The plums walk this month starts at Westerham a place that I can vaguely recall visiting Aunties at when I was a very small boy. Not having a car in those days we used to travel here on 3 trains.
The last of these being on a steam train on a (now dismantled) branch line that ran between Dunton Green and Westerham. One of my most cherished childhood memories was being allowed to standing on the footplate of the steam engine whilst it hissed and smoked broodily standing at the station smelling like only steam engines can.
We park just outside the town centre and walk up through the old churchyard onto the village green then down a narrow alleyway between shops, crossing a brook and over stile into a field. We climb away from the town for a while until we've got a pretty good view over it, and then as it plateaus out across a field we can see in the distance to our right a folly of some sort, or perhaps it's a very elaborate stone summerhouse perched on the top of a hillock.
We enter a wood and climb still further. I'm getting very hot and have to discreetly shed some clothing. I reckon that right now must be the loveliest times of the year to walk in the country side.
The beech and oak tress are just coming into leaf and both are the most vivid pale green, especially the beech leaves when the sunlight shines through them. And of course there are blue bells, just coming into flower carpeting the woodland floor in a blue haze that at times stretches as fare as the eye can see. We also come across one or two swathes of wild garlic also in flower at the moment.
We walk through the woods for quite a long way passing many of the giants felled in the great storm all those years ago. The path descends for as while and passes a very nice house on the edge of the woods who's very nice owners have (I assume) placed their old garden table and chairs at the side of the footpath, beneath an old oak tree, a lovely gesture I think. Though a cynic would adopt the viewpoint that they've saved themselves a trip to the rubbish tip! Anyway we make use of the furniture to stop and rest and eat some of our food.
We cross a road and start to walk up Mariners hill which actually takes its name from a lady with the surname of "Mariner", though I can't recall any of the useful facts as to why the hill bears her name. The path leading up a the hill must be centuries old judging by the coppiced beech trees who's exposed root systems form a wall along the side of the path as it climbs the hill and we admire yet mote bluebells. We descend the other side of Mariners Hill and come to a road at the bottom of the path. Opposite us is Chart well House, home of Sir Winston Churchill. Oddly enough. I've never visited Chartwell or even seen it from the road. It's a big old drum and a bit difficult to put a date of construction to. The hefty timber trellis work that has been fixed to one of the gable walls makes it look as though some DIY enthusiast has had a go at introducing a mock Tudor effect.
We walk past the house and further along the road we find the Chartwell visitors centre, a good place to stop for a genteel pot of tea and a buttered scone, and of course the lavatorial facilities! As we eat our scones and sip out teas we admire the view across the valley, those with binoculars do a bit of bird watching; though there are plenty of robins and Chaffinches to be seen at close quarters foraging for crumbs from the tables. David Cooks walking shoes are rapidly disintegrating as they are old and the rubber soles have perished. Let's hope they hold out for the distance. Refreshed and rested we walk back past Chartwell and leave the road.
As we walk the topic of conversation in my little bunch is Winston Churchill, it seems that he hasn't got a lot of fans here today and is denounced as something akin to a mass murderer (fortunately for me he is dead and therefore I can't be had up for libel for reporting this).
We walk past a field with a couple of llamas in it. Odd looking creatures, like sheep with long thick wooly legs. We pass a stone oast house that is being restored. I don't recall ever seeing a stone built oast house before - they're always brick. Perhaps this one is brick and the same mock Tudor DIY enthusiast has improved it by adding stone cladding?
Climbing another hill we enter another wooded area, Toys Hill. I can remember coming here with Mum and Dad in their Morris Minor and feeding the very tame birds who would land on my outstretched hand through the car window. In those days Toys hill was a mature beech wood but the great storm of 87 changed all that, feeling all of the giant old tress and probably making all the little birds homeless. Now it is predominantly a birch wood with a few rotting fallen beech trees lying here and there.
We come to a road. It starts to rain quite steadily. Fortunately our salvation is at hand just a few hundred yards along the road in the form of "The Fox and Hounds" public house. The place is packed out inside but fortunately there is a sort of covered verandah outside where we can shelter from the rain, sup a pint, eat a sandwich and talk, mostly about Winston Churchill).
The rain stops after about half an hour and we get moving again. Keith modifies our route, shortening it slightly to compensate for our slow pace today. The rain has made the going a bit muddy in places. We reach the edge of Hosey Common and walk down through the woods towards Westerham, passing several caves in the hillside. They all have bars at the entrance and a sign saying "Nature reserve" I reckon that they must be a roosting place for bats, but unless one of us stays here till dark we will never know for sure. Needless to say, there were no volunteers!
We end up at the same narrow alleyway between shops that we left Westerham on and are soon back at the village green. Most of us go for a pint in the Grasshopper on the Green. It's the first time that I've paid more than £3 for a pint in an ordinary pub outside of central London, I am quite sure it won't be the last. Perhaps the price has been increased to reflect the fact that there is a live sex show going on between a couple birds in the back yard of the pub!
I'm sure that everyone will be pleased to know that Dave Cook's shoes lasted the distance, just. They are to be awarded the DSO and given a decent burial.