Fortunately the North Downs Way was only a minor goal in the general scheme of things, and certainly in comparison to those I have achieved this year. The most notable of achievements have been my visit to the United States, via Iceland, and once in North America, my Amtrak train journey across one third of the continent. (The ultimate goal is to complete the journey, travelling westwards from Chicago to the Pacific Coast, but that’s for several years in the future).
Back to the walking, where the main problem has not been lacking the will, but rather having insufficient annual leave left after taking two foreign holidays, one domestic vacation and time off from work to help with Mrs PBT’s recuperation from a particularly nasty illness.
Fortunately, for both my levels of fitness and my sanity, I work in a very pleasant rural location, where there are ample opportunities to get out in the fresh air at lunchtime and enjoy a walk in the lovely Kent countryside. I’ve spent over 12 years in my current position, and virtually every weekday, come rain or shine, I’m out walking for between 35 and 40 minutes; a period of time which still allows me to enjoy my sandwiches and a cup of tea, when I get back to my desk.
It’s nice and relaxing and being outside allows any stress that has built up during the day, to disperse, but what I really enjoy about these walks is experiencing the changing of the seasons. Watching the newly born lambs skipping about on a cold, but bright late February afternoon, or seeing the snowdrops poking through the snow. Slightly later in the year, one can see the primroses coming into bloom on a south-facing bank.
I don’t see many bluebells whilst out walking, as my routes are almost exclusively through open countryside, although I do notice them on my drive in to work, as the road passes through a couple of areas of woodland.
At this time of year, the wind really whistles across the most exposed part of my walk, especially when it is coming from the east. Then it is biting and cold, piling the snow up into drifts, and I am sometimes tempted to call in at the local pub; especially if I know they've got Larkin's Porter on tap.
Whichever direction I set off in, my route takes me across the old Penshurst airfield; an airfield which was in operation between 1916–36 and 1940–46. Although initially developed as a military airfield, after the First World War it was used as an alternate destination to Croydon Airport, with some civil flying taking place. The airfield closed following a fatal crash at an air display in 1936, and was converted to a polo ground.
It re-opened during the Second World War as an Emergency Landing Ground, RAF Penshurst. As well as serving in this role, it was mainly used by Air Observation squadrons of the RAF. The airfield finally closed in May 1946, but evidence of is former military role can be seen in the form of a couple of concrete pill boxes, built to guard its perimeter.
Today, the western boundary of the site is crossed by a handy tarmac path, which means my route is an all weather one, with no need to get my work shoes covered in mud. The latter is important, as whilst I could change into a pair of walking boots, for going cross-country, that would eat into my one hour lunch break.
There are some alternative routes that I walk, that do involve crossing fields or following footpaths, and these are obviously fine during the summer months, when there have been spells of dry weather, but at other times of the year the footpath options are out of the question.
There is another route I sometimes take, which involves crossing the railway at nearby Penshurst station, and then following the road which leads to the station from the south. I can then either double back or, if I'm feeling brave/foolhardy, I can follow another road back up the hill to the village church. However, given the way that many motorists treat country roads as racetracks, I'm not a fan of the latter option.
I mentioned earlier an addition to my normal route, and this involves a loop around the tiny hamlet of Charcott. The latter is home to the Greyhound pub, now lovingly restored following a lengthy period of uncertainty and indeed closure, and is the perfect place to call in for a pint, should I desire.
Not far from Charcott and the former Penshurst airfield, is another relic of conflict, this time from the Cold War, in the shape of a nuclear bunker. I'd been aware of the existence of this structure, from a work colleague who live locally, but in January 2017, a group of us saw the bunker for ourselves, during a walk to the Greyhound.
We came across a carrying a volunteer who was carrying out some restoration work, and it turned out he belonged to a preservation group which had bought the bunker, when they were all sold off by the M.O.D at the end of the Cold War. I took a few photos, including one looking down the quite deep entrance shaft. I’m not sure that I fancied climbing down there, but as it happened, we weren’t offered the opportunity.
I realise I am fortunate to be able to undertake these sort of walks, in the middle of the working day, and accept I am doubly fortunate to work in such a pleasant rural location. I am not alone in doing these lunchtime walks, as several of my colleagues do the same thing, but as we all walk at a different pace, as well as setting off at different times, we tend to walk alone.
To me, this individual form of exercise is far preferable to the physical stretching and similar activities which employees at our Japanese parent company are "encouraged " to participate in at the start of the working day. Fortunately, I can't see it catching on over here!