30 April – Wetness and Trains

We are not faint of heart but when we four pilgrims awoke this morning, it was to torrential sideways rain, a mere five degrees (optimistically out of the wind) and powerful tree branch breaking winds.

We choose to take the train. But first we donned coats and ponchos to make the scamper across the wide quadrangle to the pilgrims hall for breakfast. We ate there in solidarity splendour as there were no other guests of any description. No yoga ladies looking for missing tea cakes either I’m glad to say.

Breakfast accomplished, the lady at reception looked up train schedules – the four internet passwords assigned to us no longer working. (Getting on line here is often a convoluted complex process and the results not always good connections.)

We geared up and made the wet chilly walk over to the station, across a humped medieval stone bridge, along a road while dodging puddle splashing cars and across train tracks – where we stood for some time waiting for the barriers to rise.

Tickets purchased, we waited shivering on the platform for a few minutes before our train arrived. On we got but the train didn’t go anywhere. An announcement came on telling us that due to flooding and electrical problems at the crossing, the bars wouldn’t come down. This was eventually sorted out and we set off only to stop a minute later. Another announcement informed us that there were wind blown branches on the tracks but the train driver would get out and remove them so we could continue. This didn’t take too long and we were soon at our exchange stop in Maidstone.

We had a short walk – wet windy and cold – to another nearby station where there was a heated waiting room! Bliss. Our next train arrived on time and in a few more minutes we were clambering off in Herrietsham. A short walk through puddles, in even heavier driving rain, brought us dripping to our Roebuck Inn for the evening. We were able to check into our rooms early and now here we are hanging out in the bar downstairs with abysmal internet. Not warm by any stretch but dry!

This pub does not serve food on Mondays until six in the evening. Every other day of the week there is lunch but not today. The only restaurant in the village is closed on Mondays. You’d think they might have planned that a bit better?

Many pubs in England are closed for various reasons – not making a go of it – being the one most often mentioned. No wonder. Three pubs in three days and not a meal to be had….yet.

On the good side of that is that no one seems to mind when we haul out our picnic food. Trouble is, we ran out of picnic food yesterday at lunch when that pub wasn’t serving food yet.

29 April – A chilly day, demanding a hot dinner

We had a relaxed morning enjoying a hot English breakfast in the pub. There was a homeless man there who we spoke to. He was a pleasant fellow so we bought him a bit of lunch for later.

Sufficiently fortified, we walked over the cathedral. The bells were pealing their invitation to all. A glorious sound. Rochester cathedral was an important stop on the pilgrimage between Winchester and Canterbury so we were pleased to have arrived on a Sunday. The deacon himself stamped our pilgrim credentials and we stayed for part of matins. The choir was very good, and the organ music terrific! Cathedrals have marvellous acoustics. The personages of the cathedral were interested in our walk and didn’t seem to mind that we only stopped in for a short visit.

Soon we were loaded up and on our way south. A short eleven kilometre walk today along the bank of the Medway River. Quite different scenery. Very easy walking with no upping and downing. Marianne joined us, having sent her pack on in a taxi to our evening’s destination.

We arrived at a priory in Alesford and were shown to our little attic rooms. As pilgrims we get a discount. Toilets and showers are down the hall. Tea cakes for a yoga group are on a table in a lounge. We braved the very chilly temperatures to tour around the beautiful grounds. This is a lovely spot. No evening meal to be had. We were told the pub in the nearby town was the place to go.

We walked to the town and entered an ancient pub. It’s been in operation one way or an other since the 1500s. However on Sunday’s – today is Sunday – dinner is not served. So there we were with no place to find food. The pub had a dish of left-over potatoes from lunch. We were given these and four forks. We ordered wine and beer and four bags of crisps and that has been our dinner.

We are now back in our attic cells in the priory. Upon our return, we discovered the afternoon tea cakes had not been touched. There are now eight less tea cakes. Pat has carefully rearranged the plate to disguise the reduction in their number. I expect that if we pop into one of the numerous confessionals in the church beside which we sleep, all will be well. We have a bible in our room….

“Hey Pat do you think we should read the bit about eating other people’s tea cakes?” I wonder if this sort of situation is covered…..?

“Kim, put a blanket over that bible.”

“No way, I need it to keep warm.” It’s not too warm in here. We are debating wearing our fleeces to bed.

On that note. Good night from Alesford Priory along the Medway.

28 April – Castles and Trains

A chilly – eight degree – grey but dry day today. Also a break from the walking routine.

Mary and Kate came in two cars to pick us up from our B&B. Mel walked over to us from here’s. We all climbed into the cars and went over to pick up Liz.

We then drove over to Combe Bank school where I went to school with Liz, Kate, Mary and Mel back in the late ‘60s. We wandered around the grounds reminiscing and taking a few pictures.

We the. Drove over to Hever Castle. This was Anne Boleyn’s home before she married Henry VIII. Despite the cold weather, the grounds were lovely to wander through and the castle is a wonderful tribute to Tudor history.

While we toured around the castle, Kate stayed in the parking lot dealing with a car engine problem. Thankfully AA came and sorted that out!

Our visit complete, we crossed the road for a leisurely late lunch at the Henry VIII pub before being driven back to Sevenoaks where Pat, Sally, Marianne and I caught a train onward to Rochester.

Our hotel rooms here are above a vibrant pub, but up on the third floor, we can’t hear the din coming from downstairs at the bar. Soon we’ll go down into the fray to get dinner.

27 April – More Distance. More Showers

Today was decidedly damper with some more serious rain.

We stopped for coffee at a golf course during a men’s only meeting of some kind. We were give a little table off to the side. Pat bought a packet of biscuits and when she opened it, one flew out and landed about ten feet away under one of the men’s shoes. Good-bye biscuit. This caused considerable hilarity from us three women.

Although there were a couple of drenching downpours, it wasn’t wet all day, we ate our picnic lunch in semi sunshine under an ancient and huge spreading oak tree.

We passed by more bluebell woods. Every day more are in fuller bloom so the wood’s floors are becoming ever-more blue! I expect there are ferries prowling around in the undergrowth.

On the first couple of days Sally learned how to navigate by reading the directions in the guide book. She then mastered reading the paper maps. Today she started navigating with Pocket Earth on the IPhone! Seriously impressive! Sally – you are the best!

Because of the showers – and rain – sections of the trail are incredibly muddy quagmires and other sections are akin to sloped skating rinks. Our boots become encased in slimy heavy clay mud. We had to stop and use sticks to clear the treads so we can continue walking.

After about 20 kms we came to a nice warm pub. We sat in deep comfortable chairs and had beers. Pat wisely decided to end her day at this point and grabbed a taxi for the last little bit. Sally and I walked on for an other hour and a half and got quite drenched in the hardest down pour of the day. Our total distance was around 23 kms. With all the muddling and upping and downing it seemed quite far. We were glad to drip into our lovely B&B.

We went out to dinner this evening with my friends from school here. Liz, Mary, Mel and Kate – a very enjoyable evening. Lots of laughs. Our pick up time was delayed by nearly an hour so we drank one of the bottles of wine we bought for the occasion before we even left the B&B. Kate and Mel were also delayed for various reasons so by the time we ate we were foolishly tired! Mel is staying close to us so the five of us took a taxi home and the driver over charged us by about double the appropriate rate. We were soooo unimpressed. We had hired him to take us back to Liz’s in the morning but fired him on the spot.

Back at our B&B while falling into bed, I made a comment to Pat about taking a sleep aid as I was so far past tired. She said she had sleeping pills but hadn’t been able to use any yet on this trip as they need to be taken without alcohol consumption being part of the equation. As we both found this hilarious and promptly fell asleep.

26 April – April Rain and Sun Showers

Great walk today, continuing east along the North Downs. We began with a 4 minute train ride from Red Hill to Merstham. We walked out of our hotel, to the train station immediately next door, bought our tickets, hopped on the train, then off and started walking – all in about 10 minutes! Couldn’t have worked out any better.

The scenery continues to be lovely. Rolling farm fields, idilic villages tucked into treed valleys, bluebell carpeted woods, lambs, the chartreuse green of new leaves, blossoming trees, and the nearly constant roar of the M25 mother way running hidden but not far from where we were walking. We crossed over and under three of these major motorways today. Despite the swath of exhaust and noise they cut across the country, the ancient quiet pathways, such as the one we are walking along, continue, crossing over and under without interruption.

The weather today was everything. Cold and clear: we added a fleece. Windy and threatening rain: we added a rain jacket. Sunny and quite warm: we took off the extra clothes. Rain: we put on rain jackets. Two minutes later the sun was out again: off with the jackets. This went on all day!

Despite all the changes of clothes, we made good time with only a few short stops and a detour to a vineyard that turned out to be closed. We weren’t impressed with the “closed” having walked up and down a hill to get there, only to retrace our steps.

Marianne took the day off again as her knee bothers her when she carries the weight of her pack. She’s learning about the English bus system which is very efficient.

This evening we went out for dinner with a couple of Sally’s long time friends, Keith and Liz. An excellent dinner in great company.

Now off to slumber land – it’s only 8:30. Oh dear.