Trosley Country Park & a glimpse of Vigo Village - Day 5
I feel like I’m getting some impressions of Gravesend and the importance of the river to Gravesham but the interior feels a bit of a mystery. I decide to take myself to the furthest point away from the river in Gravesham.
The drive to Gravesham from East London feels quite intense, I’ve used both the Blackwell Tunnel and the Dart crossing on my previous visit. The roads are quite empty but are clearly made for huge volumes of traffic. There are roadworks, four lane roads and lots of interchanges. I wonder if all that traffic will return? What will a year of living through the pandemic change our commuting and travelling behaviour for good?
I usually use public transport, an environmental and practical choice that’s accessible to me. I’ve borrowed a car from a friend to enable me to support family who have been unwell, in a lower risk way. The journey to Gravesham by train is easy by comparison to the drive. The roads feel like an imposition, unconnected to place. They are a way to pass through this place, carving up the landscape with noise and tarmac and speed. Päivi has mentioned a motorway extension that I’m yet to find out more about, I wonder who it is for and if it will happen now.
I drive through Meopham and the surrounding villages, giddy when I spot a windmill. It seems quite affluent, with beautiful houses. A grand looking sign on a village green catches my eye – I’m chatting to someone about meeting to walk around the village and look forward to coming back.
Trosely County Park contains the border of Gravesham and is on the North Downs. The park is gently busy, lots of families with small children, and lots of dogs. Everyone bundled up and wearing wellies. I piece together a walk of a couple of hours, using the waymarked trails but criss crossing the site, trying to get a flavour of the place.
The park has lots of offers, wooden sculptures, areas for storytelling, a fitness trail and lots of waymarked trails for runners and walkers. There’s been some real effort to make the space accessible to people with mobility difficulties and the families with young children also able to enjoy the woods because of this.
I often feel conflicted about some of these interventions – waymarked trails, interpretation boards, sculptures, and curated seating areas. It feels like a mediation between people and the landscape that could also be a barrier to a more intuitive connection. I also recognise that these elements enable people who may not have experience of the outdoors feel more comfortable. Support them getting out and into nature and learning about the landscape. I’m passionate about access, beyond just making a wheelchair accessible trail, so it’s an uncomfortable feeling. It’s also important that the waymarked trails keep humans away from parts of the park, allowing space for nature undisturbed. I suppose I’m questioning what is lost and gained in the curating of natural spaces in this way. What is the impact of the human desire to shape things, rather than be shaped by them?
I’m pondering all this when I stumble across a woodland orchestra – metal and wooden chimes, and xylophone inspired installation instruments. I hear the sounds first, then encounter three generations of a family joyfully making music together. It’s glorious and fun, the instruments sit in a natural amphitheatre and invite play. I enjoy gently ringing some chimes out. It’s brilliant and I’m back to celebrating the inventiveness of whoever commissioned this simple offer.
I go in search of goats that are being used to manage the landscape, walking down off the old carriage path lined with ancient looking yew trees. The steep slopes away from Gravesham give me views over a rolling, very English landscape of villages, churches and river valleys. A big road cuts through the landscape before the horizon stretches away. As I’m walking I notice what I think is some blue pottery wedged in the soil on the path. I work it lose with a toe and realise it’s a piece of flint. As I continue my walk, chalk and flint appear on the surface of the landscape more. The foundations of the place made visible.
Sadly no goats are spotted but I learn about the different butterflies that proliferate on the chalky downs from an interpretation board. The grizzled skipper butterfly feels like a connection back to the river front, and I wonder how it got it’s name. I briefly walk alongside the Pilgrim’s Way, an ancient Holloway path that connects Canterbury to Winchester. Then it’s back up the steepest hill I’ve walked up in a while. Children roll and tumble and play down the hill, calling back to each other and family sitting at the top. It’s like they are stretching their wings and it’s heartening. It feels like we might all be emerging from an enforced hibernation. I’m puffing hard at the top so stop to look at another interpretation board – there are ancient burial sites and modern industrial sites. A landscape of many layers.
I walk back through the wood, trying to identify trees. I spot hazel with their catkins, a few oaks, maybe some beech and silver birch. Most of the trees are bare, only the first hint of buds – I wonder how it will look if I return at the end of March? There’s a long line of yew trees, fantastically twisted and gnarled. They form avenues and I wonder how they came to be here and how old they are. They are some of the longest living trees – ancient yews are found all over the UK, used for long bows and symbols of immortality as well as death.
I notice families and groups of people with learning disabilities all out walking and exploring together and I loop back over my thinking about interventions in the landscape to enable all to enjoy it.
I finish my walk and drive slowly round Vigo Village, briefly stopping outside the primary school. A network of pavements seems to run through the heart of the village, connecting all the houses, I really like that people can move around the space away from the roads. There’s a village centre with shops, a pub, school and village hall and small basketball court. It’s not ancient or architecturally pretty but it feels very human – these are some of the resources a community needs to meet and flourish. A water tower dominates the skyline, brutalist concrete architecture, I wonder if it’s still in use?
I head home and reading up on Trosely discover that there were probably rare Dormice tucked up asleep in the woods I have walked through. That some of the mystery trees I couldn’t identify were hornbeams. Another species of long lived tree with incredibly hard wood, even used by Romans to make chariots.
I have a small piece of flint on my desk, a connection to the interior of Gravesham. It was a beautiful walk but strangely dissatisfying. I wanted connection and context, who was walking there today? Why? I wonder if can speak to a ranger for the park. Despite the interpretation boards and maps I feel I only have a passing acquaintance with the place. Maybe that’s all I will manage to achieve in this time?
Next stop Northfleet.