Seven of us (a magnificent number!) are walking on this fine sunny autumnal day. We drive in two cars to West Malling railway station where our walk starts along tree shaded, stone walled lanes leading us to Manor Park, where the lake is as still as a millpond and reflects the trees on the opposite side in shades of green and orange. We leave the park, cross the main road and stop to admire the ancient, tall, stone built St. Leonards Tower, the origins and purpose of which seem to be a bit of a mystery, but it is said to have been built in Norman times. There’s a photo call in front of the tower before we move on along the footpath through farmland.
At Goodwell Farm I spot a walnut tree and stop to forage beneath it. It yields a haul of just three nuts. Further on near Offham there’s a small church with a war memorial amongst the churchyard gravestones. The surname of one of the men of Offham who made the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country in the Great War was ‘Silver’. He would have been from my wife’s family as it was her Grandmother's maiden name.
As we walk through Church Farm, one of the fields is planted with differing varieties of salad lettuce in blocks of strikingly contrasting reds and vivid greens, a subject for some photographs. We cross the railway line using an old arched brick tunnel and then walk parallel with the railway line for a while, towards a livery stables and a kennels which houses some huge and ferocious looking dogs, with barks to match. Alongside the kennel fence there are a couple of interesting ball shaped mushrooms worthy of a 'Trudy photograph', but not worth the risk of eating! We walk down a lane alongside a very old orchard of apple trees in need of a good scrumping, but the orchard is well fenced. A bit further on along the London Road there’s an apple tree on the verge with a few apples within easy reach, so we stop to pick one each, they're only small, but taste fine.
We follow a footpath which crosses West Malling golf course, and leads to Addington, where we pass some standing stones behind locked gates just before we reach the village green, where we sit and eat an early sandwich whilst waiting for 'the Angel' to open its doors at noon. Then we enjoy a pint of beer in the pub garden, courtesy of the Whitstable Brewery. A very pleasant interlude.
Refreshed, rested, and full of vigour, we take the longer route on a footpath rather than following the lane to cross the M20. I’m sure that Keith wishes we had taken the lane, as the footpath leads to a very narrow footbridge high above the motorway, but he makes no complaints and we’re soon across and heading towards Ryarsh Woods where we walk along a wide track strewn with the debris from tree felling. There are more mushrooms to be admired here. One clump is quite impressive, being white trumpets as big as the ends of brass trumpets, though I doubt that you’d get a tune out of any of them.
We leave the woods, and start to climb the lower slopes of the North Downs beside ploughed chalky fields. On our left is Coldrum Long Barrow, a burial chamber flanked by large standing stones, mostly fallen now. We take five minutes out to stand and stare in wonderment at this feat of ancient construction, before completing the uphill walk to the foot of the downs escarpment where the Pilgrims’ Way takes us towards Canterbury, but not before another quick sandwich stop.
So, we enjoy a drink in The Three Horseshoes, and the toilet comes in very handy too, but just one pint of Adams has an effect on Robert’s map reading skills, and we take the wrong road as soon as we leave the pub. In a way that mistake has a good side though, because as we’re walking along the wrong lane we hear a woodpecker, and Billy manages to see it at the top of a tree right above us. It at about this time that Keith discovers that his coat pocket has a hole in it and that he is leaving a trail of whip money in his wake. I think that we spotted it in time, and found all the coins though.
We follow the shady wooded path for a while, passing a ruin that is a riddle. It is an early 20th century 'bomb-proof' building with a blast wall outside the entrance doorway. Inside there is a steel, upright cylinder, like a boiler. Try as we might, we can’t make out what its purpose might have been.
There’s a right turn and we follow the path downhill, away from the Downs, and then walk along a concreted farm track that passes a couple of farms on the way to the village of Birling, with its impressive buttressed stone church tower and a welcoming village pub 'The Nevill Bull', where we imbibe of a pint just before closing time. Phew! - that was close.
We have a bit of trouble finding our way after visiting the Nevill Bull, but this is not in any way due to the beer, but due to a footpath being so overgrown and un-signed, that it is invisible (even to a sober eye!). Consequently we end up backtracking and fifteen minutes later we’re passing the Nevill Bull again. We follow the Birling Road to cross the M20 again, and stay on the road as the rest of the area has been subjected to a massive road-building programme and is completely different to our map, making a visit to Leybourne Castle out of the question.
We find our way back to West Malling, and pay a quick visit to 'The Lobster Pot', a lovely little pub in Swan Street where I have spent many pleasant visits in the past. I'm pleased to see that it has not altered, and still keeps a good selection of more adventurous beers. We stay for a half or two (depending upon who’s driving home), before walking back to the station car park. passing an old converted brewery on our left, and the Abbey on our right, with its little waterfall cascading through the boundary wall. Another very enjoyable day’s walking has been had by all.