For over 400 years the county of Kent has been aptly known as the ‘Garden of England’. Although I know one or two Yorkshire-men who would argue this.
NuStu is on ‘easy Sunday’ mode and isn’t in the mood to fuss. He’s on hand today and invites us round to his neighbourhood side of Kent. This is too good a chance to miss – a knowledgable gent who can take you into the delights of the Garden, and plan it in such a way, so you’re back in time for tea!
Jack and I tear ourselves away from the busyness of Richmond and make tracks to Crystal Palace. We find ourselves at Dulwhich College, climbing smoothly to settle us in as we catch up with Baroudeur, NuStu.
Us, less familiar Londoners often take the route of the Falling Leaves, but having Stu as leader offers us a southern compass to navigate less cycled lanes.
We dive down the descents into the urban spaces and as we turn Stu points out the local rugby fields, now flooded from the excess of winter rains. A moment later we see the children who would have been playing there, now relocated onto the higher plains. As we further, Stu nods to the playing fields to our right. They seem run-down now, but this is where Crystal Palace FC would train in preparation for grander battles!
Before long we’re in the garden-proper. Despite the chill, there a packs of cyclists venturing in all directions. Stu has chartered something special for us. As we climb on a familiar route, he then motions us to do a left. It’s a quite path, I’ve often seen locals take, but have been too afraid to explore myself. With Stu leading, and Jack just up ahead, ready to explore, I know we’ll be fine.
It takes us away from the motorised traffic and a place that Stu refers to as his “meditation place”. I can see why: the climb is smooth and allows you to view the landscape in the silence that is only interrupted by the sound of your breath. There are horse-riders on the lanes, and each one smiles at us as if to say there is more good times to come.
Though the tarmac is wet, it is smooth and unlike much of what Windsor and Surrey is going through. I’ve heard it said, there’s something about the local soil – it retains the moisture better. I’m not sure if this is true, but from what we can see today, it sure is doing a good job of it!
As the chill is replaced by more comfy temperatures, we swing left to a local shop Stu knows well. As we do so, on top of hill, Jack notices a chocolate Labrador. He compliments the owner and smiles.
Linda’s shop is already busy with local trade. For a moment we talk with David, a man who has just purchased his morning paper and pint of milk. He educates us on the local history and how the area has changed over the years. It’s genuinely fascinating. Not only because of the community spirit, but because it’s so far removed from much of London living, yet something we all wish we could have.
The shop owner is Linda herself. She’s been there since ’75 and she’s seen it all. She’s welcoming and thankful for the trade. We thank her and say we hope to be by this route again soon. We’re thankful, because her shop’s open and carries just what we need for the leg home.
Stu has shown us just a touch of what the Garden of Kent has to offer. A good thing too, because we hope to make it a more regular destination. You should think of it too.