What a contrast to last February when we had to cancel our walk due to snow – this year we had bright sun and temperatures in the high teens. Naturally this good weather brought out many walkers and 25 of us met at the Fox & Hounds, Tillingham, and two others caught us up shortly after we left making 27 in all. The publican was waiting pen in hand and poised ready to take our lunch orders and then off we went. It’s always nice as a group leader to think your group has gelled and from my perspective it is plain to see this group has, as they talk (non-stop), laugh (almost non-stop) but more importantly, from the social aspect, talk to all of the other group members.
Our route took us west along St Peter’s Way starting by crossing the sports ground, and continuing on paths across farmland that gently climbed 2 kms up to the high point of the walk – only 30m above sea level! Nature well and truly thought spring had arrived and the wonderful songs of the skylarks confirmed this. With all the exertions of the climb, excess garments were removed and we left our high point and turned south still crossing farmland and eventually reached High House Farm. This farm has the most beautiful mule with the largest ears that twisted and turned as it listened to our ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and in an obliging way, posed for photographs. Nearby, in a paddock, grazed a group of donkeys and as we passed they jointly started braying, which caused us to laugh, and them, it seemed, to bray even louder.
A pleasant bridleway took us to more paths and tracks and passing on our right a disused gravel pit, now fishing lake, we crossed the main Asheldham to Tillingham road and crossed yet more farmland. Fortunately for us it was dry underfoot as one large field we had to cross had recently been ploughed and two weeks ago was very muddy indeed.
In the next field we disturbed a brown hare that raced across it to take cover in the hedgerow. Apparently Britain’s hare population has declined by about 80% over the past century, largely due to habitat loss. Now it is facing a deadly rabbit virus called haemorrhagic disease type 2 that has been confirmed in three places in the UK – two in Dorset and the other in Essex; so it made this sighting of a healthy hare all the more pleasing.
A few twists and turns brought us out to Reddings Lane, which we followed north joining a track that passed by several lakes and led back to Tillingham. Chaffinches accompanied us with their song along this stretch and in the distance we could hear the drumming of a woodpecker.
We were all ready for our lunch, which was served quickly and devoured equally quickly.