I'm up at 07.30 GMT (the clocks went back last night). Outside it is grey and wet, so I'll need to wear all that I possess in the way of wet weather gear for today's walk with the Plums. I make myself a peppered salami French stick for later, pack my rucksack, and have a second cup of tea before calling for Keith.
We meet at the clubhouse. There are eight of us walking today. Not a bad number for a wet day. We drive in two cars to Cobham, and park in a recreation ground.
We walk along the main street of the village, passing the famous rambling timbered 'Leather Bottle' pub, and its less striking looking neighbour, the Darnley Arms. At the village water pump, also installed by Squire Darnley, we leave the road and cross a small meadow, and pass the biggest, oldest conker tree that I have ever seen. A little further on we come to a country park where there are a couple of most unusual tall statues carved out of large tree trunks, probably using a deftly wielded chainsaw. They’re very cleverly done, and cast the most intriguing silhouette on either side of the pathway.
The rain worsens, and though my coat and boots are waterproof, my jeans are certainly not, and within ten minutes I could have wrung the water out of them, so my legs are feeling a tad cold as we reach and cross the railway and the A2 using a brand new road bridge that still smells of fresh tar macadam paving. We walk through a wood on a steep hillside. The rain has almost stopped, though it still drips from the trees. The woods are mostly chestnut, and the floor is littered with fallen leaves and prickly chestnut husks, and lots of nice brown chestnuts. I cannot resist stopping to pick up a pocket-full of the nuts, and spend the next half hour peeling and eating them as we walk. We reach a car park and cafeteria, and stop for a coffee and the use of the toilets. It’s nice to sit down for a while too.
In order to reach the road that we need to find, we have to climb up a short, steep, very slippery wooded bank. This proves to be quite a challenge, and causes lots of laughter as many of us slip, and slide back down. Eventually we’re all at the top, and it is now clear that we could have taken a much easier route to the road - but it wouldn't have been as much of a laugh! We find the road, and our next path, and are soon passing back over the A2 and under the railway. We walk along a path alongside the new high speed channel tunnel rail link, and are lucky enough to see a train thunder past at frightening speed.
We walk away from the railway, through a field of cattle, and have to climb over a barbed wire fence at the far side of the field. Clearly we have strayed from the path somewhat. We cross a road and walk through a wood, gathering more chestnuts and getting another soaking from dripping trees. We soon reach Cobham, and call into the Darnley Arms for a well deserved pint of Harvey’s, or whatever else that is our tipple.
Our walk is not over yet though. We walk through a large apple orchard where the dwarf trees are planted in regimented rows. Some rows of trees have been harvested, but many have not, and the unwanted crop lies at the foot of the trees. Not all of these apples are bruised or rotten though, and I glean half a rucksack-full of perfectly sound, though slightly muddy apples. Interestingly there appear to be several different varieties on offer and as with my haul of chestnuts I'm pleased to have got something for nothing. I have to run a bit to catch up with the others, who haven’t been as greedy as me.
Having walked for half a mile through the wet grass of the orchard my boots are now as clean as could be, but not for long. On the other side of the orchard is a newly sown field of wheat and the path goes straight across it. I can feel myself getting taller as we cross the field and several pounds of mud accumulates on the soles of my boots.
Back on the road, the mud is soon removed, and after a while we reach The Cock Inn at Luddlesdown, a gem of a country pub, with a great choice of beers and lots of interesting maps and old photos on the walls - especially those in the gents toilets! Two of the maps on the bar walls are Russian, dating from the 1970's 'cold war' period. They are reconnaisence maps of Gravesend and Northfleet, prepared in readiness for an invasion of England.
We enjoy a pint, and then walk back to Cobham, skirting the orchard and passing the Darnley Arms, which is now closed for the afternoon. Back at the cars we take off wet coats and muddy boots and say our goodbyes to one another before heading back to the clubhouse. My screen demister struggles to cope with all the steam we’re giving off until the engine warms up a bit. By the time we’re back it is almost dark.