I'm a little late getting up after seeing the New Year in last night, and it is with a degree of hungover haste that I eat breakfast, pack a rucksack, and dress appropriately for a cold day. At the clubhouse the turnout for today's walk is impressive, with about ten of us, with another three meeting us at Meopham.
It's a cold, grey morning, but not frosty as it has been for the past week, nor foggy as it was this time last year. We park next to Meopham village green, with its cricket pavilion and practice nets at one side, the green is overlooked by small cottages, some grander houses, and a couple of pubs, and further distant, the black timber clad windmill. We're joined by our final three walkers and set off along a footpath on the Eastern side of the green which leads down a hillside into a long field of stubble which fills the bottom of a long valley. We cross a road and continue along the side of the valley, past paddocks with horses.
Last year's New Year's day walk was akin to an obstacle course, with loads of very tall stiles. I think that someone in authority within Tonbridge and Malling Council must have read the website diary, because all of the stiles on this walk so far have been replaced with posh new galvanised steel kissing gates. Far easier for us to negotiate.
We reach a road at the valley bottom, with a field of sheep on the other side. The sheep are being fed at the moment and are quite noisy. At the bottom end of the field there is a smart new tennis court with the usual chainlink fence around it, and more unusually, an electric fence outside of that. I guess guess that they've found that the sheep were able to scale the three metre high chainlink fence and sneak in for an illicit game of tennis.
We follow the footpath up through the field and into the woods above. This is Coomb Hill, and it is a very long climb to reach the top. I'm very warm, and out of breath by the time we reach Coomb Farm at the top of the hill. Almost immediately we're descending into the next valley, and up the other side, and down into the next, and up again. We're certainly being put through our paces today. Fortunately the ground is pretty well frozen, so there's not a lot of mud, and with the amount of Horsey people hacking around these paths that's a big plus point.
We stop for a five minute breather at the edge of a wood and have the chance of a sandwich or a muesli bar. There are a couple of walkers approaching from across the field. One of them appears to be carrying a set of bagpipes over his shoulder. Oh no, not the pipes, please - I still have a sore head !! As they get closer it turns out to be a couple of walking sticks in a rucksack. Phew, that was a worrying moment!
I notice that there are signs on many of the trees proclaiming that the land hereabouts is owned by Blue Circle Industries, and that there have been a few shallow trenches cut into the forest floor. No doubt Blue Circle intends to quarry chalk in the area at some point in the future, so we'd better make the most of it while we can.
Our footpath follows a level-ish course for a while through the woods, and at one point we get a good view towards Snodland and the Medway valley. Then there are a couple more hills to descend and climb before we come to the village of Harvel and pass its pub ‘The Amazon & Tiger', an odd name considering that there are no tigers within thousands of Miles of the Amazon river. A little further on we come to a clearing at the edge of a wood that has recently been coppiced, so there are plenty of tree stumps and logs to sit on. It's an ideal place to take a break and have another sandwhich and to take a photograph or two pretending to be lumberjacks. We leave behind a piece of sculpture assembled from small pieces of cut wood.
Further on we climb another long, sticky, muddy path up a hillside and then down the other side into the ‘valley of dogs' where there are many large and individually designed houses built in spacious wooded plots. Every house seems to have a couple of dogs loose, and once one barks it starts off a chain reaction with all its neighbours. We follow a quiet road for a short while, then a footpath, and cross another road. By now we can hear the sound of drums in the distance, so the Morris Dancers must be dancing already. Five minutes later we arrive in the little hamlet of Hodsol Street. The Morris dancing is in full flow, and there's a sizeable crowd of supporters and onlookers gathered outside ‘The Green Man' pub and on the green opposite. Penny, Simon and Lucy are here to meet us too.
The Green Man serves a wonderful choice of real ales, (once we've fought our way through the crowds to the bar), and my pint of Whitstable Brewery's IPA doesn't disappoint. We stand and watch the rest of the Morris Dancing, though there aren't as many troupes performing as last year. Tomorrow Frances and Jim will both be celebrating their 65th birthdays, so a special card is signed by all walkers and presented to them, and they reciprocate by giving out slices of smartie cake which they have brought with them.
The dancing has finished, and we're getting quite cold standing around out here, so we prepare to walk on, little Lucy being carried on top of a specially designed rucksack which is a rather tight fit in the kissing gates. The stiles are a bit difficult on the last part of the walk too, and a couple of them disintegrate in use, leaving us with no option but to climb over gates. Soon we can see the Meopham windmill ahead, and we're back at the village just before the light begins to fade.