favourite place

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.

old ramparts - now a path along the ditch

Walking along the top ramparts

The path along the top

kids at the top

woody path

Ella walking

Henry after walking down the hill

The hole in the tree

So, where’s your favourite place and why?

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castles (part3)

So, the last castle we actually went to visit properly was Hever Castle, only 30 mins drive from my mum and dads house.

Hever Castle is another fairytale castle, complete with moat, drawbridge and portcullis, surrounded by sculpted parklands with a maze and a Tudor village too. Its a fabulously beautiful place. Similar to the others, it has its foundations in 13th Century, with the earliest parts dating from 1270, which is pretty freaking old. The Castle as you see it today dates from Tudor times (1500’s) when it was owned by the Bullen family, who had one famous member, Anne Boleyn, who grew up there as a child. The castle changed hands into Anne of Cleeve’s family after Henry VIII lopped off Anne’s head and eventually into the hands of famous American industrialist William Waldorf Astor in 1903, who completed expensive and probably vastly expensive restorations to leave it in trust in the condition you see today.

So, Ella, Henry and I had a wonderful day exploring – it was a gorgeous warm sunny spring day too, so we had lots of fun in the maze and gardens before wandering around the castle looking at Anne Boleyn’s bedroom, her bedhead from her childhood and even the book she had with her when she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Ella had been studying Henry VIII last year so she was very impressed with seeing history face to face as it were.


The daffodils were out in force in their formal gardens, so you look across the river that feeds the moat and lake across a sea of yellow towards the castle and Tudor village that the Astor’s built.



All in all, an awesome day – the kids played in the adventure playground until it was starting to get late and were so tired by the end of it that they slept the whole way back in the car 🙂 Job done!

castles (part2)

Leeds Castle was cool, a bit too cool actually, we ended up tired and cold and missed the driving rain by seconds as we got back to the car.

The next day was completely different – sunny and warm with a gentle breeze, so we went about a mile down the road to Ightham Mote, a wonderful moated medieval manor house, dating from 1320, perfectly preserved, and lovingly restored, hidden in a sunny wooded valley

Its an interesting place, as it is relatively modest by aristocratic standards, it attracted a series of modest and sympathetic owners who only subtly enhanced its liability and refrained from major modification. This means it really does look pretty much as it did in the middle ages. Cool!

The kids loved it, they thought it was so magical – and it is – its a marvellous place like no other really. Henry was a champ and managed to get around the place quite happily without touching anything too priceless, Ella did a quiz that the National Trust had laid on and we all got ice creams to finish. Beautiful day.

The best and mist curious thing is that I’ve lived almost next door to this place until I went to university, came back home a few times since and this is the first time I’ve ever paid to go in. Glad I waited, was nice to share something like this with the kids.






castles castles and more castles (part 1)

The thing about England (and the rest of the UK come to that) is that almost everybody lives in a castle.

There are simply millions of the things scattered about the country that if you don’t live in one, you live next door to one or a pile of stones that used to be one. I’m not even kidding – where I grew up in Kent, where my parents still live, there are probably 30 castles within 20 minutes drive of their house. There’s even a handful of Roman Villas, an old (now ruined) Palace (one of the biggest in the country in its day) and a bunch of pre-historic remains.

Kids love castles – they come with tales of knights, dragons, torture, kings, princesses, behead-ings, dungeons and, of course, garderobes (toilets that empty poos into the moat)

So we went to see some of the local ones.

First up – Leeds Castle. Not near Leeds, West Yorkshire, but Leeds in Kent. Its one of the prettiest best preserved castles anywhere, set in a large parkland with a fairytale moat and stories of King Henry VIII, plus it has a massive maze and lots of things for kids to do.

Sadly, it was frickin’ freezing and miserable on that day, but we kinda wrapped up (not enough though) and just went for it.



There were also (as is customary in these places) lots of peacocks.


tall tales from the motherland

So, as my one regular reader will know, I’m back in England for 10 days to see my beautiful children.

I’ve had a great week so far, starting with breakfast at Pat and Nicky’s straight out of Heathrow. They weren’t up when I got there, but Nicky and Anna (their cute very nearly 4 year old) soon answered the door and made me coffee and breakfast 🙂

Had the best day with them, taking photos and catching up on the last 18 months since I left for Oz. I really didn’t want to leave, but I still had to drive to my mum and dad’s place, go food shopping and get some rest before the long drive the next day.

Went to collect the kids the next day, also took Henry’s presents round so he could open them and play a little before we had to drive the 2 hours back to my parents place. Ella has grown loads (again) and Henry is cheekier than ever!

Drove back to Kent after a nasty road rage incident which I wont go into here, but I did notify the police for them to follow up. There are some advantages to being a photographer – I had the camera on the front seat and caught the guy raging away as he tried to run me off the motorway – he very was shocked to see a camera pointed at him – I suspect the penny was dropping that he was in deep shit. Arseholes that threaten the safety of my kids deserve everything the law has to offer. I still have no idea what his problem was either. Ah well.

Anyway..

Easter Sunday was spent at my youngest sister’s house with her kids and also my middle sister and her 3 kids. Mental doesn’t even cover it. Ella was very quiet as she was still very poorly from the virus she’d had for a week but we all had a good time. I ordered a mahooosive egg for everyone to tuck into

Had a great time, pics from Sunday and more tales tomorrow 🙂