There are twelve of us walking today, and although it isn't sunny it is quite still and mild, and should stay dry. We drive in a three car convoy to Wrotham village and park in the same car park as we did for our last walk on that cold, wet January Sunday. The church bells are peeling their jumbled up melody again as we prepare to set off.
We walk out of the village in the opposite direction to our last walk and we are soon heading through a field of sheep with very small grey lambs who can only be a few days old. We walk past the sand quarry, and downhill towards Ightham where the village stream is no longer a rain swollen mass of writhing tea-coloured water, but instead is a gentle trickle of crystal clear water just an inch deep. What a difference.
Further along in the village the Chequers pub looks as though it may be open again after refurbishment. I can see someone inside wielding a paint brush. I didn't notice it last time, but next to the Chequers pub there is a large coach house with heavy old sliding doors on rollers. I wonder whether the Chequers was once a coaching inn, or perhaps this was once a fire station. The houses nearby certainly don't look grand enough for the occupants to have owned a coach and horses.
We turn right into Oldbury Lane, a quiet road that leads gently uphill with large detached houses on either side, probably the sort of place that you might be able to afford if you'd just retired from a short but lucrative career in banking on a pension of £690K per year! Near the top end of the lane is Oldbury Hall, a very ancient timber and red brick building dating from the 15th century. Opposite is an orchard of cobnut trees, all festooned with yellow catkins. I don't remember seeing a cobnut orchard anywhere before.
At the end of the lane we take the bridleway which goes steeply uphill between high wooded banks on either side and becomes very muddy for a short distance. Soon we reach the top, and according to the visitor notice board we are standing within what used to be an iron-age fortification known as Oldbury Hill, not that you'd know it - it just looks like a deciduous woodland with broad paths criss-crossing it. we enjoy our walk through the woods, and down the hill on the other side of the fort where we cross the A25 and take another path into another deciduous woodland where the ground is soft, dry and sandy. On our right side there are a series of ponds, probably man-made as a result of quarrying sand many years ago, though I'm only guessing at this - they might have been dug because someone wanted to keep goldfish!
The sandy path heads steadily uphill, ending in a flight of steep wooden steps joining a path running along a ridge at the top. We stop here for a rest and a sandwich as it's a pleasant enough spot, though it is oddly quiet as there are no birds singing. I wonder why?
We continue on our way towards Ivy Hatch. In the woods the bluebells are pushing up through the carpet of last year's fallen leaves, and every now and then there are clumps of snowdrops in bloom. The birds are singing again. At Ivy Hatch we pass a plant nursery with poly-tunnels. On a fence sits a robin, his plumage all puffed up. We take a footpath signposted to Bewley, a village that isn't marked on the O/S map. Perhaps it died long ago but the name is still used. We reach Bewley Lane which has extensive apple orchards on each side and steep sided banks with loads of rabbit holes in them.
We reach the 'Golding Hop' pub. Wow, I remember visiting this place way back in the 1970's (before I had a beer gut!), and haven't been back since, in fact I had quite forgotten where the place was. I can remember that the graffiti on the outside toilet wall was of a very high quality and well worth a leisurely read.
Walking up the steep cobbled-stone path we enter the bar area which is perfumed with the smell of wood smoke from the pubs two open fires. The Golding Hop is only a small place, but is a perfect example of a proper old country pub, unspoiled by the ravages of fashion and refurbishment. Its walls are adorned with old pictures and plates, and other nic-nacs collected over past decades, and though I cannot recall in any detail what the pub used to look like way back when I last visited it, I doubt whether it has changed at all, except that there's probably a better choice of beer available now. There are four draught ciders on sale too, and had I not given up all alcoholic drink for lent I would have a pint of one of those. As it is, I content myself with a lime and soda, and some good company. Dave Cook buys a couple of pickled eggs for him and Ray, and as he carries them to the table arranged next to one another on a paper plate David Bailey mistakes them for sheeps eyes!
As we leave I check out the Gents toilet. It is still an outside one, but there is no graffiti at all. How disappointing.
Our path leads us through orchards, and past a farmhouse which has a very old, decrepit wreck of a tractor stood nearby, partially covered with a blanket, as if to prevent it from catching a chill. David Bailey, our geologist and expert tractor spotter, identifies it as a DB (David Brown), made by the same company that once owned Aston Martin cars (hence the 'DB' series of sports cars). Something new learned today then - though perhaps not useable in a ‘chatting up a young lady' situation.
We walk through more woodlands with bluebells growing, and past 'The Plough' public house as we reach the village of Basted, where there are several new houses built in a fairly convincing traditional Edwardian cottage style in an idyllic setting alongside a stream. There are ducks, and a couple of white geese on the lush green lawn in front of the stream.
We leave the village on a footpath through another woods and eventually reach a main road on the outskirts of Borough Green. For some bizarre reason (probably chronic weariness!) we stop part way along this busy road for a five minute break and a bite to eat whilst the traffic whizzes past us and the only view is the terraced houses on the opposite side of the road.
Rested and refreshed, we cross the road and turn into an industrial estate (a clever trick that few magicians have managed to perfect!), then we cross a rather muddy field and a footbridge across the M26, then through a woods and finally along a lane leading into Wrotham village where a pint or two (of lime and soda in my case) awaits us in the Bull Hotel.
What a lovely walk. Good weather, hardly any mud, very few stiles, only one or two small hills, and a couple of excellent pubs. And I don't think that we took any wrong turnings either. Well done Keith.