Kentish summer redux

Last weekend saw an abrupt transition from summer to autumn in this neck of the woods. Between Saturday night and Sunday morning a biochemical switch flipped in the plant life of Kent, rapidly sucking moisture out of stems and leaves, and thus out of the air. That, and the wind switched from the stiff prevailing southwesterly to a distinctly cooler northeasterly. Summer has since then made a return of sorts, but you can feel in your bones that the fall is here, even if things still look green, and the trees remain heavy with leaves.

Yesterday afternoon I went on a cycle tour taking in the Darent Valley from Shoreham to Dartford, at the furthest point in the ride, and returning via the River Thames at Erith, and the hilly Abbey Wood and Bostall Heath, the latter dense with chestnut, oak, birch and beech.

The sky was overcast and the light was failing by the time I left Erith, so I didn’t get any decent photos of the ancient woodland in Greenwich borough. But I did take a few useable pictures by Lullingstone in the Darent Valley, and also by the Thames at Erith.

River Darent by Lullingstone 1 (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

River Darent by Lullingstone 2 (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

After leaving Lullingstone, I stopped by the river again in the village of Eynsford, where I got chatting with a dapper old gent who, unsolicited, offered some words of advice:

“Don’t whatever you do get old!”

I can’t think why he said this, as the 92-year-old is clearly a happy man, and retains a sharp wit, even if he is now a little stiff of joint. The former medical missionary, originally from Scotland, now lives in a Kentish care home, while his slightly younger and more agile wife dwells nearby.

We spoke of fixed-wheel cycling, African athletes and the beauty of an English autumn afternoon. My new friend recounted a tale of teaching rugby to natives of the Rift Valley in east Africa. On one occasion the then young doctor got a local man to run with the ball, and promptly brought him down with a flying tackle. The chap was a little startled by this, and remarked:

“You didn’t tell me that was coming!”

Leaving this charming couple to their afternoon riverside meditation, I then continued around the Darent Valley to Dartford and Erith. The road widens once you pass Sutton-at-Hone, and it begins to look a bit industrial and suburban. Erith is a nondescript and somewhat chavvy Thames-side town, but on the plus side it has a rather nice pier, and I’ve often stopped to chat there with friendly locals fishing for bass and flounder.

River Thames by Erith (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

One can cycle or walk the 25 kilometres of the Thames path from Erith to Greenwich, and I often do this, despite the presence along the way of the Crossness sewage works. On this occasion, however, I took the road to Belvedere, and from there walked the bike past the Lesnes Abbey ruins, and up a steep forest track through Abbey Wood. I then rejoined the Thames path at Woolwich, for the final 10 kilometres to Greenwich.

It was a nice day, though with 75 kilometres along the roads and 1,500 metres of ascent I appear to have overdone it a bit on the pedals, and need to rest my sore left knee for a couple of days. In good physical condition I may be, but I ain’t young, at least in absolute terms.