The last two weekends have been full of all the things I love about autumn; glorious light, foraging, and a real feeling of the changing of the seasons.
I spent the last Saturday of September walking the 6 mile route around Cuxton that I first explored on Boxing Day last year, but this time I took my friend Sue with me. She was good company and barely complained about the hills, even the last three that took me by surprise, having promised her that there were no more. My rubbish memory for such things (endings of films, books, and now it seems, walks) is legendary among those who know me well, and Sue has now found herself at the sharp end of it a couple of times. I honestly plead that I don't really remember the hills much, not unless they are real killers, like those ones on the Dorset coastline!
The route was noticeably quieter than the last time I walked it - we encountered only a handful of people the whole way round - and the sun was much warmer. We sat on the trunk of a fallen tree by the Darnley Memorial for half an hour or more, just chatting and enjoying the peace and quiet.
On the slopes heading back down to Cuxton we came across masses of sloes, and lingered in the late afternoon sun to pick them, admiring the views of the Medway bridges in the distance.
That box of sloes went in the freezer overnight, the following day they were defrosted and tipped into a huge Kilner jar full of gin where they will remain for a couple of months.
Today was a new walk, and a new walking companion as I dragged my friend Keith along for a try out. I'm completely happy to walk on my own, and often enjoy the freedom of just jumping in the car or on a train and heading off at my own pace.
But it's good to walk with other people too, and my recent walking companions have reminded me of the pleasure to be had from good conversation and a shared experience. I've shied away from joining big groups because of the impact that would have on the peace and quiet I like to savour, and the spontaneity of lingering awhile or cracking on the pace as you wish. But walking in twos or threes appeals, and I'm gradually starting to build a little network of people who share my love of the countryside and match my pace and interests.
Keith passed the test, barely murmuring about the rather steep slopes and muddy paths we encountered on our six-mile circuit out of Otford, while sharing my total contempt for the golfers and their silly little buggies that disturbed the peace and quiet of a couple of the first valleys we crossed.
It was hard to believe that we were only just outside the M25, although at times this was proved by the views back to the London skyline.
The best walks are those which have a good pub halfway round - a requirement drilled into me by my parents since early childhood - and this was no exception. The Fox & Hounds at Romney Street provided a very fine pint of ale to keep us going for the return leg.
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