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Hargate Wood, Tunbridge Wells 22 September 2021 

The Woodland Trust

Best laid plans … As always I failed to find an official entrance and after going back and forth along the southern edge of the wood I pulled in at a likely spot before Evie exploded with frustration and the need to go.

It was an inauspicious start to find myself looking at a flytopped dishwasher; I couldn’t have been in a Woodland Trust Wood – I wasn’t, but I was close. 

From the OS map I could see that I was on the outer edge of Hargate Wood so could follow a path of sorts along the edge of a field to Sprat’s Brook then make myself upstream and into the woods proper. 

The 9 year old came out in the brook – the compulsion to engineer a few sticks here and there took me back to the so called ‘water works’ at Mowden Hall – the tiniest trickle of water that the youngest boys, me amongst them, age 8 or 9, would play in for hours redirecting runnels of water and forming dams. 

The wood properly revealed itself in the shape of mature oaks and Scots Pine and a pond with a Woodland Trust bench and dedication. 

By now I am an All Trails fan, zooming in close to show paths through the wood that even the OS map doesn’t pick up. I can also orientate All Trails to True North so I become as handy as a compass in the palm of my hand. 

We make it across to a closed reservoir along one edge of the woods then double back. Having met no one in an hour it was a surprise to meet a woman walking her dog and her daughter’s dog, which I learned is scared of skateboards and cyclists – apparently there is a cyclist about in the woods somewhere. She lives in Tonbridge and wanted somewhere her daughters might be let off the lead without being spooked.

Having found our way back to the car via a few misdirections over poorly erected wire fences I drove a few minutes to the ‘official entrance’. 

It is a disappointing start: a lot of cars parked up, the noisy A26 along this side of the wood, and the smell first and then the site of dog shit – this is my first encounter of a ‘dog shit alley’ despite the notices asking people to pick up and despite the prominent bin along this stretch. A couple of young dog walkers with an array of five dogs, only one on a lead, another escapee with its lead still on was indication enough that dog poo was being left in situ. What is the solution? To start with any bin has to be placed further down the path and there should be several of them – someone who is too lazy to pick up after their dog does not double back to bin the offending matter – they either leave it where it is, or toss bag, poo and all into the undergrowth.

Moving deeper into  Hargate Forest you start to see the Management Plan in action – the fir trees fined, opened up heath thick with bracken and self-seeded saplings and ancient trees that have toppled, cleared from the path but otherwise left in situ.

I’d visit again: it is easy to park, and easy to find (once you’ve got your bearings) and once into the depths of the ‘forest’ you are away from the traffic on the A26 and Bunny Lane, with mature deciduous trees, Sprat’s Brook and a pond. Though largely eradicated rhododendron is creeping back in various spots. I’d never appreciated what a problem it was, as a child loving to vanish into the maze of stems of a mature stand of rhododendron with their tunnels, dens and burrows. They kill the light so that nothing on the ground can then grow. 

William’s Wood, Warninglid, Horsham 18th September 2021

The Woodlands Trust

Very difficult parking, though on a return trip I’d still aim for Belle Vue Country House and park on their lane until I am advised of a better alternative.

As the third car to a small layby that would take 2 ½ cars I wound myself down the lane by the main road and had to double back. A footpath alongside Belle Vue takes you into the woods. Here following your nose rather than a map can have you tacking tracks across and between private land and fields with footpath access only to parks and gardens brutally excluding outsiders with high fences, signage and barbed wire.

For the fifth or sixth time I have failed to do what I promised myself: check details on the Woodland Trust website for exact details of where to go once on foot. The printed ‘Explorer Guide’ gives the most basic of information that gets you to the vicinity of the wood.

I was inclined to follow my feet and my senses so was soon off track around mixed woods, down paths, over streams and into agricultural land. Had it been raining I may have doubled back earlier, but I had the morning to myself and time to kill. I let serendipity take over. 

I would have preferred a circular walk so pressed on regardless even when Google Maps pointed out that I was a long way off course for the Woodland Trust wood I had been aiming for. I found the ‘Keep Off, Keep Out, F*** Off signs oppressive. This was heightened by the sound of barking hounds in what turned out to be large, distance kennels. That and people having fun over that fence by the ornamental lake that you could just about spot.

I had to stand on a busy road realising this would be a dangerous and unpleasant way back to my starting point so I doubled back. At least the walk back was quite a bit quicker and this time I got myself into Williams Wood – all for taking a right turn rather than a left. 

This is indeed ‘part of a much larger woodland’ – once part of the grounds of Stonewick. It is the diversity here that appeals, with quite different local landscapes from the pools around the deeply ravined streams, pools and swamp onto higher planted ground with meadows and formal planting of trees themselves around the edges of a few private dwellings with large gardens or paddocks. 

The large trunks that came down on 16th October 1987 make fascinating features: how the tree recovers into a set of trunks creating dense cover. 

I am becoming familiar with the Woodland Trust bridge and signage – subtle and robust, with spots where a dedication has been left after a bequest or donation has been made to support the work.

It is a cliché to say a photograph does not do justice to the scale, depth or contrasts in the landscape here. Let alone what you hear and smell. I love to breathe in the wood, to listen to the drizzle of leaves falling and the trickle of a stream. Sadly, road traffic and jet are never far away – Gatwick is close enough and the A23 / M23 is within earshot too. 

I’d love to know what these huge, flat sand-bag-like mattresses are. My untrained eye thinks it is to limit the swamping of ground where a few 200 year old trees stand – the soft ground would quickly contribute to their being felled by the next storm.

Onwards into avenues of older, tall, broad and improbable trees – the kind of woodscape that so deserves protecting however small the stand. 

Where the public are bared, or the wood opens up the uneducated may think this is destructive; it takes a useful information board such as this to put you straight. It can also excuse the sound of two-stroke chainsaws and other machinery.

More on Williams’s Wood from the Woodland Trust  >https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/media/47129/4595-williams-wood.pdf 

I also invest, belatedly, in a set of Ordnance Survey Maps. I haven’t the energy to turn what should be a 1 hour to 90 minute slow exploration of a wood into a 3 hour trek across open fields.

Church Covert, Slaugham 18 September 2021

The Woodland Trust, Slaugham, West Sussex

The Chequers Inn, Slaugham and village, West Sussex

I love an ancient tree, but in this case you’ll find it in the churchyard rather than the adjoining walk. 

A couple of sheep paddocks have been planted. The result feels no different to taking a sports field and planting trees, albeit they are well chosen and nicely laid out and as they mature will create a tiny patch of woodland with broad walks – a place to walk the dog. Though local dog walkers here prefer to dodge round the back, over a broken, non-Woodland Trust, bridge, to perambulation around or near to a private lake then out the other side.

As I learnt the trees were planted recently (in tree terms I would say this is within the last 25 to 50 years). It was part of Woodland Trust’s ‘Woods on Your Doorstep’ project where local residents got involved (and perhaps stump up some of the funding through fundraising and council grants). This idea appeals to me for ideas residents have in Lewes to return some of the land in and around the town to woodland. 

I followed this route at first, and other dog walkers taking it and as a result doubled back past a mansion converted into flats and the ruins of the 400 year old Slaugham Place before stumbling upon a gated entrance to Church Colvert. By far the best place to start and end this walk is in front of the St Mary’s church in Slaugham – there is a pub opposite.

It is an attractive hamlet in the Sussex High Weald with narrow roads, dips, twists and turns. It is a pleasant escape from the A23 though not far enough away to escape its noise. 

Slaugham, West Sussex cc OpenStreetMap

Though in a hamlet it feels quite urban, with overhead power lines, public and private paths, gates and fences, the ever present A23/M23 and planes coming in and out of Gatwick overhead.

Trees I learn from the Church Colvert Management Plan from the Woodland Trust were planted over winter 1997/98 – these trees and some ‘natural colonisation by native trees’ make up what we now see. 

Brede High Woods, Cripps Hill 17 September 2021

Woodlands Trust

A ‘proper’ wood and a fair hike to get there too, at least for me from Lewes. A 53 minute journey took over an hour and a half. I was trapped in Lewes and the western edge of East Sussex thanks to contraflows at Earwig Corner out to Ringer/Uckfield to the north east and along the A27 to east Eastbourne at Drussilla’s Roundabout and Polegate – and thus it will be for many months to come.

I’m calling this my first ‘proper’ wood because of its scale 647 acres is far larger than the woods of between 11 and 25 acres that I have been to so far. There is a car park (ample during the week, though I am sure they struggle in better weather, weekends and holidays). An intrepid regular announced to a friend that he was doing the entire circuit; I asked him how long this would take. ‘3 hours to 2 ½ hours he told me’. My intention was to spend 1 ½ or so – to see how I got on and whether Evie could take it. We took 3 hours to do the circuit with only a few diversions along the way.

I only have my phone and the Woodland Trust ‘Yours to Explore’ guide. I take a photo of the map in the car park and default to Google Maps from time to time to help spot me locally. I know I should be coming out with an Ordnance Survey Map and a compass. I haven’t even downloaded the compass App to my phone. Nor have I read the Woodland Trust Management Plan which would give me the most thorough insight into what the wood is all about, and where it is going over the next 5 to 25 years.

Simply because I like to be alone I went in the opposite direction of the fellow who set off ahead of me; I knew that this would see me walking in parallel to a busy road to begin with before cutting down towards the lake. 

Vegetarian Boots

Out early the dew got through my ‘Vegetarian Boots’ – these must be replaced. A spray on ‘waterproofer’ has not worked. What I have here is a canvas fabric that looks like leather with a metal toe-cap – they are sturdy, but not waterproof and make my feet sweat. 

Picture This

I have in my pocket a swatch of Woodland Trust ‘leaves’ but quickly defer to Picture This to familiarise myself with the tree, the shrub, the plant: Scotch heather, sweet chestnut, spruce at my first stop.

Coppicing or birch and conifers 

Along the way I learned some lessons about coppicing, first birch, later conifers – the aim to return as much of the wood as possible to ‘ancient woodland’. 

I’ve started to ‘collect’ images of benches and markers featuring dedications. It would interest me to know if the public would like to know more, or if the relatives of those remembered in these dedications would like to know more about the person or people? It could be their relationship with the land and this wood, rather than a personal biography or details of any contribution. Do I look into it further? Local newspaper archives might say something, for example, or some details were sent to the Woodland Trust.

As I walk I keep a general eye on the time and the position of the sun – I’ve always felt I had a great sense of direction and for this walk I know I am walking four sides of a rectangle – more or less. A lake is always a focal point and there is a large one here – somewhere. 

Should I be wandering off the path from time to time? I love to follow a watercourse, see how fallen trees have brought regeneration. It is noticeable right across this corner of south east England, especially on the higher ground or close to the sea, how many trees went down on 27th October 1989. I was at The School of Communication Arts, London and we came down a few days later to spend an afternoon taking a brief from a school for special education needs students in Brighton – the collapse of mature trees along the Old Steine in Brighton was devastating. 

I’ll pick up litter when I see it – within reason. I am aware that dog’s can wee on dropped litter and the a cup with shit in it is a thing – as if chucking a Mcdonalds coffee cup into the trees is somehow achieving something. When I find a can or cup or dog or bag of poo in a tree I assume this is some truculent fellow walker rather than the person who dropped the litter. 

We made it to the lake.

Then onwards. Having got this far and preferring a circular walk I decide to press on. Evie is content and finds plenty to do along the way – her hip is holding out and so is mine :

And onwards around the lake – the reservoir dam is my goal, though it will have to be given a wide berth. 

The quality of the paths, and the bridges and steps is commendable and as I pick more and more Woodland Trust woods it is crucial given that my left leg (hip/knee/ankle) is unreliable. These walks are in part a way to build on muscle and maintain motion without having to go to the gym, or to routinely cover the set of exercises provided by a physiotherapist. I understand that muscle will provide greater support that has been lost during lockdown when 500 steps a day rather than 5,000 or 10,000 was my norm.

When I return to these woods some of these landmarks will be my visual guide to place me either side of the lake.

We make it onto a single-lane road by the reservoir and use it to bring us in front of the dam and back to the woods. 

We stumble upon Seven Acre Woods and follow the polite notices around their home, grounds, visitor encampment and Kidz Woods. Though currently closed, I quite like the idea of a night or two here to relax in the woods rather than having to ‘do it all’ in a 3 hour hike.

By now we are starting to flag; thankfully I have a bottle of water. Evie has plenty of opportunities to take a dip in a stream and have a drink too. Only over the last 15 minutes, with the sun out, and on an uphill climb does she hand behind a little. My hope is that I don’t find myself an hour from the car and needing to carry here – she is 13, but appears to thrive on this kind of outing (as do I).

The last stretch back to the car in the East Gate Carpark. A 3 hour amble, that might have taken 2 ½ hours or less had we not slightly lost our way and I had not taken so many detours into the woods to explore. There was no picnic break. 

A bench dedication and its view:

Costells Wood, Scaynes Hill, West Sussex

No.3 Woodland Trust 16 September 2021

I’m on a roll; three Woodland Trust woods in as many days. The temptation is to go for a fourth in three days. In truth I should pace myself. I can hope for a wood a day, or to post a trip to the woods at least once a week – I will be away from time to time. I may be ill or busy. And as I will find within a month once I’ve covered the 24 woods of East and West Sussex I am going to be travelling into Kent and Hampshire or north into Surrey. And once I’m out of what I consider to be the South East of England (everything south and to the south east of London) I’ll be looking at day trips and overnights.

For now, I have Scaynes Hill, woods I know from looking for a dog walk while Toby had football practice nearby and on the road I took regularly for many years all the way into Haywards Heath.

Thinking I was too cocky when I made some wrong turns getting to East Hoathly yesterday, today I use the SatNav (Waze) and find myself in a cul de sac surrounded by 60s suburban town houses – and high fencing preventing entry into the privately owned section of Costells Wood. I should have taken myself into the Village Hall car park – our spot from football a decade ago.

It has changed. The private section of the wood that runs up to the mainroad is closely managed with carefully constructed fences and a path through to the Woodland Trust.

Patches of soggy mud have been carefully filled with lengths of thin logs. There’s a fairy dell – a painted patch of trunk and a sign telling you so. And a lot of signs indicating what is private. Looking at the map I have to wonder if this land is being kept set aside for development with housing rather than being kept as an open access space.

As talking to people I meet is my modus operandi I start making small talk with a couple who turn out to be the owners. They are proud of their efforts to keep the public to the footpath, with fencing made from their own holy, and proud of the sections of simple path improvements they have made so that you can walk when the place is ankle deep in mud. They own a bungalow on the site with .5 acre the the other 12.5 acres is theie’s. A pronounced, boggy ravine makes up part of this, the rest looks like mature deciduous wood and dense stands of bracken. 

I take my sound recording: traffic back and forth on the busy road into Haywards Heath, planes above coming in or leaving Gatwick, a power tool in a garden on the other side of the high barrier fence. I press on to a dingly fell ‘fairy’ spot into the Woodland Trust land proper  – where the fencing either side of the footbath stops abruptly.

The rest of the walk Evie and I know, if only from a decade ago – down to a pond, over a short footbridge, up the bank at the other side, around and back heading north looking for an exit in the housing estate or beyond.

I find there is no public access into the housing estate, so you have to walk around – no doubt this reduces footfall all over the place and does something to alleviate pressure on a modest patch of woodland. I hear a kite; I see a grey squirrel. We are hemmed in by housing though and the wood is transected by power cables.

Beechland Mill Wood, East Sussex

A Woodlands Trust Wood

This is only my second trip out to a specific Woodlands Trust wood. I knew there would be a challenge because the Woodland Trust Guide for East Sussex has No.1 Beechland Mill Wood signposted as one where ‘local parking is difficult’. Actually, I had a problem finding it because though there are roads equidistant in a large rectangle with the wood in the middle, the wood itself is across a field or two, via paths or sports fields.

Advised not to rely overly on a SatNav I nonetheless had Waze and Google Maps send me back and forth around the top, around the south then to the east. Eventually I got out and walked up a lane only to find myself in a private driveway – perhaps there was a path down one side of one of the houses. My journey was further curtailed by roadworks.

Eventually, across football fields I should have recognised from when my son was competing in one of these leagues I make it along the side of a house, across a rugby field, over a meadow and into the woods. You know it is a Woodland Trust wood as soon as you come across a stream crossed by a well-made footbridge; depending on where there’s signage you will know too from dedications on the occasional park bench or other marker.

I pause, I listen. I recorded 30 seconds of soundscape. I take in a deep breath through my nose. I look at the trees, gauge their age, look at the amount of undergrowth and consider the amount of intervention – are trees felled by the weather left or cleared? 

A popular dog walk from Newick I meet three couples and two people on their own – all with a dog (usually one, sometimes two). I greet them and talk with one. 

A wood like this always takes me back to Mowden Hall School, Northumberland and the 35 acres of woods some 105 or more boys had to roam in every weekend. We dug holes, made ‘trenches’, had dones, climbed trees, had mock battles with staves, bow and arrows and ‘handgrenades’ (bracken rhizome) and built dens. The fancy den had plastic sacking in the roof and on the floor with a ‘barbed wire’ defensive fence made from dead bramble stems. 

Moat Wood, East Hoathly, East Sussex

No. 1. Woodland Trust

This is my first self-conscious Woodland Trust wood walk. 

I made it easy on myself and went to a wood not far from home, to a village I thought I knew and where there would be easy parking. I still managed to go off in the wrong direction on the A26 for 3 miles before doubling back; this is what happens these days when I turn the SatNav off. The weather was as promised and worst. I took an anorak and umbrella.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Leaving Lewes to the north east is a painful exercise as major roadworks have reduce a busy road to a single lane. I’m sent back on the south route to avoid it coming home.

Being my very first trip specifically to a Woodland Trust I wonder what regular observations I will make? I record 30 seconds of sound for a potential set of soundscapes. I also take a deep breath and take in the ‘forest’ smells. Adsly at this time of year things can start to set off my hayfever allergies. Something about spores or seeds in the air.

I rather think a wood needs: trees, paths, a stream or lake with bridges, styles and gates in and out and some simple signage. There are benches, but I wonder when or if bins will ever appear? I pick the little litter I find on such walks. I rather thank others do the same.

Queries on a Woodland Trust wood are readily answered if you are a member as you have access to the Management Plan for the wood. This gives a detail context, the geology, surrounding land use and current spread and nature of the trees, and the plan. Here we have a mixed wood that some 80 to 100 years ago was planned with pine – which have stolen all light and underwich there is little to no growth – this is only a small section of the wood which is mostly deciduous.

I tend to use my nose and ‘sense of direction’ to navigate a circuit in and out of a wood. At under 25 acres I guess this is an easy enough thing to do, that and using the sight and sound of the A22 along one edge to guide me back to the village.

As the Digital Editor for The Western Front Association for the last six years I have become efficient at searching names in the National Archives and our own Pension Ledgers and Cards. Throw in the rest of Ancestry, the British Newspaper Archive and my own growing library of local and national ‘rolls of honour’ and I can usually complete a reasonable profile of a person, their life before the war, during the war, demise and commemoration. I curate over 2,300 names in our daily ‘Remember On This Day‘ in which someone who served and died is remembered. I will indulge the good story, most especially where we have a photograph of the protagonist too.

R W Beal
 A J Bishop
A A Brooker
R Surcess
W C Carley
C J Colbran
H Corke
L Ellis
C Y Goldsmith
S G Warboard
E N Hurd
A C Nutson
FSC Joules
CJ Kemp
E Morley
G EM Peskett
H M Piper
R Russell
W W Woodhams 
The War Memorial at East Hoathly, East Sussex

There’s some natural overlap between an interest in those who served in the First World War and the village and town memorials I will stumble across, as here. The temptation is to start researching the names – you do one and you have to do them all though and there’s a very good chance someone has done this somewhere already.

I wonder if those with dedications on the woods would want more said? A few paragraphs and a photo online?

All photographs taken on a iPhone11 Pro. I’ve come to adore its simplicity and convenience. In due course I may take it out, if only for the close-up lens. For 360 degree pictures to indulge some interactivity with ThingLink I will need myself a 360 camera – now there is a thought for my upcoming birthday 🙂

Born in the 1920s and died in the 2020s

1960s, 1990s, 2020s

Zbigniew Alexandre Pełczyński (known to his students as ZAP) was born in Warsaw in 1925, educated under German occupation, served in the Polish Resistance as a teenager and survived the Warsaw Uprising – only just.

He came to Britain and to Oxford in 1946 with the British Army and chose to stay. It was ten years or more before he saw his mother and brother again.

He learnt English in Gateshead, gained a First in Philosophy at Aberdeen University and returned to Oxford for his MA, PhD and then to teach. he had short spells at each of Balliol and Merton Colleges before tenure at Pembroke from 1957 to 1992 where he become known as a much admired teacher and tutor of Philosophy, Politics and East European History.

He is survived by his three children and three grandchildren.

Streaker 1681 for sale

Wooden deck, pvc hull

Cover and undercover

Road trailer and launching trolley

One race and one stand sail

Tiller and daggerboard

Donald Trump makes me think of Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Donald II and Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert

With Trump eager to create turmoil I’m up early to bare witness to the demoacry fighting back. I think of Donald Trump and I’m reminded of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Both men had a ludicrous sense of their brilliance and leadership abilities. The former nudged Europe into world war. Where is Trump taking it?

The night before I’d watched David Attenborough on iPlayer, saw the Greta Thunberg documentary then fell asleep only to wake as the yacht I was taking across the Atlantic hit one large wave too many and capsized.

I need to find a way to turn my brain off at 10:00pm and not permit it to splutter back into consciousness before 4:00am the next day – or preferably 6:00am (at least).

I am trying yoga and light exercise. For the second time, it happens with each lockdown, I have jiggered my left leg. First time round it was the knees, now it is the achilles heel. What did I do? I went on a walk 😦 

Another random thought: Could The OU, overnight, do for Secondary Education what it is has done for HE over the last 50 years + ? Not a big ask. But what is needed now are courses that can be completed remoteley (at a distance as we used to say) and are gain accredited assessment and certification at the end. Roll on home schooling. 

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