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.