweight paper of my notebook. These inks really needed my taking a small Moleskine watercolour album with its far heavier 200g/m2 cold pressed paper.

As I said at the start of this post, I am no great shakes as an artist. This is one reason why I am not sharing more than a handful of my artistic efforts in this post. However I do get much enjoyment from my sketches, no matter how poor. So I shall continue to not only strive to improve my technique and renditions, but will also work on refining the type of materials that I cart along with me in a lightweight set-up. I may follow up with a further report should I develop my travel kit to any great extent.

Three Points of the Compass drawing en plein air, Sicily August 2016

Three Points of the Compass sketching en plein air, Parco delle Madonie, Sicily August 2016