Plaxtol – a hill village

Plaxtol Church and the memorial.

Plaxtol Church and the memorial.

Not knowing much about Plaxtol but having passed through it recently on the way to Ightham Moat we decided to explore the village.  We stopped at the Paper Maker’s Arms and made it known that we were to walk around the village and come back for a late lunch.

A pretty terrace

A pretty terrace

The village is overlooked by the Cromwellian Church re-built and added to in Victorian times and although it is a magnificent edifice it is the village itself that is attractive.  It has a local shop from where an excellent village guide leaflet can be purchased, a butcher’s shop selling game and enough olde worlde buildings to keep anybody satisfied.

We drove to Old Soar Manor knowing that it was closed until April but wanting out of curiosity to have a Gander.  Plan: arrive en-route and have a look around the building when it is open and then go to the village and have another walk around using the myriad footpaths that criss-cross the area.

A bonus is that the Sevenoaks council has designated many of the roads around Plaxtol and Ightam as ‘Quiet Lanes’ and that is good because drivers, including us on the way there look out for pedestrians.

Old Soar Manor

Old Soar Manor

Plaxtol claims to have a 2000 year old history and this is borne out by the discovery of Roman remains and the identification of an Iron Age site.  Old Soar Manor is a C13 site and around the village there is at least two recognised digs, a Roman Cemetery and a Roman Villa.

In the valley between Plaxtol village and Old Soar runs the river Bourne in spate when we arrived with evidence of flooding.  The pathways were muddy so we were content to locate them and plan walks around the place for the future.

As for the lunch and the experience at the pub, it was excellent.  Good food, the beer was good and the place was friendly with a local atmosphere.  A worthwhile exercise and a most pleasant March day, cold at times but in the sun pleasant.  The lunch was a touch of pleasure that topped off the day.  The other pleasure was that most of the people we met were friendly and happy to pass the time of day.

Yopps Green near Tree House - Plaxtol

Yopps Green near Tree House – Plaxtol

Now that it what I call a good day out.

The village of Plaxtol, as we suggested at the beginning was a mystery to us and after an afternoon walking around we intend to make another visit.

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Rochester – sun and rain

If One was alive?  Rochester Guildhall Museum

If One was alive? Rochester Guildhall Museum

Baffled by circumstances, Christmas and other influences, the chance of actually walking or taking a trip out were limited during the last few months so when January arrived, the floods abated a little but the rain still pounding down we took off to Rochester to have a look at the museum.

Rochester on a wet day outside the Museum

Rochester on a wet day outside the Museum

A great place to go on a wet day, and great place to visits anyway.  It is free and interesting with local history and the inevitable tribute to Dickens.  There is also a Hulk Experience tracing the history of the Medway Prison hulks – the link to Great Expectations.

Park in one of the car parks for a price that doesn’t need a mortgage and take a wander. There is the castle, the Cathedral and of course the many shops and places of historical interest. This wet afternoon we were looking for a dry place hence the museum and discovered a gem.

Talking to the Town Crier

Talking to the Town Crier

We decided that the following saturday, a crisp, sunny day would warrant another visit, so parking in the same car park we took off along the high street, wandered along and generally explored toward the bridge maybe intending to clamber around the castle and look into the cathedral.  Instead we walked across the bridge to Strood.

We don’t like Strood finding depressing and dirty.

We walked along canal street following the Saxon Shore way and the river.  True the high rise blocks of flats are depressing and so is the abandoned buildings, such as the old Canal Pub and the neglected cafe, the fencing around the industrial sites are ugly as is the factory estate buildings but at least there is a sense of the river and its trade, the proximity of the city and the busy railway.

We discovered the Riversid(e) Tavern – the ‘e’ lost in the storm – and enjoyed a coffee as well as realising that the place could be a nice place to stop.

Placid river

Placid river

From there we wandered up to Frindsbury Church on the hill and discovered footpaths leading from the Saxon Shore way that were worth exploring.   The church was impressive and we saw some old houses including the old  parsonage and magnificent barn on the way.  The views over Rochester and the Medway are impressive and worth a look.  The only drawback was the amount of dog shit laying on the paving and on or near the pathways. It seems that Strood and Frindsbury people do not like picking up their pet’s turds.

However, we saw some swans, took snaps of the submarine laying in the water and on the mud and had a pleasant afternoon walk in a place we have not before explored.   We found an interesting place from where we could possibly explore afresh and learn about a place that evidently has a maritime history  we knew nothing of.

Frindsbury Church

Frindsbury Church

The canal itself is enough but it seems that Strood was a busier place than we expected, although we should have thought so really considering that no town on the Medway could possibly be there without utilising the waterway.  The pictures in the Riversid(e) Tavern were enlightening.

Go there, see it, have lunch there on a nice day or a drink in the evening and enjoy.  Also see how the Medway Towns is attempting to enhance the riverside.  A bit dull at the moment due to a lack of trees but maybe somebody will see the light and plant a few and allow some river businesses to flourish.  Who knows?

Returning to Rochester we decided to have a snack – a late lunch – and trying to avoid pubs we had to search for a cafe as many were full or booked.  Now that is a good sign.  There was plenty of people shopping and visiting which has a lot to do with the attraction of the city and maybe also something to do with the price of parking.  IMG_3311

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Otford in the rain

Shopping in Otford

Shopping in Otford

With a storm threatening and the certainty that there would be rain, clouds and wind as a prelude we set off for Otford, a place we have intended to visit in the past.  We arrived  under cloud and rain, parked in the Bull car park for a while as the council car park was full and walked up to the station and back.  We returned to find that the car park was emptying and snuck in there.  We had arrived during a coffee morning so the Village Hall was full.

However, with coats on, good shoes and a reason for exploring we planned to set off to find the old Bishop’s Palace, and enjoy the listed duck pond, and generally explore the Village.

Otford's listed pond

Otford’s listed pond

We took a diversion across the sports field from the car park to examine the Solar System Model installed on the far side.  This scale model has pillars topped with stainless steel discs engraved with the name of the planet and its size in scale with the Sun.  Earth looks like a nail head – a small nail head.   The Sun is a large half globe sunk into the central pillar and although the nearest planets are shown in the field, one is in a street near the cricket club and doctor’s surgery and the others are some distance away toward the downs.

The heritage centre has the details and at one time when the weather is not trying to drown us or blow us away we will do the walk around to locate them and follow a little more of the Darent  river.  The river was swift and full this day as we saw later.

Local woodland park - in the  rain

Local woodland park – in the rain

We walked back from the field and up to the station from where we expected to find the Palace.  We were a long way out but we came across a parkland on the other side of the railway which was well worth the walk.  We enjoyed the autumn colours washed as they were in the rain under a grey sky with the occasional burst of sunshine and a nibble on wrinkly damsons.

The only distractions, ignoring the weather, were the noise of the M26 not far away and the constant stream of traffic through the village much of which decided that the thirty mile per hour speed limit was advisory.   The place needs a restricted zone or a by-pass.

However, Otford is a lovely village with plenty of footpaths leading along the course of the Darent and to Kemsing and the hills above.  For the intrepid walker there is the prospect of walking along the river to Shoreham and Eynsford which on a Saturday would be excellent.  Wherever you are along the route you can return to your staring point by train.

We had a light, late lunch at the Pond View cafe and although we were too late for a hot meal we had some excellent sandwiches and a taste of their delicious bread pudding.  Lovely!  The cafe is one of the several traders in an attractive High Street with two local stores and a number of specialist shops including tea and coffee rooms, restaurants, pubs and some ancient houses plus a number of churches.

Nice hats - Ladies! Worth a visit.

Nice hats – Ladies! Worth a visit.

One such shop struck us as standing out, and that was a milliner’s emporium although others of equal attraction abound including antique shops as would be expected.  In spite of the weather the local flower shop was flourishing and there was no lack of shoppers; I suspect that the supermarket along the road near Sevenoaks does much of the groceries but cannot make up for that local touch.

The Bishop's Palace ruins

The Bishop’s Palace ruins

From there we found the palace ruins and were delighted that what was left apart from one tower was adapted for homes with all the old features intact, including the added on sections where rebuilding was done.  One tower remains which we thought could be converted into a posh restaurant for the local middle-class spenders and give some of the locals another reason to complain and a few jobs.  From the information board we gathered that the Palace was quite extensive at one time.  Erected in 1357 originally and eventually left to decline at least some of it remains and no doubt it’s legacy was the formation of the village and the houses around.   After all it is in that area where landed gentry were likely to live.

From there we risked our lives to cross the busy road and found a footpath leading to back to the village and a walk along the high street, returning at one point to take another path following the river completing a circular route back to the High Street and on to the car park.  The river was already full and running swift but I would say with the extra rainfall it would be a raging torrent late that afternoon.

Close to Otford before the heavy rain.

Close to Otford before the heavy rain.

A change of shoes, after a quick wee, trying to remain fairly dry in the increasingly heavy rain and into the car ready to leave when the heavy rain shower that he’d threatened all afternoon decided to let go.  This was the precursor of the coming storm, we thought, expecting inclement weather all the way home only to find the roads dry and the wind the only culprit as we crossed over the Detling hill.

It was a good day and pleasant to be in place we had not seen before other than passing through.

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Village on the hill – Egerton

Downs in the mist - Egerton

Downs in the mist – Egerton

We rolled up at The George, parked, apologised and threatened to return for a lunch, spoke to a local who suggested some walks and doddered off.  The first encounter was with a local man and his cat.  He told us about the village and his liking of it, named the cat for us – Daisy – and told us of the area around the village.   He was a nice man and the cat was pretty.

Daisy

Daisy

From where we stood chatting below us was the slope of the hill on which Egerton perches offering views of the farmlands and downs of Kent.  Immediately below was the recreation ground, Community Hall, car park and sports field busy with the last few moments of a MacMillan Coffee morning.

The George stands on one corner of the centre of the village where roads lead to Charing in one direction, Smarden and Headcorn in another and to Pluckley.  Opposite the pub is the street leading to the community centre and on the through road across the road is the primary school.  The church that dominates the skyline is a on the southern side of the hill  where there is a small village green and a village store.  The village seems to be a centre where many footpaths meet offering a range of circular walks  a couple of which we devised for ourselves using a simple but accurate map.  Follow the dotted lines and look for the named farms and buildings.

We strolled down the road admiring the mixture of buildings and the bright gardens that gives Egerton its character, including a petrol station and repair garage sporting well maintained pump equipment.

Petrol filling station

Petrol filling station

This was a pre-prandial stroll to explore some of the footpaths around the village, of which there are many, and we had a pleasant walk of an hour or more ending at the school and of course for a lunch at the pub.   The views are magnificent and I can understand that this area is popular with walkers.  The Greensand Way passes through, and nearby is the Stour Valley Walk.  And oddly, although you are not far from the M20, the regular railway and HS1 there is little evidence of unless you take pains to look.

Lunch was a light and enjoyable experience with a good choice from the menu at normal prices.  The light meals were just right and the beer was good.   A nice place to stop in fact.

Cattle in the fields

Cattle in the fields

The next leg was to head from the pub to the church and walk through the churchyard and follow the path through the orchards, where there is an information board telling the walker about the farm and its management.   Unpicked plums on the trees that serve to attract insects in the spring for pollination were dangling ready to fall off and rot, so we had a few as a dessert and followed the path to Egerton House.

From there we waddled along roads turning left past Holly Farm walking the road past Baker’s Farm to the T junction, turned left looking for a footpath on the left that would take us back to the village.

On the path back to the village

On the path back to the village

On the way there were a number of footpaths that we could have taken – in fact we were spoiled for choice, and on any future visit we can explore other paths to take us to the south rather than the north, crossing the small rivers and streams and climbing back up to the village, or even completely circumnavigating it on a combination of pathways, bridleways and roads.

Egerton is a lovely village set in a beautiful part of the weald with the North Downs close by and the wonderful rolling farmlands that is so typical of Kent.  In all a pleasant walk or two.  Casually so that we could enjoy it, at times cool with the threat of rain, and later warm Autumn sunshine, the walk was just the ticket for a pleasant afternoon.

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Burwash – not passing through

Pleasant walk in the village

Pleasant walk in the village

Pick a place on the map that you often pass through on the way to somewhere else and stop for a while rather than drive on.  On this day we went to Burwash which is close to Bateman’s and, as we discovered nestles on the edge of National Trust managed land.   Now that last is a bonus.  There is some good walking in that on well marked pathways that complement the local council footpaths.

View from the village across the NT footpaths

View from the village across the NT footpaths

We arrived, saw a car park and used it only  to discover later that it was dedicated to local residents – so sorry if we filled  a space although it was marked as a free car park.  As it was we walked into the village to be surprised by its beauty – or rather struck by the fact that most of the buildings in the main street must be listed.

The church overlooks the village and a wooded valley dotted with fields and also the ancient houses in School Hill – the road that leads to Brightling and as expected there was a war memorial on the island that splits the junction.

War memorial

War memorial

The Bell pub was closed down,  which is a pity but that left the Rose and Crown near the Village Hall off the main street (the A265) where there was a flower show going that afternoon, and The Bear close to the community centre and car park.   From there we found footpaths but having walked around a bit we had a light lunch at the excellent Lime Tree Tea Rooms.

The amazing thing about most rural places is that at sometime you will see horses, as well as cattle and sheep in the paddocks, and often the horses are being ridden on a road. It was good to see two of them in the village main street  and vehicles doing it right and passing them properly – wide and slow – which makes the day worth it.

There is a path alongside the tea rooms which we took after lunch leading down into the valley.  We met a local resident and his dog and had a good chat about the area following the path leading to the narrow lane in the bottom of the valley.  On the way we discovered somebody (suggested local youngsters) had tied a fine line across the pathway which would have upset a runner as it was difficult to break.  I untied it and we took it away.  Naughty children.

On the walk to Bateman's

On the walk to Bateman’s

However, the walk was pleasant and when we met the lane we walked to Bateman’s finding the pathway back on the way there.  The weather was cool in the morning with heavy rain early but with a forecast of warming up in the afternoon.  By the time we were on our way back it was heating up.

We returned via the fields to Burwash and partook of tea and cake at the Lime Tree Tea Rooms as a refresher before heading off home.

The visit was brief  – we took time wandering the village and admiring the buildings and gardens.  This year the roses and the hydrangeas are magnificent and with the sunshine

Horses

Horses

beating down every flower and shrub seemed  to strain from its roots demanding to be recognised.   Burwash is a colourful village and although it has not gone over the top with flowers everywhere the residents have made gardens to be proud of .

We agreed that coming into Sussex was a good idea, and liking the wooded valleys and the houses and other buildings that are in general typical of the south east but unique to Sussex with distinctive styles of building so different from those of Kent.

Flowers showing off

Flowers showing off

A very attractive village and one that you should not be passing through without a second look.  The Rose and Crown looks good as a place for a quality lunch, and The Bear seems to be the place for a good bar meal and a drink.

However, there is also the attraction of a great NT garden close by and next time, knowing that we can also have a pleasant excursion to the village we can also visit Batemans.

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Lunch at Herstmonceux – twice

Castle and lake

Castle and lake

In 1963 I was an apprentice Fitter and Turner in Chatham Dockyard working first for the Navy Works Department and then for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works which meant that I got to go to the Marine Barracks at Deal as a fitter apprentice, and as an Oick in the drawing Office to the Royal Observatory at Herstmonceux.  I went with the draughtsman to reset and monitor the air conditioning and heating in the administration building where they also had the Cesium clock.   I recall that it was accurate recording a 17second difference with Greenwich.

Part of the walled garden

Part of the walled garden

As part of the exercise we were to have lunch in the restaurant which was inside the castle – instructed to take seating away from the Astronomer Royal’s tables.  We had a waiter service including wine which the draughtsman paid for although the lunch was on expenses.  I note also my memory recalls that it was July – there was a problem with uncontrolled rises of temperature inside the building which needed to be kept at a steady 21 degrees C.  The radio was tuned into the cricket.   We discovered that the cause of the problem was inadequate shading on the windows on the South and West walls.  Problem fixed with extra valencing and re-setting the sensors.

Come July 2013 and I was there on one of the hottest days of the year to walk the grounds and see the gardens.  The castle is operated as a working University, and the admin building is now houses of residence for students.

Rose garden

Rose garden

Instead of lunch in the castle I bought a sandwich and coffee from the Chestnuts Tearooms and had it at one of the tables outside before walking the nature trail and exploring the gardens.

There is a tour of the castle which lasts about an hour but I decided to walk in the gardens and woods instead.   It was a hot day, bright and not good for the camera, the sun  washing everything out even with a filter.

The walled gardens are magnificent with lawns gasping for water, flowers bright and blossoming as on flowers can do, and a rose garden a little battered, in need of some attention but looking beautiful.

I loved the Shakespeare garden and the butterfly garden beyond.  The short piece written I parody here below:

Munching a sweet,

Words in the Shakespeare Garden.

Words in the Shakespeare Garden.

I lower my bum,

and stop,

to wipe the sweaty drops,

from off my nose.

Beyond is a magic garden for the kids.  I loved it.  We must not disturb the Fairies but we could sit on the toadstools and the magic logs and look for them if we wished.   But go there and explore – take children with you.

Walking through the woods is pleasant and although the hay paddock was harvested there were hundreds of butterflies.  You pass a Wood Henge and a Pyramid on the trail and wander through magnificent woods to end up at The Folly and the secret garden.  Look for Kingfishers in the lake and Dragonflies.

Follow the nature trail and if you wish you can also have a look at the Observatory and Science Centre – an extra cost but worth it.

The Folly

The Folly

The castle itself is Tudor although the lands occupied  by the Normans and like many large buildings it suffered dereliction in its later years until in the early 20th C it was restored.  It was taken over for Government use until 1965 as an Observatory and after that it was sold to businesses, and now is used by the University, with the Science Centre as part of the attraction.

Why the trip?

I had lunch there once and I thought I would like to do so again – oh, and the tea rooms sell small bottles of Shiraz so I could have wine with my lunch too.  If I wanted.  Ironically, last time I was there I got paid for my efforts but this day I had to pay for the privilege.

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Old Bayham Abbey – a borderline experience

General view of the Abbey

General view of the Abbey

 

It features briefly on TV4 so I was told and when you walk its greensward and gaze at the ruins you stroll from Kent into Sussex and back again.   Old Bayham Abbey ruins are impressive and on a sunny day you catch the highlights of the local stone from which much of it was built.

The Abbey is reached from Lamberhurst on the road to Frant – or you could go from Frant but that means driving through Tunbridge Wells.   From Sheppey the easiest route is through Hollingbourne and Leeds and take your own route to Goudhurst to cross the A21 into Lamberhurst.

The Abbey ruins are stunning set in the wooded farmlands overlooked by Bayham Abbey House known also, so it seems, as Bayham Hall.  The Abbey is in Sussex – the Hall is in Kent, a sort of straddling the border although from the style of the buildings you could suggest that the influence was of Kent.  The stone for the Abbey comes from the Tunbridge Wells area and one can assume that the Hall is of local stone too.

Bayham Hall

Bayham Hall

However, wander on to the site and you are struck by the size of the Abbey both in spread and height.   That the area is grassed over hides up the places where once there were gardens – possibly originally  beside the refectory and west in the open ground beside the Abbot’s Guest House.

The Abbey is a complex affair that once had two main gates; one to the north west which still exists known as the Kentish gate and possibly another in the southeast  to Sussex.  What is most impressive is that the stone work must have been magnificent and although we could complain about the indulgence in religious opulence at least there must have been plenty of work for local stone masons.

Wandering around I was amazed by a tree that I thought was growing outside the ruins but when examined I discovered that its roots were well entwined in the wall behind the high altar.  Quite odd really.  It was a nice place for a family picnic as one family had already found.

I grow where I can

I grow where I can

Wander but be careful – the religious rabbits have excavated and left scuffings and diggings all over.   Obvious signs are bunny poo and the sudden ankle wrenching dip into a hole.

 

 

 

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