The "Sand-walk" was a narrow strip of land 1 1/2 acres in extent, with a gravel-walk round it. On one side of it was a broad old shaw with fair-sized oaks in it, which made a sheltered shady walk; the other side was separated from a neighbouring grass field by a low quickset hedge, over which you could look at what view there was, a quiet little valley losing itself in the upland country towards the edge of the Westerham hill, with hazel coppice and larch wood, the remnants of what was once a large wood, stretching away to the Westerham road. I have heard my father say that the charm of this simple little valley helped to make him settle at Down.

The Sand-walk was planted by my father with a variety of trees, such as hazel, alder, lime, hornbeam, birch, privet, and dogwood, and with a long line of hollies all down the exposed side. In earlier times he took a certain number of turns every day, and used to count them by means of a heap of flints, one of which he kicked out on the path each time he passed. Of late years I think he did not keep to any fixed number of turns, but took as many as he felt strength for. The Sand-walk was our play-ground as children, and here we continually saw my father as he walked round. He liked to see what we were doing, and was ever ready to sympathize in any fun that was going on. It is curious to think how, with regard to the Sand-walk in connection with my father, my earliest recollections coincide with my latest; it shows how unvarying his habits have been.

Sometimes when alone he stood still or walked stealthily to observe birds or beasts. It was on one of these occasions that some young squirrels ran up his back and legs, while their mother barked at them in an agony from the tree. He always found birds' nests even up to the last years of his life, and we, as children, considered that he had a special genius in this direction. In his quiet prowls he came across the less common birds, but I fancy he used to conceal it from me, as a little boy, because he observed the agony of mind which I endured at not having seen the siskin or goldfinch, or whatever it might have been. He used to tell us how, when he was creeping noiselessly along in the "Big-Woods," he came upon a fox asleep in the daytime, which was so much astonished that it took a good stare at him before it ran off. A Spitz dog which accompanied him showed no sign of excitement at the fox, and he used to end the story by wondering how the dog could have been so faint-hearted.

Another favourite place was "Orchis Bank," above the quiet Cudham valley, where fly- and musk-orchis grew among the junipers, and Cephalanthera and Neottia under the beech boughs; the little wood "Hangrove," just above this, he was also fond of, and here I remember his collecting grasses, when he took a fancy to make out the names of all the common kinds. He was fond of quoting the saying of one of his little boys, who, having found a grass that his father had not seen before, had it laid by his own plate during dinner, remarking, "I are an extraordinary grass-finder!"

My father much enjoyed wandering slowly in the garden with my mother or some of his children, or making one of a party, sitting out on a bench on the lawn; he generally sat, however, on the grass, and I remember him often lying under one of the big lime-trees, with his head on the green mound at its foot. In dry summer weather, when we often sat out, the big fly-wheel of the well was commonly heard spinning round, and so the sound became associated with those pleasant days. He used to like to watch us playing at lawn-tennis, and often knocked up a stray ball for us with the curved handle of his stick.

Though he took no personal share in the management of the garden, he had great delight in the beauty of flowers--for instance, in the mass of Azaleas which generally stood in the drawing-room. I think he sometimes fused together his admiration of the structure of a flower and of its intrinsic beauty; for instance, in the case of the big pendulous pink and white flowers of Dielytra.

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I Page 48

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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