So, you’ll all no doubt be aware that the woods are my absolute favourite place in the world. I grew up a few minutes walk from there and spent all my free time exploring as soon as I was allowed to go on my own.
So when I go back to see the kids, we have to go there. It’s the law.
And besides, what better for kids than to get outside, go for a long walk, explore, learn some history, learn about trees and animals that live there, hear some stories from my own childhood and generally, well, just be kids, something that is increasingly hard these days.
I love that I can share just a little bit of what I find special and I love that they find it special too.
Everyone has a favourite place in the whole world.
It might be your garden, somewhere you went on holiday, your bed (as in the case of Jay, who loves her bed more than anywhere else) or somewhere you grew up.
In my case, this place is Oldbury Woods, nr Ightham in Kent.
I grew up a few hundred metres from this place and spent my summers larking about playing army with my friends, building camps, learning how to make fires so we could cook baked potatoes in the ashes, my autumns scrumping strawberries, apples and pears from the orchards over the back, my winters sledging down its slopes and the spring walking about in the heady earthy green smell that just busrts out of every living thing.
Oldbury Hill is the site of an Iron Age hill fort – dated from around the 100 to 50BC – its pretty big, the ramparts being 2 miles long on the 2 longest sides. The woods that cover it are part of an ancient oak forest that used to almost totally cover England and a lot of Northern Europe too – called Andredslea or Andresweald in Saxon (pre-Normal conquest) times and its a magical place. The hill itself is pretty steep, a naturally defensible place with a flat top, made of greensand, so it drains well. There’s a natural spring in the middle of the fort, which must have been an added reason to build there. The ramparts, of which there are two, one after the other, are still just visible and were once separated by a deep ditch, now a shallow path but still visible on the top of the hill, as are the footings and trenches that used to be the bases of buildings. Amazing really – its more than 2000 years old and even though the fort was made of just wood and earthworks and its overgrown with trees, you can still see where it was and visualise how impressive it must have been.
Running through the middle of it is an ancient trackway – ‘wagon road’ – which dates back to 3000BC and older. It’s sunken 40 feet into the rock at either end from millennia of traffic, wagons, horses, pilgrims etc that used to use it as a main thoroughfare to Canterbury and the coast beyond.
The fort was overthrown by the Romans around 50BC, probably by Julias Caesar’s advancing armies – there is evidence of burning by where one of the gates would have been and lots of arrowheads and slingshot from the battle found by local archaeologists. There’s also Roman remains in the valley to the foot of the hillfort, so there must have been peaceful settlement after occupation. Its a very interesting place. More unusually, the greensand forms an ovecrop on one edge and also some pretty deep caves where evidence of middle palaeolithic (old stone age) occupation (50,000BC) with stone axes and flint (from the chalk downs not too far away) arrowheads uncovered.
So its a pretty cool place, steeped in history. And I grew up with it as the view from my bedroom window.
The most special part of it is a tree with a hole in it. Its a magical tree, my sisters and I used to clamber through the hole to our parents waiting arms when we were little and our kids have done the same. I need to get my mum and dad to send me a copy of that photo 🙂
So here, for your viewing pleasure, are some pics from when I took Ella and Henry there on such a gorgeous Spring day.
Oldbury Woods – my favourite place in the whole world.