The Pennine Way Shakedowns 4 Me and Scruffy in the Downs.

In all the times I’ve been walking and hiking I’ve never been out on my own before. I’ve done days and made it quite clear that I enjoy solitude, But I’ve never been out on a hike solo before.

Usually, my son Ross has been with me, ever since we walked the West Highland Way back in 2013 he’s been my usual companion.  Even these shakedown walks have had companions.  Each person brings with them different elements that make up the walk.  They’ve all included acclimatization to hiking kit and the need for decent preparation. A need for those of a certain generation to rely on phones and sat nav. Lloyd’s desire to have every nuance of direction planned before we left, Dales focus on it as soon as he wasn’t sure and Troys determination to be as far away from his phone as possible.

So, having strayed from the path when out with Troy I determined that I would like to walk the route through Wye Downs in the other direction and see if I could find the other ends of paths we had missed.  A strategy that Ross and I had used several times when prepping for the walks we had done previously.

There was the incident when following the path we thought was the right one, we ended up in the household waste site in Canterbury. You can picture the scene, its late in the day and we are exhausted. We can see the road we should be on, we have a dog with us, Ross is a young teenager. Retracing our steps is not a popular option. We did find our way out, and on the next walk went the other way around.

Let’s just say that sometimes, in Kent at least, the sign posting is not what it might be.

I will add though that when eventually Troy could not help himself and he got his phone out, it demonstrated quite clearly that although we weren’t where we should be, we weren’t that far from the car. My general sense of direction is still on point.

I’m not totally alone though Scruffy is with me.  He’s our aging terrier, think Snowy from Tintin and you’ve got him. He itching to get started, as with all dogs, he’s always up for an adventure. Not sure he’s been on one as long as this before though.

My pack is prepped and ready to go. I set the solar panels to keep my phone alive.  Make sure the water tube is accessible. Put my boots on and hang my bins around my neck and make sure my walking pole is grabbable. I don’t want to have to pick that up off the floor with my pack on. I grab my pack and launch it in the direction of my left shoulder and then slide my right arm into position. Its as I’m adjusting the pack to fit comfortably that the thought occurs to me, how heavy is my pack. Its not too bad at the moment, but it’s the water that is the bulk of the weight. I’ve got 4 litres with me at this point.

I set the pack centrally to start. One of the beautiful things about ruck sack design these days is that you can move the weight about. The waist strap can take the bulk of the weight and give the shoulders a break, you can also reverse that so the shoulders can take the brunt of the lifting.  It’s a skill that can dramatically extend the distance you can cover in a day.

With everything in place and we head off back the way we have just come, looking for a path on the right. I have driven along this road many times before and not seen it. But sure enough its there, it’s just that the signs are hidden behind the hedgerows. That’s a relief, first target achieved.

We head off along the North Downs Way towards the Crown. There are sheep in the field and Scruffy is having to bear being outside in the countryside and have a lead on, but he’s a terrier and as far as he’s concerned, if it moves, he should chase it.

There’s a kestrel hunting, he’s close by and its awesome to watch him hover up close. |The males have a stunning blue grey to their feathers which makes them visibly more special than their larger and browner mates. A little further and there’s a skylark sitting on a fence post. Closer than you usually get to see them perched. Male and female look alike so I’ve no idea which I’m looking at. As I approach skylark takes to the air wings beating at an incredible 10-12 beats per second. They sing whilst on the way up and on the way down, usually for a couple of minutes, although a longer song flight is not uncommon.  Watch them as they fall out of the sky, they literally plummet and perform a kind of J with airbrakes and then slowly land. The song is just superb. Make sure you stop and take a moment to have a listen.  Skylark numbers are falling too.  They are considered ‘locally’ common, meaning where you’ve got’em, you’ve got ‘em, however the places that’ve got ‘em are becoming fewer.

Heading towards the beacon I suddenly realise the Crown is beneath me. The Crown was initially carved into the chalk hillside by students of Wye College in 1902 to commemorate the Coronation of Edward the seventh. The design was taken from a sovereign of the time. It looks stunning from the A28 and the other side of the valley, but up close it doesn’t have the same air of majesty. A lot of cuts in the downland, but hard to make out exactly what it is. It was recut in 2002 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

I make a note to be sure that I look back before I enter Kings Wood later on…

Simon Pollard  Urban Countryman July 2024

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