Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Walk on the Wild Side

A K A The descent of man. This walk had everything - stunning architecture, fantastic views, and an abundance of wildlife. The countryside simply shouldn't be this interesting.

I picked the start point, SU407597, almost at random. I had been researching places to go around the RodK residence, and happened upon the Wayfarers Walk. This is a long distance footpath, stretching along the escarpment of the North Downs, but a section is well within the scope of a Sunday stroll with the family.

So, stunning architecture in the countryside? We had barely set off down the rough track when we happened upon the Huf Haus, a spectacular example of germanic engineering set in a small glade perched on top of the hill. It looks slightly incongruous, the black and white frames and huge expanses of glass. It simply shouldn't be here. We knew it was around these parts as it's for sale and we had admired it longingly in the Property News each week, but we had no idea it was as remote as it was. Having thought about it though, considering it is about as far from home counties twee cottage as it is possible to get, the owners would probably have never got planning permission in any village around here.

We continued along the top of the hill, chilly wind biting into us, but with the sun giving clear views over the fields below. So far so good we thought. I had the OS Landranger map with me, and we searched for the point where we would turn off the Wayfarer's Walk and make our way back to the starting point. This is where the descent of man (and the rest of his family) comes in. Although the path had dropped from its highest point, we were still on top of an escarpment, and the path we wanted went straight down the hill to the valley below. No messing about with zig zags to lessen the steepness - I do mean straight down (at about 1 in 2). If I hadn't known better I would have thought we were in the opening canto of the Inferno, finding our way blocked and descending into a heavily wooded valley. In fact, if it had been as wet as it should have been in March, we would probably have slid to the bottom in record time. As it was we were kicking up dust as if it were a summer's day.

When we reached the safety of flat ground we headed back along the foot of the hill, still with fine views, but at a much lower level. We soon became aware though that the valley was teeming with wildlife: we spotted hares behaving madly as they are wont to do in March. They were racing about as happy as anything, undisturbed as we viewed from afar. We walked further along and the saw larger animals, which we eventually realised was a pack of deer that had wandered through the hedge and into sight.

I think the hills behind us made sure that we didn't stand out and the hares and deer continued playing despite our presence. Suddenly about a hundred yards ahead, a deer with magnificent antlers, shot out from the wood at the foot of the hill, crossed the path at great speed and cantered off to rejoin the rest of the pack. He must have heard us and thought that he better get back to safety in numbers.

After this close encounter, we noticed that there were cages set at intervals all the way along the bottom of the hill, just inside the wood. On closer inspection they were traps, and nearby was the bait, a type of seed, in containers. The traps weren't set, they were propped up on bricks but they seemed to be in regular use. We think from the seed, that they were probably for pheasant.

We were getting close to the end and the journey up the road to the car, but in the final stages we saw a rabbit who hopped his way along a well worn track up the side of a hill, a pheasant who hadn't been trapped but we followed along the path a safe distance ahead of us, a partridge that flew across our heads and into the trees to our left, and a bird of prey that circled over the clear abundance of potential meals that lay round about.

A stunning, varied walk only minutes from our home - who needs the national parks of the Lake or Peak districts when all this is in your backyard?

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